The Tranmere Tunnel System
At the outbreak of WW2 the Home Office gave Birkenhead the green light to build the most expensive
deep tunnel air raid shelter in the country in order to protect the irreplaceable Cammell Laird ship yards
workforce and their families. The tunnel systems were built at Tranmere and Bidston and took 148 men
two full years to build. Upon completion the tunnels stretched 6,500ft underground with a final provision
to house over 6,000 people. However not just anyone could have access to the shelter and a ticket
system was operated with permanent tickets to be given to approved applicants only. At one point in
1942, the application for tunnel tickets was 4,259 with 2,305 allocated and 1,626 applications refused.
A library was also built into the shelter and extra heating provided to keep the books in good condition.
All three entrances to the bunker were secured by double gas proof doors to provide security against a
gas attack. By the time the tunnels were completed at a final cost of £131,000 the need for them had
disappeared and danger of invasion over.
After the war the tunnel system was stripped taking anything of value, even the toilets were salvaged and
used for the construction of the new Woodchurch Estate. In 1948 it was rented by the Ministry of Food for
storage until 1956 when the Cabinet Office decided the complex tunnel system could be used in the event
of a nuclear attack. Not long after the tunnels were abandoned and generations of children used the
tunnels to explore and play in. The entrances were finally sealed in 1989 because of the danger of young
people getting lost within the maze and falling down the air vents.
In 2008 workmen from Mellwood construction accidentally stumbled across the tunnels during a building
project. Danny Ambrose, of Mellwood Construction, told how they uncovered the impressive 80ft shaft in
Leighton Road, Tranmere, which leads to a network of tunnels that stretch 40-70ft deep beneath Olive
Mount and Holborn Hill.
Danny Ambrose commented :
We came across the concrete cap to the shaft and one of the residents came over to us and said ‘you’v hit the
tunnel’. We had to lower its level slightly for the new road and re-cap it. But that took a day’s careful work. We
knew there was a network of caves down there and found a concrete slab, which we presumed was the
entrance and we carefully picked away at it for a day or two, we then found the ladders which went into the
shaft. The entrance has since been blocked to make way for a site of 12 new houses and four bungalows".
The builders were told not to go down into the tunnels for health and safety reasons, but curiosity got
the better of one man who said:
“They are amazing, I had to take the opportunity as I’d never get to do it again and I spent about an hour and a
half down there. It was 20ft down to sandstone which went to another 30 ft ladder and another platform – it
was very deep. They are really well preserved, with signs on the walls saying Library, Marshall’s Post, Canteen.
One of the rooms had fold down beds, with springs, there were old chairs scattered about and I found an old
rusty safe which had been left open. They certainly would make a great tourist attraction. The old entrances
and ventilation shafts were located at the junction of Frodsham Street and Redmond Street and another was
located at the projected junction of Holborn Hill, Thompson Street and Westbury Street next to a set of lock ups
in a back alley. These were perhaps 15ft high and 10ft square brick and concrete constructions. They were
secured with heavy doors and I only ever once saw it open when a narrow iron ladder could be seen descending
with no end. Formal entrances were located in an old sandstone quarry behind the former petrol station at the
top of Green Lane. At least two more were located in the much larger former quarry (was Charlie Lane's scrap
yard now an industrial park I think) which extends along Old Chester Road between Holborn Hill and Holt Road.
These entrances were always filled with rotting rubbish, rats abounded and were they were wet and not
particularly encouraging. Exploring a short way by candlelight never revealed much of great interest and further
exploration was always cautioned by tales of huge drops although I never saw any. I have also been in the
ones at Hoylake road bur seem to remember there being a further internal brick wall a short way in. The
concrete plug did not exist then".
Another ex resident states:
"I spent many hours down those tunnels as a lad. We used to climb up that shaft in Thompson St,at the top it
was similar to a sub station type of building and we could see out of airbricks looking along the street. There
used to be 2 ways in one was at the back of Charlie Lanes scrap yard,which is now a trading estate alongside
the Monkey steps and the other way where we entered was at the rear of a garage that now sells cars, right
opposite the Yard pub at the top of Green lane. Rumour had it that the tunnels went even further, at least up
into the area under Mersey park. I remember them being sealed up in around about 1978, due to two lads from
St. Georges Ave getting lost in there with no torches,the police and fire brigade were involved and ordered them
to be sealed. A few years later it was rumoured that they were being used as a storage facility for the European
food mountain as it was known then".
Former Wirral resident Chris
Kay, 72, has studied the
tunnels, and says the shaft
was staggered to dissipate the
blast from Nazi bombs and
protect the skilled shipbuilders
Chris went on to say:
“It’s a shame that this structure
is going to waste. It is
fascinating. Stockport has made
a tourist attraction of its
emergency tunnels and by not
doing the same Wirral council is
missing a major opportunity.
Young people are fascinated by
these bunkers, anything that
brings history to life for them
should be supported.”
|Wirral Globe reporter Carol Emmas outside the tunnel entrance
|Please note that much of this information and photographs came from Wikki Wirral. A site dedicated to urban exploration and the history of the Wirral.
Please visit there website for further information and photographs.
|Related Newspaper Article
|Related Newspaper Article
|Related Newspaper Article