Saturday, 20 December 2014

The search for Subterranean Shrewsbury

As mentioned in other entries on this blog, Shrewsbury has allegedly got a maze of underground tunnels, so numerous that to believe all the stories would mean that Shrewsbury rivals Paris. But as much as I would love to someday go to Paris and explore the catacombs that are there, I am content for now to poke around Shrewsbury and find much more obscure treasures.

And so far I've found a few gems. The subterranean areas of Castle Street were a great little taster and there was that massive underground tunnel with the vintage cash register that was a really big slice of cake. The Creche under Pride Hill and the weird crest near Barclays were early discovery and the rest fall into rumours.

For some time now, the Water Lane in Shrewsbury has been the focus of one such rumour, as it's got these bricked up archways, two of which are still open, but hidden behind padlocked doors. I've heard it said countless times before- there are tunnels under there.

And it's not a surprise, since St Mary's Church is just up the road, and according to the people there, old tunnels used to exist that connected St Marys Church to all the surrounding buildings, including the Yorkshire House, but these tunnels collapsed in the early 20th Century. 

Back to the Water Lane, I found one day that one of the padlocked doors was open. I couldn't get in because of the gate, but I could push the door open and poke a camera through the bars...

So as you can see, there's a small area behind the door, now used for storing traffic cones and someones bike, and a filing cabinet. The gate at the back is particularly interesting as it seems to just lead to nothing, but if you look closely you can see a wooden door frame at a right angle on the far side of the other gate. So where did this lead? Did it connect to whatever lay behind the other locked gate? Or are there stairs that go downwards?
Now that I've seen a glimpse, I do want to see more. However, since taking these pictures a new padlock has been added to the gate. So ideally what I need is to find out who uses this space, and then ask them.

What I have since learned is that in the 17th Century, the River Severn was the 2nd busiest river in Europe, and was used to take goods from Shrewsbury to Bristol. The Water Lane was named as such because it was their access route to town, and these old archways were once small shops on what was once a busy road.
Now all that is left that gives it any historical significance is the large doorway at the bottom next to the river, ruined by these little fences that stop cyclists from plummeting down the slope and into the river.

I have managed to find one historic photo of this, and the archways still appear to be bricked up...

Interestingly, during the English Civil War, Shrewsbury was a royalist stronghold, and only fell to Parliament forces when someone let them in via the Water Lane, which as a result is more commonly known today as Traitors Gate, along with a restaurant at the top. It was lucky for Shrewsbury in the long run, as this is why Shrewsbury Castle is still intact today, while other castles in Shropshire are rubble.

 While I was researching that, I was told by a lovely lady that a shop on Wyle Cop was situated above an underground lake.
Wyle Cop, for those of you who don't know, is a big steep road in Shrewsbury that leads from the middle of town to English Bridge over the river to the Abbey, which most of the towns underground tunnel rumours circulate around no matter how far away from the Abbey they are. The Berlin Wall is connected to the Abbey if you ask the right people.

But according to history, there was a large body of water in the middle of Shrewsbury, that used to flow down Wyle Cop and join the river. However, chances are this was long dry before it was built on top of. So I approached buildings with skepticism when asking about this, and as I predicted, found nothing. But then I found myself somewhat led on a wild goose chase, as everyone I spoke to referred me somewhere else, and then the someone else would refer me back to the person I'd started with originally, and the stories became more and more unbelievable. Allegedly only a year or so ago someone bashed down a wall in their cellar and found a tunnel that went all the way down Wyle Cop underneath it, and at the end there were the remains of humans who had died down there.

I asked the man central to this story and he denied everything, and claimed that there were stairs leading downwards, but that there were floorboards in the way. He then referred me next door, to the people who told me the story originally.

I began to give up on Wyle Cop, as surely there are other parts of Shrewsbury where I could actually find a reliable lead. But then I was told that a person at the Sleep Shop had hinted that they had an unusual downstairs. The Sleep Shop is at the bottom of Wyle Cop, and sells beds. I approached this place cautiously, half expecting the staff to tell me that what I'd heard was just a rumour and nothing more. However to my delight, the staff at the Sleep Shop were very pleasant and welcoming. They did say that they doubted their cellar was that interesting, but decided to let me photograph it anyway, which sure was kind of them.

I found the cellar to be quite cavernous, but so full that it gave the appearance of being much smaller than it was.

What I loved was that there while the main cellar protruded to the right of the stairway, there were two doors on the left that led to an additional room that went under Wyle Cop.

This additional room was originally impossible to use due to water damage, but had since been fixed up. And what I found most interesting was the support pillar being so close to the wall, and the furthest wall, facing Wyle Cop, being an obvious arch way, which often symbolizes some kind of blocked up route.

Across the road is Tanners, the Wine shop, and this cellar seemed to point right at it. The people at the Sleep Shop recommended that I check out that place next, but I was reluctant, having already been told during my research that there was nothing of interest as Tanners. But I decided to throw this to the wind, along with the skeletons and the underground lake, and trotted over to Tanners to ask there if they had anything interesting.

And I was not to be disappointed. I did at first doubt that I'd get anywhere by strolling into a wine shop and expecting someone to accommodate me when Christmas is less than a week away. But I did find someone who was willing to show me around. Not only that, but she seemed to genuinely know what she was talking about, and enjoy the interaction between staff and customer, or in this case staff and eccentric blogger.

Behind the scenes, Tanners reminded me of those bunkers one hears about, which are designed during the Cold War, but never used and then left exactly as they are for decades. It was very much like a museum, full of historical artifacts. While I usually prefer exploring abandoned places, there was so much history in this place in spite of it being occupied that I found myself not wanting to leave. I was told that this used to be the Unicorn Hotel, which was built in 1603, and lasted long into the Victorian era, although I'm not entirely sure when it closed, or when it became floored with railway sleepers. The interior was very nice, but sadly most of my photographs suffered from hand shake. But regardless, there were some very cool treasures hidden in there.

 The lady showing me around told me that the red contraption is for re-corking old bottles when the cork starts to shrink.

This office looks like it's been left this way since the 1940s but I'm told it's actually in use.

 The cellar was very amazing, and much of what was left had a lot of history and was left untouched for years. The managers office was at the end of a short passageway decorated with bottles, nifty wooden doorways and years of preserved history.

Sadly the managers office was locked, but I asked if I could poke the camera through and photograph the inside.

Sadly not the best picture, but you can see the length of the passageway, surely going underneath Wyle Cop in the direction of the Sleep Shop. I wonder if they really were connected at some point...

Before I left, I asked about another stairway leading down into a separate underground bit, which served as an exit from the building, surfacing outside. A fascinating addition to the building, and lined with old barrels, most of which were empty but left undisturbed for years, although I was told by my guide that during a flood they were all floating on the water.

There was an old elevator shaft too, but with the narrow passage and barrels across from it, it was very difficult to get a good shot.

I would love to have known what this tunnel was used for back in the days of the Unicorn Hotel, as well as the other tunnel with the office at the end, because they both exceeded the actual property, but in opposite directions.

Perhaps most importantly, as with Castle Carpets several months ago, it's nice to be able to walk into local businesses and get these kind of opportunities. It's this sort of welcoming environment that gives Shrewsbury and its businesses a genuine community vibe. The people are friendly and they're proud of what they've got, and they're happy to help. 

And with Christmas around the corner it's fitting that I ended up exploring the cellar of a wine shop.

In the new year I'll have some more abandoned places to show. The adventure is far from over.

Until then, have a good Christmas.


  1. Thank you for this fascinating insight into Underground Shrewsbury!

  2. Thank you for this fascinating insight into Underground Shrewsbury!

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