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Opening of the Mersey Tunnel (1934)

Courtesy of Angus Tilston

Main image of Opening of the Mersey Tunnel (1934)
Directorunknown amateur filmmaker

The opening ceremony of the Liverpool-Birkenhead (Queensway) Tunnel on 18 July 1934.

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The opening of the Queensway Tunnel in 1934 was a key moment in the modern history of Liverpool. Named in honour of Queen Mary, the tunnel (or 'wonder tube' as it was described in a newsreel item on the event), connects Kings Square in Birkenhead with Old Haymarket in Liverpool, and at the time of opening was the longest underwater tunnel in the world.

Given the importance of the tunnel to Merseyside's commercial and industrial growth, and the sheer scale of the engineering involved in its construction, the project was to attract much attention from newsreel companies and other filmmakers. In archive collections there are a number of films about the tunnel produced at various stages of its construction. Modern Miracle (d. John Hodgson), a documentary on its design, construction and opening, was produced in 1934 to tie in with the opening celebrations. The opening ceremony itself was widely reported in the newsreels, with footage of King George V's speech and crowds gathered at Old Haymarket and William Brown Street capturing the impressive scale and grandeur of the occasion.

As well as these more 'official' filmic documents of the event, there also exists extensive archive material shot by amateur filmmakers. Early 'amateur newsreels' such as Glengarry Topic News no. 17 (1934), made by the Stockport-based Preston Brothers, feature scenes of crowds walking through the tunnel for the first time. In Opening of the Mersey Tunnel, shot by an unknown amateur filmmaker, views of the opening ceremony filmed from among the crowds at Kings Square at Birkenhead and Old Haymarket in Liverpool frame a different perspective of the event than that documented in the newsreel footage. Shooting at eye level, the camera peers out between the heads of other on-lookers in the crowd, each, like the filmmaker, trying to catch a glimpse of the ceremonial proceedings, whether it be the assembled local dignitaries, the military display, the eventual arrival of the royal party, or the King's speech. Intertitles provide information on the tunnel construction, and a commentary on the royal itinerary and opening proceedings.

Les Roberts

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Video Clips
Complete film (11:34)
Glengarry Topical News No. 17 (1934)
Liverpool: Across the Mersey
Liverpool: Shaping the City