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Archive for December, 2010

Found this very Victorian account of Tamworth on googlebooks called Town and Castle, by Charles Ferrers, from 1845(Click on the title to follow the link) It has a wealth of detail in where it mixes detailed history, personal accounts of discovery, local hearsay and Victorian morals/judgement. For example just love the bit in the extract below where he reprimands the builder who ´had neither the curiosity were it led to, or the courtesy to inform any person who would have explored it

You can just sense his disappointment! The extract is about the discovery of evidence for that ancient elusive subterranean passage linking the castle and church(see earlier post). That builder made sure he maintained and added to the mystery until now!

The crypt

Mr Ferrers in Town and Castle goes on to state that it´s believed that this passageway communicated with the church through the east end of the crypt. The 14th century crypt beneath the church of St Editha´s still exists but first to Ferrers account of the crypt from where the suitably gloomy sketch of the crypt is taken from.

I love the account of the crypt, see it here. It´s full of exhaustive detail with added  mock victorian gothic and romantic era atmosphere. Just read this extract  from the account

Lost to the living -surrounded by the relics of the countless dead, the horrors of whose prison-house were feebly revealed by the dim light of a solitary candle,-listening to the distant and almost stifled sound of a muffled bell – for there was a funeral in the church above- we seem to have intruded into the abode of the king of terrors

This is the same place that until recently would have rang with the sound of ´would you like more milk with that dear´ Ferrers darkly vivid account was aided by the fact as the sketch demonstrates it was receptacle of the all the bones disinterred by digging new graves in the churchyard, a sort of charnel house. By the account it sounds like the crypt was piled high with bones, and his account of removing the stacked bones to look for the mysterious subterranean passageway gives you an idea of the scale of the state of the place.

In an earlier post about tales from Hopwas. It´s mentioned in Dyotts diary that the murder victim found in the early 19th century in Hopwas quarry  was laid to rest in this same place, what a place!

As you can see from the photo taken over this summer the crypt has recently been used as a cafeteria with no bones in sight! Last year I entered the cafeteria with my girlfriend and were treated with curiosity and kindness by the staff . I remember thinking this is an amazing place for a cafeteria. My mind started whirling with the possibilities, dub nights, music lovers bar, projections on the 14th century walls, and then I came back to earth and remembered we´re in Tamworth and it´s below a working church but just if….

When the above photo was taken it had closed, and might stay as a relic of late 20th century market town cafeteria life. It closed for…wait for it…health and safety reasons to do with the steps leading down. They are perhaps the easiest steps to walk down I´ve ever seen, and without encasing the place with rubber can´t see how you could make it safer.

Abe and Ernst braving the steps to the crypt

Anyway there was no problem with us going down to have a look and the crypt is definitley worth a look! It´s a very well-preserved 14th century rib vaulted crypt built from rag stone, so typical of the few medieval structures in the area.  It´s a candidate with it´s age, past use, and gothic beauty as the best underground space in the Tamworth timehikes area, although true it´s the only one I´ve seen and contenders are welcome.

What gives it the edge though is a large well conserved 14th century painted inscription on one of the walls. As you can see from the photo below a 20th century exclamation mark has been added in the form of I think a serviette holder!

My latin is well non-existent so I left it´s translation alone until a few days ago where the power of the internet for macro-local discoveries was fully demonstrated. Town and Castle online contains a sketch of the painting with a full translation. Thankyou Charles Ferrers. Here´s the sketch and translation below.

O lord of wealth(and power)

Thou shalt not live for evermore;

Do well whilst life thou hast

If thou would´st live when death is past

Mercy Jesus Christ

Merry Christmas and  happy New Year(I added this bit)

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Below are a few more underground bits and pieces in the area. They all share in common, the fact that they are, as it says in the title, underground spaces beneath country houses and religious places. Country houses as well as religious institutions had the money, influence and power to do things on a grander scale than farms. So it makes sense that the artificial underground spaces are more spectacular and substantial.

So below are the candidates, followed by some likely candidates. For purposes of the post and the series, I´m just focusing on their underground nature and some I´ll be coming back to in later posts with different approaches. I suppose it´s all about how you approach material things, even the most mundane things can become interesting, so much so that sometimes you have to take a step back!

Polesworth vicarage

According to the  historic landscape survey on Polesworth the existing cellar in the 16th century vicarage, I quote, possibly occupies part of the former undercroft of a north-south monastic building to the west of the cloister(Palmer 2000). It looks very possible that part of the cellar dates back to the monastic period. Considering that very little of the once powerful and well-known Polesworth abbey survives, (apart from church and gatehouse) this makes this possible medieval underground space all the more important.

Above photo of  privately owned Vicarage, click on photo to see original flickr source

The cellars of Packington Hall

Packington hallis an intriguing 18th century country estate just outside Hopwas to the west which I´m going to almost totally ignore to go straight into details of it´s dark underbelly. A  structural survey commissioned by the new owners who want to turn the place into flats reveals that the 18th century country house has two cellar areas beneath the main building and rear wing which are in ´sound condition.´Packington hall was designed by famous  18th century architect James Wyatt so maybe those cellars are all the more worth having a look at. By the way no interior inspection by English Heritage people!

In the grounds there was an Icehouse, is it still around? They were common feature in country houses and used for food storage. Icehouses could qualify for an underground feature and icehouse entrances in out of the way places  and forested areas have probably been influential in creating more than one  secret tunnel story.

Comberford Hall

Click the link above to go to the Comerford Family History site, where the plan of the basement and storage room of the late 18th century Comberford hall is taken from. Underground spaces under private residences are enveloped in a double wall of secrecy. What´s underneath we might never know unless Mr Comerford decides upload some photos to his site.

Likely candidates

Deanery

Between the 14th century ragstone walls surviving from  the deanery, immediately to the east of St Editha´s, Tamworth  must lie the soil  infilled vaulted medieval deep cellar belonging to the deanery mentioned in Charles Ferrer´s  history of  town and castle.  Future archaeology studies enjoy!

Site of Fisherwick Hall

This was the site of the very bling bling  but ephemeral Marquess of Donegall´s rebuilt Fisherwick Hall. It was demolished in the early 19th century leaving the coach house and stables. What if the demolishing wasn´t that rigorous and the housekeeper’s room, the servants’ hall, the kitchen, and other offices mentioned in the history of the county of Stafford as located in the basement partly survived.

Above is a  photo taken over summer  in Fisherwick wood. It´s a bridge of expensive stonework hidden in the undergrowth, part of Capability Brown´s landscaped estate. Although not strictly underground, it offers a tantalising glimpse into the potential black  marbled,richly moulded, opulent underworld of Fisherwick Hall

Lastly on the mentioned county of Stafford link there´s a mention of I quote, “access to the house from the lawn in front was by a tunnel under the carriage road. “

What happened to this tunnel? Here´s Welbeck Abbey a  well-known and extensive, somewhat crazy example of tunnels built at the whim of aristocrats beneath a country estate.


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The Woodhouse is back as the dignified representative of this latest underground themed post! UKurbex put the   pictures below on their website showing the pictures they bravely took of the cellars of the now probably flattened Woodhouse, Hopwas(see earlier posts for more details) These photos are an invaluable  testament as far as I know there was no interior inspection by English Heritage people. Without putting my neck out too much they must be the same 18th century´Ale cellars´  mentioned in 1770. It’s a double cellar with barrel vaulting complete with alcoves.

The cellars below the Woodhouse got me thinking about the fate of cellars below demolished buildings. What happened to the Woodhouse cellar? the woodhouse is probably now flattened, what I wonder happens to the cellars of these building when demolished?After having a look around at demolition procedures it seems that most are backfilled. Is this a thorough process?. I imagine that modern building regulations are pretty strict nowadays about not leaving any empty spaces below but you never know. Following this line of thought the older the demolition the more chances that the cellar hasn´t been thoroughly backfilled and erased and maybe some pitch black part of the cellars lies preserved below like an egyptian burial chamber.

Abe and Ernst entering a sealed abandoned farm cellar Tutankarmun style.

 

The chances of partly preserved cellars opens up a world of underground possibilities. Farm building where cellars were commonplace dating from the 18th and 19th centuries dot the landscape and many have disappeared for various reasons. Below is one case, Ashlands Farm  in the Tamworth timehikes area situated in the eastern part of the Blog´s area above the River Anker.Its an area that has many abandoned sites, a post apocalyptic  landscape below idyllic meadows!.

Above the location of Ashlands farm. Ploughing has left alone  the mound of rubble, leaving the disturbed ground idyll for brambles and blackberries to the delight of my hunter-gatherer father below.

Above the rubble from Ashlands farm. The driveway with it´s  soon to be fossilised trackways  still connect the farm rubble with Ashby road. From looking at old ordnance maps the farm dates back to at least the late 18th century and looked quite substantial. It became a mound of rubble in the 70´s/ 80´s for reasons unknown, maybe something to do with the economic downturn.  It´s a good candidate for an old cellar. Does it remain below partly intact, blackest black, a pocket of 1970´s air, with an assortment of antiquated farm equipment or maybe overfermented ciders in the dormant cellars? I´d like to think that’s the case! I can´t find any  literature on investigating old cellars in the UK, although in eastern USA there are people who look for dips showing where root cellars were located dating back to colonial rural houses. In the absence of any literature on investigating cellars below demolished farm houses maybe could develop a manual. Locate the cellar entrance on old plans,maps or the best location for cellars, and start digging through bricks, concrete. Sounds like hard work maybe best to leave it a couple of hundred of years until they become valuable enough or futuristic archaeological tools are developed to see below ground !

On another note I´d just to write a big heartfelt thanks for all the support and bigupping from Bob from blog of local legend Brownhillsbob. It gets a bit lonely sometimes marooned on the island of Tamworth timehikes with just a couple of made up characters(Abe and Ernst) to keep me company so much appreciated!!

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While googling info for the underground Tamworth timehikes series , came across this very Lovecraftesque information about a desolute field somewhere in Staffordshire  It just needs some ´race of half humans´ and Clhutlhu overtones and that’s it. It´s taken  from a history of Staffordshire By Dr Plot written in the late 18th century, here´s the excerpt below:

A laborer who was in a desolate field digging a trench came upon a large iron plate that lay beneath the dirt. The hatch was described as being large and oval with an iron ring mounted upon it. This entrance according to those that investigated lead to a large selection of tunnels, the field in located in a valley that is surrounded at both sides with trees.

Great introduction for any budding novelists out there.


Glascote Reservoir

Glascote reservoir 1 is located next to the 1979 reservoir in  Glascote in Tamworth. The post is about the first one as there exists  the possibility that it’s a contender for the finest underground space in Tamworth.

The covered reservoir shown in the 1899 Ordnance map taken from Staffordshire Past track

It was built at the high point of Victorian engineering or ´overengineering´ where many of the public works, especially sanitary and drainage systems were spectacular constructions that together with the description from History of South Staffordshire Waterworks could mean that Glascote reservoir has the potential to be an impressive underground Victorian remnant. Below is the excerpt from the book concerning the reservoir

The original Glascote Reservoir, built in 1880, held sufficient water for one and a half days supply. Constructed entirely in brickwork and totally enclosed, the roof consisted of semicircular brick arches springing from arched traverse walls, stiffened by subsidiary flat arches spaced at 13 feet one inch centres. Dimensions of the receptacle are 32.0m. x 31.7m x 4.78m deep. Top water level is 364.6 A.O.D. Built in a mining area, close to the North Warwickshire Colliery, for some years cracks had been observed in the roof and walls of thestructure which were gradually spreading, subsequently the reservoir was taken out ofcommission until remedial work was carried out.

Built entirely of brickwork with semicircular brick arches it could be similar to the reservoirs at Papplewick Pumping station built 1882-1882  at same time. Papplewick is the finest Victorian pumping station in the UK according to their website. Papplewick has been turned into a successful tourist centre. This photo below  is taken from their website, it could give an idea to what might  lie covered at Glascote:

BrownhillBob has a great report of his explorations(with photos) in the archives and on the ground  which do justice to the  now demolished Shire Oak Reservoir here, and is in fact where I got the invaluable link to the History of South Staffordshire waterworks.

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