Williamson Square, Liverpool. First Tuesday of the month. Haircut day. I’d got myself a trendy sort of wind-swept look, so popped into the Famous Old Porterhouse to christen it with a swift half. One thing led to another and there I was sitting chatting to Joseph Williamson himself. The Mole of Mason Street. The man who built the tunnels. Still there, most of them; some used as dumping grounds; some used by railways; some open to the public; many still closed off.
Large as life. Weskit and plus fours. Stove-pipe hat. Walking cane. Churchwarden pipe, packed with his own firm’s best shag. Sipping a pint of stout. “It always seemed so simple to me,” he said. “All those brave men back from the Napoleonic Wars and nothing down for them. They looked so forlorn, their very humanity stripped from them. I just had to give them back a little dignity, pay them a few shillings to help feed their families.” He pointed at his pipe. “This stuff paid for it; rock, pick and shovel.
“The tunnels were the bread and butter, but a man needs a little jam, doesn’t he, in this short life? So we built a few houses, a church or two; to hell and high water with the cost. The house in Everton was my favourite. We’d sneaked it up to fifteen storeys, straight as a die, before the City Fathers stepped in—boring old farts that they were. Given a bit more time, we could have raised that little beauty right up to heaven and taken our tea with the Master Builder himself.”
He gave a little sigh and got up to leave. “Like your hair,” he said. “Can you bend it like the man himself?” Then he was gone.