Queensway Tunnel

Light pylon near Birkenhead tunnel portal
Light pylon near Birkenhead tunnel portal

More than three kilometres long, a single-bore circular tunnel wide enough to carry four lanes of traffic side-by-side, taken underneath one of the UK's major river mouths. It would be a celebrated engineering feat if it were completed today. But the Queensway Tunnel — or the Birkenhead Tunnel, if you're a local — was excavated by hand to connect Liverpool to the Wirral, and opened in 1934.

At the time it was the biggest tunnel the world had ever seen — wider than any other, and substantially longer than most other subaqueous tunnels. It is incredible that it is not more widely recognised as one of the UK's pieces of landmark engineering, but then it sits entirely underground and as a result doesn't get much attention. It's a miracle that it exists at all, given that the government was very reluctant to provide any funding and Liverpool was the only local authority interested in building it.

Since it opened, Queensway has seen its above-ground parts altered almost beyond recognition, and below ground parts have fallen out of use and become derelict.

This article explores the Queensway from every angle — from the early stages of planning to a tour of the tunnel as it stands today.

An audacious plan in terms of the engineering challenges, and the forthright way in which it was pushed through the planning process, the story of the tunnel's construction is a fascinating one.

A marvel of engineering and the safest place in Liverpool in an air raid. No wonder the government had its eye on the Queensway in the darkest days of the Second World War.

From the sixties to the present, a look at the most visible ground-level feature of the tunnel: the tangled knot of flyovers that service it.

A stroll around the tunnel mouth in Liverpool and its many associated approach roads. It's remarkable how little survives of the original road configuration here.

A look around Birkenhead's tunnel entrance, the associated complex of flyovers, the surviving art deco architecture, and the abandoned Rendel Street branch.

End of Mersey Tunnel Regulations

Sources

  • Initial planning and early proposals for a bridge across the Mersey: National Archives MT 39/123.
  • Opening ceremony and details of tunnel at opening: National Archives RAIL 474/255.
  • Proposals for wartime use of the tunnel: National Archives MT 39/488.
  • Flyovers at Liverpool end of the tunnel, proposals and construction: National Archives MT 118/215.
  • Flyovers and traffic control at Birkenhead end of the tunnel, proposals, construction and operational difficulty: National Archives MT 118/261.
  • Birkenhead traffic control system opening ceremony and commemorative booklet: National Archives MT 118/261.
Routes