The Legacy of Joseph Williamson, Philanthropist

The King of Edge Hill

Known as an eccentric, a businessman and a philanthropist, Joseph’s most enduring legacy must be the tunnels he had constructed in the Edge Hill area of Liverpool.

Born in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Joseph was the son of a glassmaker, but left his family home at the age of 11 to work for Richard Tate in the tobacco and snuff business in Liverpool. He quickly rose through the ranks, marrying the boss’s daughter Elizabeth in 1802 and buying the business off her brother in 1803.

Joseph Williamson Portrait

Joseph Williamson Portrait

Now wealthy, Joseph bought a large piece of undeveloped land in Edge Hill along with a house on Mason Street close by. He proceeded to employ builders to construct houses ‘of the strangest description’, apparently with no architect’s plans, rhyme or reason. But he did not stop there. He continued to employ men to work on his land, even when there appeared to be no purpose – moving piles of earth from one place to another and back again. He also embarked on a programme of tunnel building, with underground passageways at depths of between 10 and 50 feet below the surface. Eventually, these stretched for several miles. When he had retired and after the death of his wife, he concentrated all his efforts on these mysterious excavations and appeared increasingly odd to those who met him.

Williamson died in 1840 aged 71. He was buried in the Tate family tomb at St Thomas’ Church and the tunnelling finally stopped.

There is plenty of speculation about the tunnels, fuelled even more by the fact that Joseph was secretive about their purpose. He left behind no plans or any records of who had worked on the tunnel or for how long. Some say he was a member of a strange cult, but the most likely reason was that he saw it as a means of providing gainful work for the many men returning from the Napoleonic Wars. He himself said that his workers “all received a weekly wage and were thus enabled to enjoy the blessing of charity without the attendant curse of stifled self-respect”, suggesting that his prime motive was “the employment of the poor”.

Today, the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels and the Heritage Centre on the site continue to renovate and foster awareness of the labyrinths Joseph created. Parts are open to the public, and if you want to see this fascinating piece of Liverpool history, an enduring memorial to Williamson, you can find details of when to visit here.

There is also a very entertaining account of Williamson with anecdotes about his strange ways in the book Recollections of Old Liverpool by a Nonagenarian, published in 1863 – this is freely available on the internet and also contains many fascinating accounts of the city and its characters!

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Memorials to Agnes Elizabeth Jones, 1832-68

Pioneer of the nursing profession

Agnes was born into a wealthy family in Cambridge in 1832, but moved to Fahan, Co Donegal in Ireland while very young. Her father was in the army and the family travelled a great deal as he was posted overseas. Agnes herself was very religious and had a strong sense of responsibility from an early age, always concerned with welfare of others.

In 1853, while on holiday with her family in Europe, Agnes met deaconesses from the Institute of Kaiserwerth, which ran one of the world’s first training schools for nursing. She also spent time at the Institution in Bonn, learning new standards of nursing. Once back in Ireland, she worked at Dublin Hospital, spending her spare time helping the sick and dying homeless in the city.

Passionate about her calling, in 1859 she moved to London where she met Florence Nightingale and Sarah E Wardroper, at that time the senior nurse at St Thomas Hospital. This inspired her to begin formal training as a nurse in 1862 at the Nightingale School at St Thomas’ Hospital. After a year’s study, she took up nursing roles in London, including acting as the Superintendent of the Great Northern Hospital from 1863-4.

Meanwhile in Liverpool, the philanthropist and merchant William Rathbone was keen to improve standards for the poor. In 1865, on the recommendation of Florence Nightingale, Rathbone invited Agnes to take a lead role in his new experiment to introduce trained nurses to the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary on Brownlow Hill. The law at the time discouraged the poor from entering the workhouses by making conditions inside far worse than for working poor outside. Those currently nursing the sick were female paupers who hadn’t had any nursing training. Rathbone believed so strongly in the measure that he personally funded the first three years of the experiment, rather than the money coming out of local taxes. Agnes was the first nurse countrywide to be appointed as the superintendent of such an institution.

Agnes threw herself into the role with a passion, tackling the typhus and cholera raging through the patients by cleaning the wards, destroying filthy bed linen and further improving conditions. She headed up a team of 12 nurses and 65 assistant nurses. As a direct result of her actions, the mortality rate dropped and health and living conditions in the workhouse improved.

Agnes Jones Window in Anglican Cathedral

Agnes Jones Window in Anglican Cathedral

However, her dedication to making the poor’s lives better took its toll on Agnes and she succumbed to typhus fever herself, dying on 19 Feb 1868 at the age of just 35.

Although she was buried in St Mura’s Graveyard, Fahan, Ireland, Liverpool recognises her huge contribution to the welfare of the city with memorials including a window in the Lady Chapel of the Anglican Cathedral and a statue in the Cathedral Oratory.



Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Memorials to Alfred Lewis Jones KCMG

Sir Alfred Lewis Jones

Sir Alfred Lewis Jones

Born in Carmarthen on 24 February 1845, Alfred Jones began his career in shipping at an early age. He was apprenticed at twelve to the African Steamship Company in Liverpool and spent numerous years rising through the business, reaching the role of manager by the time he was 26. However, he had greater ambitions and left to begin his own business, borrowing money to buy a couple of small sailing vessels. While successful in his endeavours, Sir Alfred realised that the future lay in steamships and sold his own ships, accepting a managerial position at Messrs Elder, Dempster & Co, which had by then taken over the African Steamship Company.

Alfred negotiated an employment package that included shares in the company and he continued to increase his influence in the shipping world, particularly in acquiring land and businesses in West Africa. He was the first merchant to import bananas to England in 1884 and the ships of the Elder, Dempster & Co line eventually became known as the ‘banana boats’.

As senior partner, he took a leading role in opening up trade routes with the West Indies, as well as developing tourism and the banana industry in the Canary Islands. With his increasing wealth, he became a great philanthropist and founded the world’s first School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool in 1898 – it was here later that it was first discovered that malaria is transmitted by mosquito bite.

Amongst other high profile roles in Liverpool, Alfred was President of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. He was also knighted in November 1901 in recognition of his services to the West African Colonies and to Jamaica.

Sir Alfred Jones Memorial

Sir Alfred Jones Memorial

He died without marrying on 13 December 1909, leaving large charitable bequests. During his final illness, he was impressed with the quality of care he received from local nurses and one of his dying wishes was to erect a new local hospital. Although he didn’t have time to change his will, his sister arranged for a donation of £10,000 to be made towards the building of the Sir Alfred Jones Memorial Hospital in Garston. The hospital opened in 1915 on Woolton Road, and although it was closed in 2009, a new treatment centre on the site incorporates elements of the original architecture.

There is also a Grade II memorial to Sir Alfred Lewis Jones at the south end of the Pier Head in Liverpool, facing west towards the River Mersey. Designed by Sir George Frampton and unveiled in 1913, this commemorates his lifelong support for Liverpool as a major port for trade and commerce. A main street in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Canary Islands, is also named after him.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Memorial to Maud Farrington nee Carpenter

“No one person can make a theatre. The vital thing is teamwork – from the callboys and cleaners upwards.” – but if anyone helped create the Liverpool Playhouse, it was Maud Carpenter.

Maud Carpenter, 1895 - 1967

Maud Carpenter, 1895 – 1967

After a spell at the Kelly’s Theatre in Paradise Street, Maud Carpenter joined the Liverpool Playhouse in its first experimental season in 1911. Starting in the box office, she showed an aptitude for accountancy and administration which led to her quickly being appointed assistant manager. By 1922, she had been offered the role of manager and licensee, a position she embraced enthusiastically until 1962 when she retired. The theatre was her life. She was held in such high esteem by her peers that she was invited to become the first woman to join the board in 1945 and remained in the role of vice-president until her death in 1967. In total, she worked at the theatre for 51 years,

She was so influential in the theatre and the city, she was even known as the unofficial Lady Mayoress of Liverpool. It was said that she knew very little about ‘theatre’, and would often get the titles of plays mixed up. However, what she had an uncanny knack for was knowing what audiences would come to see; and she played a critical role throughout the Playhouse’s development, alongside the directors she worked with, seeing it through the good times and the bad with equal enthusiasm. During the Second World War, for example, Maud volunteered for night time fire watching and during the blitz, would stand on top of the Playhouse roof shouting to the Germans, “Don’t bomb my theatre. Don’t bomb my theatre.”

She valued the image of the theatre and its importance in the city, insisting that every actor arrive in style – or at the very least, a taxi – to preserve some sense of decorum and mystique. She even once scolded a young Sir Anthony Hopkins for turning up in jeans and an open neck shirt, rather than the sports jacket and tie she would have preferred. On performance nights, she would stand in the foyer and greet patrons – many by name; and at the end she would politely ask them what play they would be coming to see next.

Maud Farrington's Grave

Maud Farrington’s Grave in Allerton Cemetery

Her whole existence was dedicated to the preservation and smooth-running of the theatre and the comfort and entertainment of its audiences. During her lifetime, she was awarded an OBE and an honorary degree from Liverpool University.

She died on 18th June 1967. Tributes were affectionate and many, and her gravestone records her dedication to the theatre she loved.



Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

In Memory of Arthur Dooley

Remembering a Liverpool sculptor ‘privileged never to have had an art education’

Arthur Dooley and one of his works

Arthur Dooley and one of his works

Born in Liverpool in 1929, Arthur left school at 14 and took up an apprenticeship at Cammell Laird’s shipyard, where he contributed to the construction of the Ark Royal. On being finished up, he worked briefly on a tug-boat, then joined the Irish Guards.

Having served in Europe and the Middle East, his army career began to draw to a close after an impulse decision to desert and join the Palestine Liberation Organisation – not then associated with terrorism – as a mercenary. Promoted to colonel in its ranks, he was soon after caught and returned to the Army, who tried and imprisoned him in a detention centre in Egypt. He amused himself during his time in prison by modelling sand and sculpting rock. But he never forgot his time at Cammell Laird’s and later at Dunlop in Speke, where he began to learn about the metals, fabricating and building which formed the cornerstone of his work in later years.

On his return to the UK, he sought out a job as a cleaner at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. Seeing the students’ work, he had a strong conviction he could do better and began working with discarded scraps of metal. By 1955, he’d returned to Liverpool and established himself as a sculptor, working at a variety of jobs, from stage hand at the Liverpool Playhouse to park policeman in Sefton Park, to fund his life and work.

He had converted to Catholicism while in the Army, and was also a devout communist, but in later years, he turned away from both his faith and his political allegiance. Despite this, he retained strong views about both and is perhaps best known for a number of religious works, including The Stations of the Cross for St Mary’s Church in Leyland, The Risen Christ in Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral and The Resurrection of Christ at Princes Park Methodist Church in Toxteth.

Politics remained at the heart of his work throughout his life and in later years. Becoming something of a personality, he often appeared on national television, not only promoting his work but also his strong views on the plight of the working classes in his home city. He was an ardent campaigner for the redevelopment of the South Docks, the abolition of high-rise housing and ongoing support for the long-term unemployed.

In 1974, he created the much-loved tribute to the Beatles in Mathew Street, a sculpture picturing the Madonna and the band with the inscription ‘Four Lads Who Shook The World’ beneath. In the 80s, his work grew less fashionable, but he himself continued to be energetic in his two favourite causes, establishing a workshop for the unemployed in Kirkby and helping to found the Liverpool Academy of Arts.

He died suddenly in 1994, having given away much of the money he had earned throughout his lifetime. His workshop remains preserved as he left it, in memory of the great man himself, and short videos from 2008 can be seen here.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Memorial to William Abdullah Quilliam

Memorial Plaque to a Muslim convert and Liverpool lawyer who opened the first mosque in England

William Abdullah Quilliam

William Abdullah Quilliam

William Quilliam was born on 10 April 1856 into a wealthy local family, prominent Methodists and established watchmakers in the city of Liverpool. Qualifying as a solicitor, he began a successful legal practice in the city in 1878 and developed a stout reputation as someone who fought for the rights of the city’s poor.

He had become interested in Muslim teachings while in Morocco, convalescing from an illness. In 1887, at the age of 31, he became the first Christian to convert to Islam in Victorian England.

On Christmas Day 1889, he opened England’s first mosque at 8, Brougham Terrace, later adding the surrounding buildings which became a boarding school, lecture rooms and orphanage. In 1893, he began a weekly magazine, The Crescent, and then subsequently a monthly publication, Islamic World, which was distributed in over 20 countries. The copies which survive today provide a valuable record of British Muslims’ life in Liverpool and beyond at the time. As well as welcoming visiting wealthy Muslims, Quilliam also promoted the welfare of Asian and Arab Muslims who served as deckhands on the many steamships to arrive at this, the Empire’s second most important port.

He also wrote prolifically, including the book ‘The Faith of Islam’, which was translated into 13 languages and is said to have been read by Queen Victoria herself, who also ordered additional copies for her grandchildren. His promotion of the faith led to around 600 people, some ordinary citizens, some learned and prominent scholars, to embrace Islam.

Inevitably, a certain amount of controversy and hostility from wider society tinged an otherwise successful career; and Quilliam eventually left the country abruptly in 1908 on hearing that he was about to be struck off as a solicitor, apparently for presenting facts in a divorce case that he knew to be wrong in court. Without his leadership and financial investment, Liverpool’s Muslim community dispersed, many moving to England’s first purpose-built mosque in Woking, Surrey.

He returned to the UK in around 1914 under an assumed name. On his death, he was buried in Brockwood Cemetery in Woking alongside fellow Anglo-Muslims, many famous, as he had been, for spreading the faith throughout England.

Memorial Plaque on the site of the country's first mosque

Memorial Plaque on the site of the country’s first mosque

The buildings which constituted England’s first mosque were for a time used as a register office by the Council, then fell into disuse. In recent years, the Abdullah Quilliam Society has successfully reopened the mosque and continues to fund-raise for the restoration of the remainder of the buildings.


Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Memorial to the Pals Battalions

A new memorial to the brave Liverpool men who formed the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Pals Battalions of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment

Before World War I, the British Army had relied on professional soldiers to fight for king and country. But from the outset, Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, believed that the way to victory lay in superior manpower. He began a massive recruitment campaign and one of the most successful contributions came from Liverpool. At Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby’s suggestion, men were encouraged to volunteer alongside their friends and work colleagues, their ‘pals’.

Liverpool Pals on St George's Plateau

Liverpool Pals on St George’s Plateau

Liverpool set the example for the rest of the country. Within a few days of Lord Derby’s proposal, thousands of men had enlisted at St George’s Hall alongside friends, colleagues and workmates. The overwhelming response saw the creation of four new battalions: the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th.

The newly formed Pals Battalions swelled the ranks of the King’s Regiment (Liverpool), which itself had a proud history as one of the British Army’s oldest infantry regiments, founded in 1685. In recognition of Lord Derby’s role, the Pals volunteers wore an Eagle and Child cap badge, his family crest, rather than the King’s Regiment’s usual White Horse of Hanover.

Training was tough – equipment was scarce, and much time was spent digging on Lord Derby’s estate in preparation for the trench warfare was to come. In early November 1915, all four Liverpool Pals Battalions were sent to France. They acquitted themselves well, for example playing a significant role in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. But it came at a price. Over 200 Liverpudlians were killed on the first day in the capture of Montauban – one of the very few victories on a day which saw the British Army lose 19,240 soldiers in total. Five hundred more Liverpool Pals died in a subsequent failed attack in the village of Guillemont.

In all, the Liverpool Pals Battalions suffered more than 2,800 casualties during the course of the Great War. However, wherever these men fought, they maintained their reputation for bravery, toughness and camaraderie in the face of the enemy.

The tragedy of Pals Battalions was that, although men served with friends and colleagues, they also died alongside them, leaving home towns and cities decimated and devastated. By January 1916, conscription had been introduced instead; and many Pals Battalions, struck by such heavy losses, were amalgamated into other regiments.

But Liverpool’s brave men were among the last to be stood down at the end of the war, just as they had been among the first to step forward and fight for peace.

To commemorate the day when thousands of Liverpool workers volunteered to fight for the freedom of their fellow men, a 30ft bronze memorial frieze created by Tom Murphy will be unveiled at Lime Street Station on 31 August 2014. The memorial to the Pals Battalions has been commissioned by the Liverpool Pals Memorial Fund. We look forward to seeing this special monument to commemorate some of Liverpool’s bravest and finest sons.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

First World War Memorial Roll of Honour of Liverpool’s Military War Dead

Hall of Remembrance, Town Hall, Liverpool

Hall of Remembrance, Town Hall, Liverpool

There are many memorials to those who died during the Great War. One of the most notable ones in Liverpool is the First World War Memorial Roll of Honour of Liverpool’s Military War Dead. This is located in the Hall of Remembrance at Liverpool Town Hall in the city centre.

The original list was started during the war itself, when the names of locals who had been killed in combat were posted in a window overlooking Exchange Flags. As relatives were notified of their lost loved ones, they queued to add their names to ensure they were remembered for their sacrifice. Many served as members of The King’s Regiment (Liverpool), although there are also men with local connections who died in service in the armed forces of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and beyond.

The roll now stands at well over 13,000 names, all of which have been added to a searchable database here.

Among the names listed are many of Liverpool’s brave VC winners, such as:

  • Captain Noel Chavasse, the only man to be awarded the VC twice in WWI and who died from wounds sustained on the battlefield while rescuing wounded comrades at Passchendaele;
  • Lieutenant Edward Felix Baxter of the Royal Engineers, The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, a former Isle of Man TT rider who lost his life at Arras, but not before he had won a VC for cutting barbed wire in front of German trenches for two nights running and leading a raiding party on the third; and
  • Sergeant Thomas Neely, who won a posthumous VC for rushing several enemy machine gun positions, single-handedly killing or capturing their operators and silencing their fire. He was killed four days later in the field while advancing on German positions at Rumilly.

Sadly, the list is by no means complete. Because entry onto it depended on relatives making the notification, there are of course many who have been missed, for various reasons However, year on year, people continue to add their ancestors’ names, making it a living memorial to those who died so that we could live in peace. This year alone, at least a further 37 names have been added as keen historians and genealogists discover more about their forefathers and seek to get them recognised for paying the ultimate sacrifice.

You can have the name of your relative added by applying to the Town Hall with evidence of his connection with Liverpool.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Memorials to Mary Lawson and Francis Beaumont

A Tale of Romance and Tragedy: A Popular Actress and her RAF husband

Mary Lawson, from a 1930s publicity postcard

Mary Lawson, from a 1930s publicity postcard

Mary Lawson was a highly popular and sought-after stage and screen actress in the 1920s and 30s. From working class roots from County Durham, she made her first appearance singing for wounded soldiers during WWI at the age of five. She honed her acting and dancing abilities during her teenage years in Durham and beyond, eventually being talent spotted by Gracie Fields. Her career then went from strength to strength and she appeared in films with names such as Vivien Leigh and Bud Flanagan.

But she was to be remembered almost as much for her romantic affairs as for her acting ability. A series of high profile engagements ensued, including a spell as the fiancée of Fred Perry, at that time the world’s leading tennis player. Intense media attention and his desire to live in America made her call off the engagement.

She met her future husband, Francis William Lionel Collings Beaumont, on the set of the film Toilers of the Sea, set on the island of Sark. Francis, heir to the Seigneur of Sark, was already married with a son, but fell in love with Mary and divorce followed. Mary and Francis married in 1938 in London. It appears the marriage frowned upon by his mother, who spoke fondly of his first wife but failed to mention Mary at all in her memoirs.

After the outbreak of WWII, Sark was occupied by the Germans. Frances joined the Royal Air Force, rising to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Having been granted a week’s leave in 1941, he and Mary were reunited and travelled with friends and family to spend a week in Liverpool, apparently staying in Toxteth. Unfortunately, their stay coincided with some of the heaviest bombing Liverpool suffered by the Luftwaffe in May of that year. On 3rd May, the air raid sirens went off, prompting Mary’s sister and others from their party to take shelter. Mary and Francis remained in their room, perhaps seeking a few moments alone together before he returned to active service. The house they were staying in was hit and both were killed. Their friends and family, who had sought the safety of the air raid shelter, all survived.

Francis Beaumont War Grave, Kirkdale Cemetery

Francis Beaumont War Grave, Kirkdale Cemetery, Liverpool

Mary and Francis were buried in Kirkdale Cemetery, Liverpool, but only Francis has a headstone to remember him. Mary’s memorial is in the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour, located near St. George’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, London and in the films that survive her.






Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

Liverpool memorials: Alfred G Rowe

Memorial to a well-travelled man who lost his life in the Titanic disaster

Albert G Rowe - Family Memorial - Inscription

Albert G Rowe – Family Memorial – Inscription

Alfred G Rowe was born in Peru, one of John James and Agnes Rowe’s seven children. His father was a successful merchant involved in trading and shipping between Liverpool and Chile. Alfred was brought up in England, but had certainly inherited his family’s wanderlust. After two years in the family business and education at the Royal Agricultural College in Gloucestershire, he moved to Donley County, Texas and with the princely sum of £500, started a ranch with two of his brothers, Vincent and Bernard.

As a rancher, Alfred flourished and got on well with the cowboys he employed, who thought him an honest man of high business principles. He also contributed greatly to the Texas community he lived in and even chose to become a US citizen while living there. In 1901, he married Constance Ethel Kingsley (a cousin of the priest and novelist Charles Kingsley who wrote The Water Babies) and by 1910, the family had moved back to England. However, Alfred returned to Texas to visit his ranch a couple of times a year.

For his last trip, he booked passage in first class accommodation on the brand new passenger liner, the Titanic, embarking at Southampton on Wednesday, 10 April. But he wasn’t impressed with the mighty ship – four days into the journey, he wrote to his wife, saying the ship was “too big” and “a positive danger” after a near-miss with the SS New York. The letter was posted in Queenstown, Ireland, the last port of call before it set off for New York, and only reached his poor wife after news of his death.

Albert G Rowe Family Memorial, Smithdown Road Cemetery

Albert G Rowe Family Memorial, Smithdown Road Cemetery

Accounts report that when the Titanic began to sink, Alfred refused a place in a life raft, declaring himself a strong swimmer. He made it as far as a floating hunk of ice, but died of hypothermia before his body could be recovered by the cable ship, the Mackay-Bennett. He was buried at Smithdown Road Cemetery on Tuesday 14 May, 1912 and an impressive family memorial marks the spot. His heartbroken wife gave birth to their fourth surviving child five months later and named him after his father. She eventually sold the Texas ranch to one of his hired cowboys, whose heirs still own parcels of the original land today.



Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.