Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Underneath the Prince Rupert Hotel

On St Mary's Street in Shrewsbury, one can see a doorway with a relic most people miss above it that reads "The Old Mansion." But the door itself leads to a barren courtyard.

According to my map of Shrewsbury dated 1880, this was called Jones Mansion, and a little additional digging revealed that it had that name because it was lived in by an Edward Jones in the 1600s, who was the steward to the borough of Shrewsbury. His brother, Thomas Jones, was a bailiff before he became mayor in 1638. He then went on to produce numerous musical hits, including Whats New Pussycat and Sex Bomb.
And during the English civil war, this place became the accomodation of the royalist commander, Prince Rupert.

When Edward Jones died, the mansion was inherited by his son, another Thomas Jones, who was a lawyer.
The mansion was said to have a large forecourt but this was built over in the 1700s, and by the end of the 1800s, the place had been divided into five separate houses.

Throughout the 20th Century it was, along with other buildings, all incorporated into the Prince Rupert Hotel, and today what stands is a mighty amalgamation of several era's worth of buildings, and it really shows! Some chunks of the Prince Rupert Hotel are obviously more ancient than others.

Just look at how crooked this hallway is! I haven't made it to the bar yet and already I feel tipsy! This place is great!
This is perhaps the oldest part of the hotel, and has been dated back to the 12th Century, but it's kept to such high standard. If it wasn't for that fire existinguisher there I'd almost think I was actually stepping into the past. Historical authenticity or health and safety? What an awful choice to have to make!

Aside from the obvious fact that the hotel has incorporated a building once resided in by Prince Rupert, the hotel has also been stayed in by Margaret Thatcher,  (but not her hot grand daughter. Amanda, if you read this, call me!) and by the producers of "A Christmas Carol" which was filmed in Shrewsbury, with the grave of Ebenezer Scrooge being a leftover prop in St Chads graveyard, but I digress. One of the producers, while staying at the Prince Rupert, alleges to have seen an apparition of a man in a nightgown walk through a wall in one of the hallways here, leading me to what the Prince Rupert is best known for- being the supernatural hub of Shrewsbury.

And let me tell you, the place certainly has an atmosphere! Walking these hallways, I keep expecting to suddenly bump into those twins from the Shining or something.

But while the ghost stories are unavoidable and certainly fascinating, they're not what brought me to the Prince Rupert Hotel. I was here for the rumours of tunnels. Allegedly the Prince Rupert Hotel sits on top of one of the largest underground tunnel networks in Shrewsbury.

I say allegedly, because people keep also alleging that there's a tunnel from the abbey to the castle, but there's a goddamn river in the way!

Of Shrewsbury's underground tunnels, there isn't much except speculation. So far I've confirmed that there were tunnels beneath St Mary's Church but these were blocked off when they began collapsing. There was also a tunnel leading from Old St Chads to the Golden Cross Hotel, as well as an overhead walkway! Pictures of the crypt of Old St Chads depict more than one subterranean doorway, and I really think one of these may have been the Princess Street Tunnel, which may also have led to the Music Hall eventually, and with rumours of tunnels beneath the square, possibly to the Hole in the Wall too, but like I said, it's all speculation. All I can do is map out where entrances are and which direction these things point in before they get bricked off, and use common sense. If Point A is pointing at Point B and Point B is pointing at Point A, but both are blocked off, maybe they were once connected? Nobody builds passageways to nowhere.

I was expecting the Prince Rupert Hotel tunnels to be underneath Butcher Row. I was very wrong. They are underneath the older portion of the hotel that was Jones Mansion, and what really intrigues me is that up until a few years ago, nobody knew they existed! One room was getting renovated and beneath some floorboards, a spiral staircase was discovered, leading ominously down into the ground.

This stairway dates back to thr 12th Century, and was part of the old town walls. The resulting cellar is cavernous and full of intrigue.

 Situated on the right of the image is the door that the stairs brought me out of, but as you can see, there's a bricked up doorway right at the end of this arched area, which does actually point in the direction of Butcher Row.

Turning clockwise around the passageway, there is this really intriguing archway in the ground, which obviously led to a lower level at some stage. This points in the direction of the top of Pride Hill. According to the 1880 map of Shrewsbury, St Mary's Almshouse was this way, which instantly fuels the intrigue, since staff at St Mary's Church have confirmed that tunnels went from the church to the surrounding buildings. The enormity of the history certainly fuels speculation. St Mary's Church is the oldest religious site in Shrewsbury, being a Pagan site long before it was the current church, and also being on top of an underground stream of water, which is believed to gather in a deep underground well, said to have healing properties that are still retained and dished out to anyone who sits in the seat its now several feet beneath. The odds of St Mary's underground tunnels stretching to the St Mary's Almshouse across the road are quite high, these being established in the 1400s, and the tunnels being closed of only around a hundred years ago. But why were the Prince Rupert Hotel cellars linked, if they even were? It's difficult to say, when dealing with nine hundred years of history. Any feature in this cellar could have been added or modified over the years, and my map merely says what was there in 1880. The almshouse may not be what it was connected to at all, since the cellar predates it by several centuries. 

And turning clockwise again, to the end of the arched area, there is another obvious doorway. The town crier was allegedly once standing in this corner when he felt unseen hands try to pull him through this door, which points in the direction of St Mary's Church.

Also present is this old delivery shute, which leads out onto St Mary's Street.

And on the opposite side to the low down arch the cellar continues into a delightfully ancient storage cellar, with little cubicles. These are pretty ancient storage compartments, although how ancient nobody seems to know.

But check out this ancient door! One of the wonderful aspects of this cellar is that due to it being sealed off for so long, nothing has been modernized. Sure, it has electricity, but thats only to give it ease of accessibility for the ghost tours that come down here. All the rest is as it was found.

Through this door was another expansive area, with a small doorway leading back towards St Mary's Street, where there is another delivery shute, which no longer reaches the street. Given that each delivery shute is either side of a storage area, this isn't that surprising. But there was more to come.

This seemingly innocent looking cupboard is actually of interest. Allegedly on a ghost tour down here, a lady ran screaming from there claiming that it felt wrong, and that she had to get out. And apparently, a skeleton of a girl was once found in there, although I don't know the details of this particular story.  However, I did venture into the cupboard to see if I could feel anything, and I found it to be quite deep, for a cupboard, but very narrow and turning at a sharp right angle.

Who knows what was here originally. It seems like a bizarre place to have a shelving unit. In all honesty, I can't imagine anyone building an L-shaped, storage room that is this narrow. I had to really squeeze to get through it. It seems to me that the shelves were added long after this room outlived its original purpose, whatever that is. Either way, removing the shelves would make the width manageable for the average human.

This door is also pretty ancient, but it leads nowhere. It's been completely blocked off, but it points out into St Mary's Street again, at the top of Dogpole. We're a bit further down now, so whatever lies behind this door doesn't point to St Marys church itself, so where would it lead, and also, why?

Nearby, a moving shadow across my peripheral vision made me jump, my mind having been digesting all the ghost stories of the place, but it turned out that there was a circular opening to floor level and that whenever anyone walked by, their shadow would flit across the cellar. But again, nobody knows why this opening exists. The obvious answer would be that this archway was a delivery shute again but the opening is far too small. It seems intended to allow sunlight, which would be a fine architectural feature if the archway was a dark narrow underground passageway.

To my surprise, this archway was one of three, the second of which was partially obscured by a much more modern, but still ancient elevator, and the third only visible in a really cluttered and awful photograph. Nobody knows when the elevator was installed, or who used it. But the archways are considerably older.

As I said this next picture isn't brilliant, but the third archway can be seen here, on the far right, with the original on the far left, and the elevator obscuring the middle one. These archways are of real curiosity to me, because they aren't delivery shutes and nobody would build them for the sake of it. They would have once been doorways, I am certain, and they point directly at a truly ancient pub, the Loggerheads, which is one of my favourite places to go for a drink.

Quite curiously, when one steps back and looks at these archways in comparison to the other door, it seems pretty obvious from the contrast in the flooring and that big chunk of wall sticking out there that the three archways were originally blocked off from the rest of the cellar, before being opened up again.

When and why was this done? Nobody knows, but we have 900 years to work with.

A final doorway led to a room with an arched ceiling. If this ever led anywhere, it would be toward St Alkmunds church.

This is apparently the site of a lot of spooky activity, and is apparently haunted by a small boy who drowned in a pond that used to exist nearby in the 1800s. 

 Some of the brickwork at the back has been replaced over the years, but whether it leads anywhere is a matter of speculation.

Apparently seances have taken place in this room, and some people cannot even stay in it for long without leaving in a panic. Some have even reported being choked by invisible hands, while others have felt an invisible presence holding their own hands. There was certainly an atmosphere about the place. I felt like I was being watched the entire time I was down there, and that if I would turn my head slightly I would see the observer. But of course, there was nobody there. At least not to my knowledge.

It truly is a fascinating plethora of historic possibility beneath the Prince Rupert Hotel, with the true purpose of much of it nothing more than speculation even to the owners. This cellar was, after all, boarded up for many years, and knowledge of its existence is relatively new to the owners and to the people of Shrewsbury, comparatively at least to the years it's been hidden away. And with a history stretching back as far as this does, it's no wonder that there are ghost stories.

If all the blocked doorways beneath Shrewsbury could be bashed down, who knows what we would find?

Above ground and in contrast to this dark and dusty underworld, the Prince Rupert remains one of Shrewsbury's most successful and famous hotels. I have never stayed there. I don't need to, living barely a stones throw away, but I can honestly say if I was visiting Shrewsbury this would definitely be the place I'd stay. It looks great, and it's ancient, and has hundreds of stories to tell.

Thank you for reading. Don't forget to follow me on various social media! And if you have any fun stories about the Prince Rupert Hotel, paranormal or otherwise, please get in touch!


Sunday, 26 July 2015

return to the Knights Templar grotto

Random derelict religious sites always fascinate me. Especially covert worship. What prompted a bunch of Shropshire residents hundreds of years ago to dig an entire underground worshiping spot disguised as an innocent looking badger hole? I mean that takes dedication! 

I've been here before. Now, I was armed with a camera, and as it was my birthday, some friends agreed to drive me back out there and save me a massive walk.

(LEGAL DISCLAIMER: As an explorer, I do not force entry, vandalize, steal, or disclose means of entry or in this case, location. Trespass without forced entry is a civil offence rather than a criminal one, which isn't worth acting on unless one causes damage, steals, has ill intent, etc. I simply photograph and leave everything as I find it. I do not condone breaking and entering, and I do not condone what I do. I'm a danger to myself and a highly inadequate role model. )

Just look at this place!

Allegedly this "archaeological site" was created in the 1700s by followers of the Knights Templar for them to worship in secret. But sadly all information on the site traces back to the same news articles which told of the land owners plight as waves of cults, both good and bad, asked for permission to use this place for their rituals, and how gradually the place got trashed.

Finally, after cleaning out beer cans, and other rubbish, including two discarded cloaks, the owners were allegedly met by hooded robed figures on their own front door, who had their faces painted. They wanted their discarded cloaks back.
And as such, the caves were closed. CCTV was installed and the entrance was sealed.

Except it clearly wasn't. And since the originating article is from the Daily Mail, I'm just surprised those faced-painted robed folks weren't also alleged to be illegal immigrants wrongfully claiming benefits too.

In regards to this place getting misused by visitors, it does indeed have decorations of leftover cans and bottles, which baffles me because we must be miles from the nearest shop.  And the walls are crammed with a mixture of ancient symbols and modern wall scratchings. If anything this place serves as a testament to how everyones imaginations have slowly deteriorated. Long ago, people found sandstone and made mighty fine structures underground. Today, we get people writing "When u read this ur dead."

Seriously, it actually says that!

But I found the ancient symbols far more fascinating, and I haven't been able to learn their meanings, or find anyone who recognises them.

This triangle is lined with perfectly round, smooth circular indentations right on this shelf. And as you're probably noticing, someone has taken the time to decorate the place with candles. And why not? The place was pitch black!

Large circular indents were dotted here and there, with smaller circles in the middle.

This spot seemed to have particular detail, with a big central engraving between the two. The lower half seems eroded, but above it was a symbol of three large circles surrounded by little ones.

One of the more enduring symbols was this four-leaf clover design. 

And I almost missed this smaller one on one of the support pillars. The circular shape certainly seems to be the preference of whoever put these symbols here.

In all likelihood, the content of that Daily Mail article was a massive fabrication. Why would people sick of their caves being trashed tell the Daily Mail about it so that the entire country would know about it?

And just how many nefarious secret cults is Shropshire supposed to have???

Still, this was clearly a religious site. It has a sacrificial stone positioned in a triangular archway. Even among the other oddities this definitely stands out.

 The circular indents in this grey area have the letter K above them. I did some research into any religious significance behind the letter K. In particular how the K seems to be etched with those little bits sticking out at the back. It doesn't appear to be runic, but my knowledge in this area is somewhat limited to anglo-saxon Futhark, because I have a book on it. This isn't a Futhark symbol but I did wonder if it was a combination of two symbols but I can't see anything definite.

The letter K is more significant with Sikhs, but I really doubt this place has anything to do with them.

And as this close up shows, the circular indents are incredibly smooth. It made me wonder if these once housed gems or runestones. The layout could easily be attributed to a rune casting layout, and the proximity to what resembles an altar does hint that this particular cluster had some purpose. But check out how smooth these circles are!

Also across from the altar is this featureless archway, which must have had some significance, or else it wouldn't be there. It has occured to me that if that is genuinely a sacrificial stone, then the remains of the sacrifices might be hidden somewhere nearby and a doorway like this could have been an ideal spot to bury these away, but this is entirely speculative.

This particular area seems to have had a lot of work. The makers carved numerous archways to surround this tiny little shelf. In addition to the circular indents around the archways, there are circular indents under a shelf that are in a symbol resembling an anchor.

The anchor at first made me skeptical of any authenticity behind the symbols, but in actual fact, anchors have been symbolic in religions for centuries. Due to its obvious association with ships, it's a symbol of stability, and a rising anchor can be a symbol of ascending, and making progress. Anchor symbols have been found in the catacombs in Rome, and were used by early Christians. In the early days of Christianity, the Christians were met with a lot of intolerance and persecution from the Romans, and had to be discreet in their worship. The anchor was an inconspicuous way of retaining the cross, while also representing endurance of the current hardship. It's also the symbol of St Clement of Rome, who was tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea.

The ancient egyptians also used the anchor as a symbol of human creation, as the curved bottom represented the female and the erect upper portion represented the male. In fact quite a number of ancient symbols were oddly phalic. (I read once that even the hand gesture of sticking a thumb up at someone to symbolize positivity derived from representing an erection and sexual conquest. But I can't remember where I read it, so don't hold me to it.)

There was a chamber which seemed important somehow. The archway was decorated with this weird teeth design. 

The chamber was circular, with pillars on the left and right of the doorway, although these are decorative rather than support pillars, and again there are more of those clover symbols.

Facing the doorway is this solitary seat. It's always struck me as odd that this would just be here alone. Was it intended for one person to come here alone, or was it the seat of the leader while the lesser worshippers stood. Maybe it was the intended seat of a deity, and is just another symbol. I don't know.

I sat on it, but no deity reached down and told me off.

Finally, there was a part of the caves that I almost missed. This section was filled with dirt from either a collapse or a deliberate attempt at filling the cave in. But it had these interesting leaf designs.

With yet another circular symbol housing an old candle.  The floor of this chamber is obviously not the original floor, and who knows what one might discover if they dug it all out. Maybe this cave goes on beyond this point...

There was another smaller clover here, but with deeper outer circles. I have no idea why. 

And that's that.
When it comes to factual information, there are people several decades older than me who remember coming here when they were children, and being shown it by older family members, so its existence can be traced back quite a way. And from what I've heard, this place hasn't aged well in the 21st Century, with many saying that things have been vandalized and changed since they first came here. 

One has to wonder, why is this place so secret? Should it not be a tourist attraction? Surely that would protect it from further damage and erosion.
And what was it really? Who made it? Were the symbols part of the original layout or were they added over time as the caves became used by various different forms of worship?

And if this, to passing people, appears to be nothing more than a very large badger hole, how many more are dotted around that nobody has found?

Most of the hype concerning black magic cults in recent years seems to be just hype. It's a very remote place for a cult to come to, and when I last came here, the surrounding presence of nettles and brambles made it obvious nobody had been here in a while.
But needless to say, these sort of things require effort to make, and sacrificial altars don't just pop up out of nowhere. Someone built this place for a purpose, and it's the dedication and effort that truly amazes me. I can't imagine the level of faith in a deity one must have to build this place and all in the name of servitude to a higher power.

Regarding religion, I do tend to keep an open mind. I think belief and faith is often spoken of as if it were solid knowledge, and that goes for the absence of a deity as much as it goes for a belief in one. There is what I know, and what I do not know, and once this neat devision of the universe has the subtraction of belief, one comes to the fantastic realization that one actually knows very little about the world in general, and then it becomes impossible not to get off my arse and seek experiences and knowledge. All I have of the world is my perceptions, but as far as I know I have yet to come across a deity on my travels. And I've certainly yet to find an authority figure for whom I would contruct a detailed underground complex dedicated to their worship.

I imagine I wouldn't get along with God, given my usual inability to kneel for an authority figure anyway. Should I meet him, I'll have just that one important question- "God, if you made mankind in your own image, how come I'm so handsome?"

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