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The Mersey Tunnels

Birkenhead Tunnel

This picture of Liverpool to Birkenhead Tunnel comes from
a short lived British magazine "Wonders of World Engineering".
 It appeared in the second edition published in March 1937.
In 1922 a committee was set up between Liverpool, Birkenhead, Bootle and Wallasey to draw up plans for a crossing. The crossing was probably intended as much for business use as for motorists. The ferries and railway could cope with the passengers, but they could not cope very well with goods traffic. There was to be a tramway in the bottom half of the Tunnel. The work during the construction would also help to reduce unemployment. The committee was chaired by Sir Archibald Salvidge from Liverpool. He was the main driving force in getting the crossing. When it was decided that the crossing route would be between Liverpool and Birkenhead, Bootle and Wallasey left the committee.

The plan for a tunnel was ambitious, it would be the largest underwater tunnel ever built.
Another major decision was how the construction was to be financed. The government wanted the crossing to be free of any Tolls, but after several years of negotiations it was agreed that the government would pay half the construction cost, one quarter would come from the rates in Liverpool and Birkenhead and one quarter from Tolls for a period of up to 20 years. (The running costs of the Tunnel were to come from the rates.) This was authorised in a 1925 Act and a Mersey Tunnel Joint Committee was formed comprising of Birkenhead and Liverpool Corporations. About this time the proposals for the tramway were put on hold. There were various possible reasons for this. One was opposition from Birkenhead who wanted to protect their Ferries, another was that the government had said that they would reduce their contribution if a tramway was laid. The Tunnel would however still be excavated and built for most of it's length with a massive space under the roadway designed for the Tramway.
A further Act was needed in 1927 mainly because the siting of the Birkenhead entrance was changed, which led to an increase in costs. The Tolls were now to apply for up to 25 years.
In 1928 there was a further Act to again change the Birkenhead entrance and also to move the Liverpool entrance from Whitechapel to the Old Haymarket. But the overall cost and Toll period was the same. 1933 saw yet another Act. This time the costs had increased by a massive 40%. This seems to have been mainly due to an incident in an American road tunnel, and a decision that there had to be a massive improvement to ventilation. (This of course wouldn't have happened with a bridge!) As the government would not give any more money, the Tolls were now to last for up to 40 years.

While all these Acts were being passed the actual construction started at end of 1925. It was a mammoth undertaking involving thousands of workers. The engineers in charge were John Brodie, Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, and Basil Mott. The main tunnel (there were branch tunnels at either end) would be 2 miles 230 yards long, and it would be wide enough for 4 lanes of traffic with a total interior diameter of 44 feet. On the 18th July 1934, over 200,000 people gathered at the Old Haymarket to watch King George V and Queen Mary, officially open the Queensway tunnel. Amongst those chosen to welcome the Royal party were Lord Mayor Councillor John Strong, Sir Thomas White, Chair of the Joint Tunnel Committee, Lord Sefton and Chief Constable A.K. Wilson. Liverpool City Police Band provided the music.

"......I thank all those who have achieved this miracle. I praise the imagination that foresaw, the minds that planned, the skill that fashioned, the will that drove, and the strong arms that endeavoured in the bringing of this work to completion.
May those who use it ever keep grateful thoughts of the many who struggled for long months against mud and darkness.
His Majesty King George V

18th July 1934


As the national anthem played and the curtains began to rise, few were aware that the electrical mechanism had failed and instead two men were stationed either side, raising the curtains with hand cranks.

Tunnel Entrance 1955

Tunnel Entrance  C 1960s

Tunnel Entrance June 1960

Mersey Tunnel  C 1970s

Queen Elizabeth II opened the newly built Kingsway Tunnel in June 1971. The tunnel consisting of 2 twin tubes, one and a half miles in length, providing massive relief from the very congested Queensway Tunnel, linking up Liverpool and Wallasey. On this basis, it is often referred to as the Wallasey Tunnel.

The Kingsway Tunnel was built on what had been the Seacombe branch of the Mersey Railway.

Seacombe station was located at the junction of Borough Road East and Church Road, providing easy access to Liverpool via the Mersey Ferry Terminal 2 mins walk away. Liscard and Poulton station was located further down the line, within the cutting, just past the Mill Lane road bridge and the line connected up to what is now the Merseyrail Wirral Line, just before Bidston station. The line had never been electrified by the Mersey Railway (unlike the rest of the network) and was only ever really used by day trippers travelling to North Wales. Passenger receipts were poor, so the line was closed in 1960. The line then lay derelict until 1966, when construction on the Kingsway began.

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