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Posts Tagged ‘urban legends’

Since writing this series on underground spaces(see  underground categories) in the Tamworth area, I´m seeing and imagining  tunnels, subterranean spaces everywhere!

Here´s a short incomplete  list of some of the places I´ve seen, read or heard about subterranean spaces the last mont; Exploration Forums like Dark places and organisations Subterranea Britannica.Queries about rumours of underground tunnels in nearby Lichfield. Blogs entries like this entry  from the  Cheltonia blog which includes  underground cellars, also the oft cited bldgs blog and it´s  fascination with some fascinating subterranean worlds. Then just when I want to get away from it all I start seeing it in films I´ve recently seen , Hellboy 2, Fantastic Mr Fox on and others I can´t remember right now.  Even when I go on to a visit of the San Miguel de los Reyes  Monastery here in Valencia where on betting that tunnels will be mentioned,  the guide overheard me and sure enough went onto to tell the story of escape tunnels excavated beneath the monastery into the fields when the monastery was used as a prison in and after the Spanish Civil war and until the 60´s.

The San Miguel monastery above where the Great escape style tunnel breakout took place. The escapees actually got away with it and were never caught! The guide mentions that he knew one of the prison guards who was there when the escape happened. The tunnel story should be an integral part of the tour because as everybody knows people love tunnel  stories.

The reasons for popularity of underground spaces are many. They appeal to our sense of adventure and  mystery, they captivate and repel us with  fear, filth, darkness. They are metaphors for other worlds, alternative worlds and in past cultures provided the gateway to the other world(s),

Whatever the reasons I´ve got to stop and move on with this  subterranean fixation, so this is the last post(for now) on underground spaces in the Tamworth Timehikes area.

It´s the new year(Happy New Year!), days are getting longer, the sun is shining(at least in Valencia) so it´s time for Abe and Ernst to step out from the shadows of  the underworld, and  onto exploring the surface world, but just before couldn´t resist  one last dip  into  the depths of the underworld of Tamworth Timehikes.

Secret tunnel in the village of Hints.

In proof that secret tunnels can even be used as a selling point, Paul Carr estate agents advertise the 1,500,000 pound  Vicarage in the village of Hints with the possibility of your very own  secret tunnel included between the vicarage known as Chadwick house and the church of St Bartholomews.

The vicarage and rebuilding of the present church of St Bartholomews  was built and paid for by the cotton entrepeneur James Chadwick. Did this building work  include a secret tunnel? Is this one of those follies that the landed gentry loved so much in pre-television days?

hypothetical route of the secret tunnel taking the shortest route between the two places.

If it was a rich man´s whim then the 50 metre stretch of tunnel would be an expensive and labour heavy whim. Sure enough I´ve enquired about the secret tunnel story and it´s source with the estates agents with no response. Rising to the challenge I´ve sent out emails to Hints forum, church of St Bartholomew and have been met with a wall of silence. This could be due to it a) being some masonic millennium old secret,b)no interest in pesky emails about tunnels(can´t be true) c)went to wrong person, or d) simply haven´t got round to answering the query. Take your pick.

Could be part of the thought that Hints is apart from being a beautifully located place is to my eyes a zealously guarded  private place. It´s long drives with houses out of view, narrow high hedged roads, lack of a public space(no pub) all indicate it, to me anyway. It´s private architecture  is so well conceived that the village seems to be almost invisible! The annual Hints Open garden festival only accentuates the privacy of the place the rest of the year. Hints is by no means unique in these characteristics, it´s in fact the norm for the affluent rural english countryside.

Old Tamworth town hall dungeon

The above picture is taken from the superb  English Buildings blog, which pays homage to the architecture of old town hall. The 1701 building with later additions is indeed a very special building but here as is becoming tradition straight onto it´s underground credentials.

The ever reliable and highly detailed  1875 The History Town and Castle by Charles Ferrers describes the underground dungeon beneath the town hall built in 1812. He describes the dungeon as small, but dry and clean and goes onto say that prisoners are usually removed to the jails in the county-towns with very little delay.

I have a very murky memory of someone talking about an entrance to an underground space at the town hall. This may have fed in part to the story of Tamworth´s ley tunnel from the castle to church. Secret tunnel stories do  seem to usually have something tangible in their origins. Most towns have these stories and could be folk  ways of explaining long forgotten subterranean spaces like long ale cellars, medieval conduits,  and in some cases real genuine tunnels!

The mining areas and coal fields of Kettlebrook,Glasgote, amington, Polesworth.


I´m showing the above 1899 ordnance map taken from Staffordshire past  track(click here for the site)to show that this area was riddled with mining activity.The disused collieries and associated shafts are everywhere and it must be a swiss cheese of mines beneath the area! Most if not all are infilled , shafts tapped but is there an abandoned underworld of old machinery, shafts and tunnels beneath the extensive housing estates that will outlive what´s above?

Underground railways from the 1950´s at the now defunct Birch Coppice colliery taken from windows on Warwickshire shows an underground world created and worked in by the miners.

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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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Having being inspired by this inspiring project in Nottingham, the Nottingham cave survey. A great archaeological project that demonstrates to me be what investigating the past should be all about.  It hasn´t hidden the investigation behind a curtain of academic drabness, they know it´s fun, the bastards, just look at those bikes! There´s something of the kid in all of this looking at past mysteries looking beyond the normal street level everydayness in all of this. Nothing illustrates this better than whats beneath our feet. Forgotten tunnels, underground spaces  awake all sorts of stories etc within us and is seen in all sorts of underground stories for example in the brilliantly captivating  Rats in the Walls by J.P. Lovecraft.

Tamworth obviously doesn´t have the underground complexity of cities such as Nottingham(unique sandstone caves), Birmingham never mind cities such as New York. New York has even got a whole sub-genre dedicated to its underground world populated with its own set of characters from Mole people  to sewer alligators.  Incidentally great article on BLDG´S blog on rat catching and underground world of New York.

Ley lines

Can you see the entrance below Tamworth Castle into a secret world of ancient sects? I´m not telling

Tamworth and the Timehikes area has a much a more manageable underground world but not without its own mysteries. I remember as a kid messing around on the castle mount which then had the advantage for kids messing about of being hidden by trees. We were intrigued by the doorway below the castle and remember hearing stories being recounted about how it was the start of a tunnel which connected the castle with St Editha´s church. It was locked by barred gate and peering in I remember seeing the passageway filled  with rubble which with my imagination I´m sure I remember complete with  bones and skulls sticking out. How the hell I remember this I don´t know! One of the more intrepid explorer friends even proposed trying to get in and exploring further,  If my memory serves me right it´s the same guy who I was  saddened to read over Summer was involved in the operation Nemesis drug raids. Cruel world.

This Goonies flavoured childhood memory(incidentally goonies adventures have secret tunnels too!) introduced this legend of a tunnel between St Editha´s and the castle. When the legend came about I don´t know and what substance it has I don´t know either. The story of a secret tunnel though is by no means isolated and in fact forms part of the denominated folklore element  Leys tunnels.I´ve only seen this term on wikipedia but I think it´s an appropiate term for all those stories of secret and lost tunnels.  It seems most towns in the United Kingdoms  and overseas  have their version, Nottingham cave survey has actually confirmed it´s own legendary tunnel, see this link.

Going back to those childhood memories I remember that the ruined gateways leading into the castlegrounds presented a couple of hidden away doorways which I connected with the doorway on the mount. Apart from this distant childhood hypothesis I have this to go on from John Harpers page, which I´ve copied and pasted below:

As the demolition men tore down these 18th century buildings, they came across an old tunnel heading out under George Street from beneath one of the shops.  Some suspected that it may have been a long-lost medieval passageway leading from the castle to St. Editha’s Parish Church.  Local people have long believed the tunnel to exist, but as yet, there is no historical or architectural proof.  The George Street tunnel was probably just a cellar dug out to provide extra storage space.  But, as they developers were anxious to press on without archaeologists poking their noses in, the tunnel was simply blocked up with little or no investigation.

So there really is local hearsay about a long-lost tunnel! fascinating. Whatever it´s truth the secret tunnel serves  this blog as a sort of   doorway to that mysterious  captivating slightly creepy underground world  of abandoned cellars, sewers, sealed spaces that could lie below the area. Maybe it could even explain the rat problem in the castlegrounds!

Tamworth´s long lost medieval tunnel according to me.

Now onto the  first of a series on the  underground world of Tamworth.

The cellars of the Old Stone Cross

The old Stone Cross pub on Church Street, Tamworth has got a long history, which includes very old cellars. The heritage pubs of Tamworth initiative has a picture of the cellars  here and heaps of info on the story of the pub,including the Rolling Stones! This post is strictly focused on the underground though. The cellars according the HER entry date back amazingly to the early 16th century.The listed building entry even mentions Tudor Rose bosses on the vaulting. The place looks like it’s a candidate for the underground gem of Tamworth. Are there any other cellars with histories below old pubs of Tamworth?

Abe and Ernst got a part time job in the Old Stone Cross to take a better look at the old cellars, all for the cause.

This is the first and most tangible entry in a series Abe and Ernst explorations of the possibilities of underground Tamworth!

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Continuing with the theme of an earlier post, here are a few more stories of woe from Hopwas Woods spanning six  centuries.

From Dyott’s Diary, dated january 1834:

An atrocious poaching case occurred in Tom Levett’s wood at Hopwas Hays. His keepers were on the look-out, and at two o’clock in the night of Sunday they fell in with six men, three of them armed with guns. One of the keepers in pursuit of a poacher had a miraculous escape. The fellow, finding he was likely to be taken, turned round, levelled his gun and fired. The muzzle of the gun was so close to the keeper that his neck handkerchief was blackened by the powder, and his jacket near the collar singed. A slug was discovered in the jacket, and his shoulder, or rather collar-bone, grazed. The rascal made his escape. Three of the poachers were taken and brought before me, and committed for trial.

With the title portrait of the Rev. Thomas Levett and Favourite Dogs, Cock-shooting painted by the Romantic period painter James Ward in 1811. This is a depiction of  the owner of Hopwas Woods, protagonist of the two Dyott diary stories, and avid hunter. His residence was nearby Packington Hall, could the woods in the painting be Hopwas Woods?

From Dyotts diary, dated august, 1834:

A human skeleton was discovered in Hopwas Hays by some labourers getting stone near the bank of the canal. From appearance it was conjectured to have been in the ground twenty years. A report was in circulation that a man had been murdered near the spot about that time, and that the supposed murderer had died about a year ago, but nothing authentick could be traced. Tom Levett’s man came to ask my advice what was to be done, as his master was out of the county. Knowing that Tom Levett would be naturally anxious to have proper steps taken as to Coroner’s Inquest, etc., in consequence of the Hays being 1834 extra-parochial, I caused the circumstance and particulars to be communicated to the coroner, and to have his opinion as to an inquest. He decided that as there was no evidence to inquire into, he saw no necessity for holding an inquest. The mouldering remains were therefore conveyed to the bone-house in Tamworth Church, and there deposited.
There is a disused quarry on the woodland side next to the bank of the canal which is a good candidate for the quarry mentioned in the story above

This is a story taken from Simonsplaces findings in the Herald archives, it tells the story behind the name of Knox grave lane in Hopwas:
In the latter part of the 18th century a little known young Highwayman called Knox( his first name is not known) lived in Hopwas. He came from a farm labourers cottage from very poor parents. He would lie in wait in the country lanes for the solitary traveler returning home late at night from a local inn and hit him from behind with a heavy cudgel. One story is that he lived a hermit-like existence in a cave in Hopwas Woods.

One dark night he had robbed a traveler of pistol, powder and shot and two nights later he stepped out of the bushes to hold up a coach. When the coach halted and Knox demanded the mailbox, out came for Army Officers returning from leave. In his panic to escape Knox failed to fire the pistol and he was captured, tried and hanged within three days. His parents retrieved the body and are believed to have buried it in the lane close to their cottage.


Plea rolls for Staffordshire-18, Edward II(1284-1327) from British History Online

….Hugh de Attelbergh, who stated on their oath that on the Tuesday before the Feast of St. Peter ad Vincula, during the night, one Roger de Wetewode was passing near the Haye of Hope was, by a certain path leading to the vill of Hope was, and the said William le Lou stopped him in the vill of Hopewas, and wished to attach him because he had passed by night through the forest, and a dispute being thus raised between them one Roger son of Roger de Swynnerton came up suddenly and killed the said William son of William le Lou; and the said Roger de Wetewode aided and abetted the death of the said William, and they also said that the said Roger and Roger immediately fled, so that they knew nothing respecting the harbouring or reception of them by others, nor whether the said William was killed by the procurement of anybody, or whether his death had been previously arranged by anybody. The Sheriff was therefore commanded to arrest the said Roger and Roger, and produce them coram Rege at the Quindene of Easter. A postscript states that at the Quindene of Easter, 18 E. II., one Richard de Peshale appeared in Court before the King himself “coram Rege ipso,” and produced the King’s Letters Patent pardoning the said Roger son of Roger de Swynnerton for all felonies committed before the Feast of Christmas. Dated from Winchester, 2 May, 18 E. II. The said Roger son of Roger was therefore quit of the King’s suit. m. Rex, 1.

Taken from Staffordshire forest pleas-michaelmass, 55, Henry III (1207-1272) from British History Online

A presentment was made against Alured de Moloney, Hugh de Tymmor, James his brother, William de Mulveton, and John Salveyn, for entering the Haye of Hopewas, 53 H. III., with greyhounds, bows, and arrows, for the purpose of hunting  a stag . Hugh and James were committed to prison. James was afterwards released for a fine of 20s., for which John de Tresel and Henry de Morf are his sureties.




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Below are a few incidents at Hopwas woods. All potential material for urban legends. I’ll keep adding any more incidents I find out about to this post. That will be a feature of the blog, I’ll be adding and substracting from posts, it’s not publish the post and move on.  I’ll be going back and forth like with any creation and that includes comments that want to add or take away.

>In 1999 nine limousin  cattle escaped from a farm at Hints and took refuge at Hopwas wood. There was TV and press coverage and an army of a 100 soldiers, marksmen and mounted police hunting  the cattle. Four were shot dead but there was a public outcry and the remaining five were caught and taken to Hillside Animal sanctuary

limousin cow

>>deaths at Hopwas woods. In 1814 or thereabouts; body found by canal at Hopwas Hay with the details Unknown by unknown. When I was a kid heard about a death of a boy at the disused quarry workings in the wood, I remember because my brother told me while  climbing among the disused quarry(was it just a story) I recall reading in the local newspaper someone committing suicide by hanging in the wood a few years back.

>> June 1984 police swoop in on 16 naked witches dancing and chanting around a fire in a clearing in a wood-that was how the tamworth herald reported it. The truth was more swingeresque. It was the order of the silver star a group who believe in astrology and were trying to avert a disasters with stars or something, but why Hopwas? This has settled in the local consciousness somewhat. With people talking about witches and the occult  in Hopwas.

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