Saturday, 7 February 2015

More tunnels

Shrewsbury's delicious rumours of an underground tunnel complex have been circulating for decades, and while I've found plenty of evidence to support these rumours, many are sadly blown out of proportion. The Abbey, for example, is allegedly connected to the castle, Frankwell, the music hall and pride hill, depending on who you ask. I'm sure it's possible to get to the moon via a tunnel beneath the abbey if you ask the right person. It's got to the point that when someone says that a place was connected to the abbey, I instantly lean towards dismissing it as rumour.

But when one maps out the locations of confirmed tunnels, it becomes apparent that there likely isn't a Paris Catacomb style complex beneath the town, but there are smaller clusters of entrances dotted here and there, suggesting smaller complexes, and mapping each entrance allows one to guess where others might be based on important landmarks that happen to stand between two entrances facing each other. The Castle Street cluster is a great example. While it's no longer possible to walk from A to B via the underground tunnel, one can see where the tunnel was from both point A and B.
I got lucky with Castle Street, as I have a lot of Point A's lacking Point B's, and the more I explore the more Point A's I find with no Point B's. And while I am lucky to have maps of Shrewsbury dating back to the 1880s, I have surprisingly little details on what they were, except for the confirmation that they were there back then.

A long, long time ago, I was given a lead to chase up. Now, to add a disclaimer- The location has requested I take the article down as they were unaware it would be published online. While I had permission to take pictures, albeit bad quality ones due to only having my phone, and the card I refer people to only has this website to direct people to, I legally own the photos, and some of my blog posts have had a staggering number of views, ranging from 8000 to 13,000 (thank you), I feel obligated to not disapoint my readers. I'm forever hearing about my blog second-hand, from people who know people who have read it, and it's really flattering. I don't want you guys to miss a thing. So to honour the kind owners of this establishment, I won't be disclosing the location of these tunnels. But I will be showing you what I have.

The cellar is huge, going beneath the establishments next door neighbour. While the back of the cafe faces the Shrewsbury hotel, it's stairs head down in the opposite direction, towards town, leading to two doors- one straight ahead and the other on the right hand side as one descends. The door directly ahead is a toilet, but this room originally had a big Victorian door with an incription.

The plaque is dated 13/1/61 and given the style, one can assume this refers to 1861. I know absolutely nothing about the history of this building, but the fire proofing of the lower areas could be a huge clue.

But the area on the right was what really had me baffled. It was a large area, which will allegedly be an area to eat in eventually. But at this point in time, it only intrigued me. I was saddened by the fact that the owners had fixed up most of it, but what was left still amazed me.

Three bricked up entrances existed, each in different directions.

The first entrance is barely visible. In fact I only noticed it when the staff pointed it out to me. I assured her that the camera would pick it up. I have no idea what this doorway was for, but given that this part of the building is already underneath next door, and part of the street in front of both cafes, what we have here is an obvious expansion beneath the road, which happens to be Hills Lane. On the other side of the road is a carpark, but if we assume that this was indeed a passageway then it would eventually go to the old Argos building and the market hall.Claremont Church is also there.

However, according to the map of Shrewsbury from 1880, directly between Argos and this place once stood the Welsh Presbyterian Chapel.

The other two entrances were a lot less concealed.

This entrance is facing Shrewsbury Sixth Form College, but standing between the two is an ancient timber framed building that is currently a tourist information center, but was a museum from 1936 to 2006. Prior to this it was known as Rowley's Mansion. The Rowley family are historically known for success as maltsters, brewers and drapers as far back as 1594.

So while there is no concrete evidence, history does indeed show that this area did once have quite notable locations back when any underground tunnels would have been in use.

But it's the third door that caught my interest.

As far as I'm aware, nobody builds stairways and doorways to nowhere. And yet this tunnel facing north goes down and out, in the direction of the river, allegedly to a point where it originally recieved deliveries via the river severn.

It's difficult to see with this fridge/freezer in the way but at the bottom of the steps, the tunnel is bricked off. Unlike the two other doors, which could be other rooms as easily as they could be tunnels, this is definitely an underground tunnel, descending further underground. If this did originally take deliveries from the river, then it goes directly beneath the Shrewsbury hotel and actually corresponds exactly with a circular opening in the side of the river severn visible from the theatre.

Visible on the right hand side just above water level is the circular (or maybe arched) alleged opening. I did hear a rumour once about someone who took a boat through this hole and did end up beneath the Shrewsbury Hotel, but lacking a boat or waterproof photo equipment, I have not investigated such a claim yet. But if this is indeed the old delivery point for goods to the cellar beneath Hills Lane, then it could well have been a delivery point to other establishments in the same area- the map from 1880 does position a malthouse and the long gone Britannia Hotel between the location and the river entrance, which is present on the map also, but not labeled. It could be that a long time ago this tunnel network did exist for the purpose of delivery via river. Let's not forget, the river severn was the 2nd busiest river in Europe during the 17th Century and as such a delivery point from the water is quite plausible.

Of course it's all speculation but the fact is, for such a large room to exist underground with entrances splitting off in three different directions, it must have been something important.

Also worth noting is that in the vicinity lies an underground restaurant called Paolos. While the two don't appear to be connected via the underground, the vicinity to this potential network does have me thinking. Paolos has actually been fixed up and is now a really cool place to eat if you're in Shrewsbury, serving delicious food, by friendly staff. It's very difficult to tell how old it is, given the fact it's still in use, and it was also difficult to snap photos without catching customers in them. However its age does indeed show itself through the architecture. There was also a former ceiling hatch that is no longer anything.

But anything I say on the matter is speculation. However this location was quite blatantly something, a long time ago.

Next time, I'll be chasing up another rumour...

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