The air is still. It's quiet. Occasionally, the sound of a water droplet bursting feebly onto stone echoes through the chamber. Somewhere, somehow, moisture is getting in. But for the most part, it's dry. And were it not for the smattering of electric lights, this 200-year-old tunnel beneath the streets of Liverpool would be very dark - and very lonely.
"I still can't get over the ferns and the moss," says Dave Bridson, a local historian and manager at the Williamson Tunnels heritage centre in Liverpool, England. He points out where the water seeps through the porous stone, nurturing the light green moss that has formed spontaneously next to lightbulbs. Ever since light was brought into the long-lost tunnels, little pockets of vegetation like this have taken hold.
Of all the engineering projects that ever took place in the industrial centre of Liverpool - like the world's first exclusively steam-powered passenger railway - the building of the Williamson Tunnels in the early 19th Century must be the most mysterious. The patron of the tunnels, tobacco merchant Joseph Williamson, was extraordinarily secretive about their purpose. Even today, no one is sure exactly what they were used for. Nor does anyone know for sure even how many of the tunnels there are, scattered underfoot beneath the Edge Hill district of Liverpool in northwest England.
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