A while ago I wrote about underground tunnels at Castle Street and pondered in vain what their purpose was. Working on the theory that a lot of tunnels were to enable monks and priests to access local pubs and brothels, I looked for any local establishments in proximity to these tunnels and found two notable locations that no longer exist- The Raven Hotel which was incredibly popular before it was torn down in favour of a Marks & Spencers and linked to the Darwin Shopping Centre (because nothing symbolises human evolution better than a large retail bonanza), and the Talbot Vaults, which was later converted into flats above shops.
I can't find much about the Talbot Vaults, except its visible on Castle Street on my 1898 map, and is mentioned as being a public house.
Pubs have cellars, so logically if I was to find out if any underground tunnels once led to the Talbot Vaults, I would need to get under it.
In its most recent days, the Talbot Vaults has been a charity shop, and the longer lasting Hawks Cycles. The charity shop, until roughly 2012, was Thomas Cook, and it was during their renovations that I snuck into there, only to find unrestricted passage from the front door to the back with absolutely no sign of a cellar and no photos to show for it because I didn't start this damn blog until 2014!
So when Hawks Cycles began being worked on for conversion into a block of flats, I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to see the cellar that must lie beneath it, and approaching via rooftop and with my trusty accomplice, Tree Surgeon, I made it my goal for the evening, while Raptor and Ms K waited patiently nearby.
This building has been Hawks Cycles for as long as I have been visiting and living in Shrewsbury. But prior to being a bike shop, it was a toy shop called Fun Fayre, which later moved to Claremont Street before vanishing. Prior to that, it was a shoe shop called Lennards, and the upper floors were lived in by the lead singer of a band called The Deltas.
A quick peek around the exterior of the building gives us some historical information. Apparently prior to or simultaneous to it being the Talbot Vaults, there was a famous cake maker here in 1760.
Above the door, for a brief period after Hawks Cycle closed, the sign still advertized the premises.
This one has since been taken down. However another exterior sign seems to have escaped the renovation. Theres an alleyway that actually cuts through and underneath what was the Talbot Vaults. This alleyway today is called Castle Court, and contains the old police station, and a methodist chapel that has now been turned into flats. The alleyway leads down to the bus station, and if one approaches Castle Street from this direction, one can still see a sign pointing out that the bike shop is there. The people working on the shop havent noticed it yet!
And to be honest, I hope this sign goes unnoticed. I want it to become part of this towns history, like the sign for the Old Plough, or more unremovable, the sign that says that Halifax bank was a fire station.
But we're not talking about these buildings, although you can see the view from them here and here.
Regarding the old Hawks Cycles, before we get to exploring the interior, I want to highlight some of the exterior historical tidbits that anyone can see, which may date back to its time as the Talbot Vaults. For example, the alleyway that goes through and under the building has some blocked up windows on the charity shop side, invisible from the interior, and decorated in some amusing graffiti.
In a bizarre architectural twist, the building crosses over the alleyway twice, leaving an opening above, through which one can make out the outline of a slanted roof that once covered the passage.
If one goes further down the alleyway into Castle Court, one can find the stairs that lead to the flats above the charity shop, which I believe the majority of are still vacant, but it has been a while since I spent any time in them. I know for a fact that the top flat is being lived in because while I was on the roof, the occupant saw me from his window.
But just up the steps from the alleyway is a courtyard belonging to the flats, which to me has many little historical nuggets.
I'm under the impression that this walled courtyard was once indoors.
Facing the flats and Castle Street, interestingly by the door, one can ascertain from the sloped white pattern on the brickwork that there was a sloped rooftop on a much smaller building once attached to the back of this one. On the left, one can see a blocked up window which once led into Hawks Cycles.
On closer inspection, and supporting the theory that all of this was indoors, there's the outline of a fireplace, and if one looks closely at the door buzzers, there's the remains of a smaller window in the wall.
Clearly this building has been modified a great deal over the years, and is quite an architectural mixture of different eras. While it was all undoubtably the same building as what was Hawks Cycles, it's now regarded as "Next Door." But a quick scramble over the rooftops into the rear courtyard of Hawks Cycles is also very revealing. We did this bit at night.
So here's another bricked up fireplace on an exterior wall. But unlike the last one, this ones huge, which hints at this once being quite the refined house back in the day. Intriguingly, the walled area on the right of this picture actually frames a hole in the ground, which leads right down to cellar level. There are windows down there but it's all boarded up. Should one fall down there, the drainpipes are their only chance of getting out. Fortunately the public can't access this place.
I'm not sure why a cellar would have windows looking out onto a tiny exterior bit that goes nowhere, but it just goes to show that behind the scenes, Shrewsbury is a mish-mash of architecture from different eras. They tidy it up on street level, to some extent, but scrambling behind places can reveal some fun little mysteries.
So in order to access Hawks Cycles we took to the rooftops. This made for a fun completion of the "Rat Run," which is our nickname for the rooftop run from Marks and Spencers down to Cafe Nero. Traversing an entire street by rooftop is fun but progressing further down Castle Street wasn't always possible until now, when we managed to get all the way to School Gardens.
Down there is the library, which used to be a school in the Victorian era, which is why the street is called School Gardens. Allegedly, however, there are tunnels and old jail cells beneath this street, but I have yet to find any evidence. The rooftops of School Gardens were blogged about here, so having finally accessed these rooftops, I have an odd sense of completion for this entire street.
Accessing Hawks Cycles was easy enough although I need to warn my readers of the dangers of trespassing on construction sites. It's a pretty silly thing to do. There could be exposed cables, exposed wiring, missing flooring, and various other hazards. Builders wear protective clothing for a reason- It's a job that has risks! So to trespass on a building site is risky business!
The top floor does in fact involve a small hallway with small stairways to higher rooms. It was still largely unworked on when we went in, and therefore shared its age with us. But it did have a very morbid atmosphere to it. Upon entry, I immediately felt like I was being watched.
Having heard ghost stories from former occupants of the flats above the charity shop next door, ranging from everything paranormal you can think of, such as apparitions, poltergeist activity, strange voices, random cigar smoke and even posession (or maybe she was just a bit crazy), I decided to research paranormal activity in Hawks Cycles too. If it was all one building, and it was haunted, it seemed logical to me that Hawks Cycles might have something. And apparently it did!
When the building became Lennards Shoe Shop, the builders went in to renovate it. This would have been in the 1970s. The builders were warned by the owner that the place was haunted, and that footsteps could often be heard in the upper floors late at night even when the building was empty. The builders, being fearless and masculine, and having keys to the building, decided to stay the night without the owner knowing.
Allegedly, they all stayed in one room, and that night they heard footsteps come down the hallway towards them, kicking the skirting boards. Finally, when the footsteps were outside their room, they opened the door to find nobody there. Allegedly they vacated the building pretty quickly.
As we explored, we found this plan of the building, labeled Flat 3.
And here in the wall, we found this ancient framework. I don't think they make walls like this anymore.
Making our way downstairs, we found that the lower floor was largely more modified, and therefore lacking in character.
I dont know anything about construction work, but it seems to me that these walls are made out of shiny cardboard. Obviously that's not what it actually is, but its an interesting comparison and fun to see what a building looks like before its finished being changed.
The toilet is still in better condition than the toilets in some pubs and clubs...
We found more plans for the flats that were being built here.
I've seen these ladders before and personally I think they're amazing. They collapse into something small enough to carry in a briefcase, making them extremily portable. I'd love to get one.
Curiously, on the other side of the wall pictured above is that blocked up window I mentioned earlier, hidden behind shiny cardboard wall. From the interior, its impossible to know that it's there.
This room had a smaller room at the back, hidden behind these black sheets.
There wasn't much to see in there.
On this floor there are actually two flights of stairs. The first is towards the front of the building and will look familiar to anyone who ever came into the shop when it was still open.
The second is down this long coridor towards the back of the shop and actually serves as a fire exit, coming out in both the back of the store, and the alleyway.
We decided to take the back stairs, purely for cautious reasons. Experience has taught me that the ground floor is the one most likely to be protected by motion sensors, and I wanted to be close to the fire exit just in case we had to run.
Close to the fire exit we did find some cables, labeled with the various flats that they would eventually be connected up to.
And this here is the fire exit. Now, prior to the place being fixed up, this door appeared big and metal from the exterior but it's now been replaced by a more homely door, which I presume means that this door is the new entrance to the flats upstairs.
Curiously, however, the alleyway has two doors leading into the building but only one visible from the inside.
The one on the left with a mailbox is the newly converted flat entrance, so where does the one on the right go? It's quite a nice looking door, and from the outside doesn't appear sealed.
On closer inspection it appeared that the door was barricaded behind this wall, which made up most of the shop floor. There's no way through this door from the inside, in spite of it appearing very homely from the outside, and this to me is fascinating, and just another random chunk of history on the outside of the building just left over from the changing times.
So this is the back of Hawks Cycles, with this door being the means of access to the back stairway. This door is at a ninety degree angle to the door into the alleyway but to my amusement, on a recent stroll past, I noticed that the alleyway door was open and this door from the stairway into the rest of the shop had been blocked off.
It was once at a perfect ninety degree angle to this door, but now the only trace of it is a faint vertical line on the interior wall.
It's not much to be excited by but I love the fact that I've captured a previous layout that no longer exists.
Those who went into Hawks Cycles when it was open will remember these steps leading to the raised platform at the back.
At the back of the store was another door leading to a tiny room.
I was at first confused about its purpose. I did come into Hawks Cycles once or twice when it was open but I never noticed this tiny room.
The presence of a pull cord led me to conclude that this was a toilet. The toilet and sink were now absent but thats okay, an absent toilet is still a toilet in better condition than the ones in some pubs in Shrewsbury.
Looking down the store, it's familiar but full of builder equipment and supplies, making this pretty dangerous. Those working here had left their cups and food here, indicating that this was their chillout spot during their breaks.
The old store counter still stands, in front of the stairway, now covered in builder clutter.
And this is, of course, the main entrance out onto Castle Street.
The underside of the stairs seems to have been used by Hawks Cycles as some sort of odd-angled notice board, containing a calendar of 2016 which showed when each staff member had time booked off.
The chair that staff sat on behind the counter was still here.
And there's still a price guide to the services offered, as well as the occasional bit of leftover stock.
This door behind the counter caught my attention. This is what I was looking for! It's a way down into the cellar!
Experience has taught me that its far easier to cover up history rather than destroy it. As such the lower depths of any building often contain more history than the upper floors. Given that this shop is the site of a Victorian pub, there could well be old signs of that. And of course I was really hoping for signs of old underground tunnels.
What I did find was an old copy of Windows Vista.
Often people will leave comments like "I can't believe someone would just abandon that."
But this is Windows Vista, perhaps the most understandably abandoned thing I have ever found.
So here we are in the incredibly cluttered cellar. The builders haven't touched this part yet. This is all clutter left over from when the place was active. At the back of the tiny room there is what could be a bricked up door, but this shop is quite a long one, and the cellar doesn't run under it completely, so this could always just indicate that the cellar was once larger.
The cellar does expand instead in the direction of Castle Street, and interestingly, I found that a lot of the clutter is actually toys from when the shop was Fun Fayre. It's as if Hawks Cycles moved in and just did nothing with the stuff that was left over. Fun Fayre actually moved to Claremont Street, where it was under the gym, Future Physique, which was one of the first abandoned sites I ever explored. It's currently flats above Bodycare.
Meanwhile, this cellar expands out towards Castle Street, and then right, underneath the alleyway. Now that is intriguing, given that the shop next door was part of the same building originally.
There are still bike parts left over from when this place was a bike shop. So Hawks Cycles used this for storage but didn't remove any of the toys.
I'm not sure what these plastic hearts are, but they presumably date back to this being a toy shop.
We also found this large metal lego sign, which was probably used to advertise the lego section of the toy shop.
Regarding the turn where the cellar goes under the alleyway, there's this odd part where there are actually two walls, with a slim gap in between. I don't know what this would have been for, but there were dead ends at each end of this gap.
Beneath the alleyway is this teeny room, with newer brickwork at the back, indicating perhaps that this cellar did once expand under the charity shop. But if it was all one building, this isn't much of a surprise.
There are more old toys here, including this rusty tray thing which has written on it "modelling material in brilliant colour."
How long has this been down here?
So this concludes my adventure around Hawks Cycles. It has a surprising abundance of toys left over from its time as a toy shop. The building has many little bits of its history on display for the careful eye, and a very curious cellar, which unfortunately doesn't have anything in the way of hints at underground tunnels. The upper floors are almost completely converted into flats, and presumably another shop will open where Hawks Cycles used to be.
Thats all for now. I'm very sorry that my blogs have been so infrequent. The truth is, I've been moving house and focusing on the charity fundraiser, and other things. And of course, adventures keep happening. But I am so behind right now, with a backlog of adventures so huge I will have to pay someone to write for me after I am dead.
But thank you for sticking with me. As always, please share this blog post on whatever social media site you want, and please remember to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And most important of all, make someone happy. We each have the power to decide if someone has a good day or a bad day. If the rich and the powerful acknowledged this, the world would be a better place. But it's up to us, the little people, to help make each other happy, so go turn someones day around.
Thanks for reading! Stay awesome!