Liverpool is a rapidly redeveloping city. Not so long ago it seemed to have no end of grim, dilapidated buildings to be reinvigorated. No matter how long it had been undergoing regeneration, the programme just continued. Today, however, the work that took place leading up to its time as City of Culture has left it much improved from the way it once looked. But in the midst of this rapidly brightening picture, between the mainline rail station and the main shopping area, is a windswept and unwelcoming tundra of concrete surrounding the Queensway Tunnel entrance.
Bryn Buck went on a walking tour of the area to take in the sights.
Where else should we start if not the tunnel mouth itself? Unlike its opposite end, the Liverpool portal is rounded, exposing the shape of the tunnel itself, and sunken slightly into the surrounding landscape.
The portal comes complete with a "tunnel" warning sign (to the right), with a continental-style name plate. It reads "Mersey / Queensway / 3240m".
The art-deco inspired architecture is Grade II listed, and cannot be altered. As a result the portal holds on to its 1930s lights - painted their original green - and two regal statues to either side.
Engraved in the retaining wall on the north side of the cutting, and picked out in gold leaf, is the plaque commemorating the tunnel's opening in 1934.
A little less demure are the various signs placed at the tunnel entrance - impossible for any motorist to take in and a rather unpleasant array of colours. The second sign from the right, headed "Chester St. Exit", refers to the toll facilities available on the left-turn immediately on exiting in Birkenhead. How anyone unfamiliar with Birkenhead's street names is expected to make sense of this is something of a mystery.
Standing sheepishly in the shadow of a garish yellow direction sign is the only original toll booth still surviving. It appears to be totally disused and empty, but when Birkenhead and Liverpool remodelled their tunnel approaches in the 1960s much of the original architecture was swept away, and it's incredible that one has survived. Presumably it is also a listed structure. It appears to have a band of lights around the very top.
The signposting for exiting traffic is a little shoddy - M6 is a motorway, while M62 is just East and gets brackets. "All traffic" might have been simpler given the number of options it presents.
The road directly ahead is pedestrianised, but at one time this was a through route to the tunnel mouth. Traffic would have passed rather grandly in front of Liverpool's handsome museums and libraries as it entered the city.
Traffic approaching the tunnels are directed using the word Tunnel in brackets, in a primary route patch, suggesting that they both hold the route number "(Tunnel)". This one is pointing the way to both tunnels, and for signposting purposes, the Queensway is the Birkenhead Tunnel and the Kingsway is the Wallasey Tunnel.
Advance warning is also given of the various restrictions in place on the Queensway Tunnel, built long before most of today's heavy and tall vehicles were ever considered. The 3.5 ton weight restriction is especially revealing of the state of the suspended road deck. Merseytravel suggest that the deck has been strengthened several times, but there is not enough room to do it again.
The road signposted from the tunnel as 'local access' is in fact a three-lane dual carriageway, well used by those who know Liverpool well enough to ignore its direction signs. Despite its size it doesn't take the majority of tunnel traffic, however.
A view along the other approach - another three-lane dual carriageway - starts to reveal the scale of the road infrastructure in this city centre location. Ahead is the roundabout at the tunnel mouth; above is the southbound Churchill Way flyover.
Another view of the same flyover, spoiling the south façade of the Liverpool Museum. The ground-level street to the right joins up with the descending flyover and continues through Liverpool to the former docks.
Most of the southbound flyover seen at once, from close to its eastern landing site. These two bridges are designed to take traffic from the one-way system passing through Liverpool and allow it to avoid becoming entangled with tunnel traffic, but they fail to connect properly with the major roads at their eastern end and the whole scheme is something of a white elephant.
Another view of the southbound flyover carving across the front of the Museum, with the Radio City tower in the background.
The northbound flyover was considered particularly innovative when it opened, as it has a middle deck carrying pedestrians. The footbridge ends in the middle of nowhere, halfway along the flyover, with a set of steep steps down to the ground.
Right next to the eastern end of the two Churchill Way flyovers is this enormous dual carriageway, which (below the camera) interchanges with the main road north from the tunnel entrance. The flyovers have no direct connection with this road or the two key radial routes it serves. Without the connection they don't really go anywhere.
Looking north from the flyovers (with the main road in the previous picture now to the right), the vast expanses of tarmac in this part of Liverpool city centre are very obvious. The city would struggle without this level of roadspace, but the area around Lime Street station and the tunnel mouth seems particularly plagued by intrusive dual carriageways.
The two flyovers together, with the Museum to the right and the tunnel behind the camera to the left. The northbound flyover in the middle-distance can be seen with its middle pedestrian deck.
Evidence that once upon a time these misguided bridges were very much appreciated. Mounted up on the pedestrian deck is a Concrete Society Award from 1971.
The mosaic placed above the tunnel portal is mentioned in the literature from 1934, and gives the impression that it is original to the tunnel, but its appearance is much newer. A nearby plaque reveals that it is a replica of the original mosaic, placed here in 1994 on the tunnel's diamond jubilee. It is a shame that, like so much else at the Liverpool end, the original feature did not survive.
Peter Cowley writes:
"The original mosaic, 100 inches in diameter, minus its granite surrounds, ended up in my front garden in Birkenhead in 1967, having been informed that due to the ravages of time and the war it was not considered worth saving and so long as I removed it within 10 days it was mine to keep! The night of the destruction and removal I learnt the meaning of public apathy. The local police station, 100 yards away had never heard of the mosaic, "whot's a mosayec matey?" Mersey tunnel police cars, motorists and pedestrians never challenged us whilst my friend and I desecrated a public monument and loaded it into an overloaded Cortina saloon, and then drove through the tunnel praying we didn't break down and have to be towed out at enormous expense!
"After reconstruction as best I could with the existing bits the spaces were filled in with painted concrete, but it provided a stage for our daughters and friends to play on much to the neighbours amusement and envy. We moved house after 15 years and couldn't face a repeat exercise but our buyers broke it up and sent to the tip! So much for history! 12 years later in 1994 the Mersey tunnel office found the original correspondence and managed to track me down by my name, but they were sadly disappointed to hear of the mosaic's demise.
"And it was one of my daughters who came across this item on your website who is now a civil engineer working for a firm of consultants involved in the original design of the tunnel, and she knows that the replacement mosaic is nowhere as good as or big as the original, she has first hand, and foot, experience."
- All photographs on this page appear courtesy of Bryn Buck.