Some will tell you that there's absolutely no truth to the rumours of an underground labyrinth beneath Shrewsbury. But if you read this blog often you'll know that there's definitely something! Sure, it's not the Paris Catacombs or the Salt Mines of Krakow, but there's still plenty of secrets waiting to be found.
Often when I find underground tunnels, I can make it so far in before reaching a blocked up doorway, and end up wishing that I could get permission to knock some bricks through or pull some floorboards up and see what lies beyond.
A little while ago, a local business owner actually did get in touch with me to share some exciting news. Having pulled up some floorboards they had discovered that their business was in fact on top of something vast and subterranean. Something that had not been touched for years. And had they gone to the media with this discovery, I guess we'd be seeing exaggerated scandal articles describing the horror that hundreds of illegal immigrants could potentially enter our country via underground tunnel networks. Fortunately for truth-lovers everywhere and fortunately for me, the business owner got in touch with me instead. Isn't that awesome? If there's something strange underneath your neighbourhood, who are you gonna call? Me!
The company basically pulled the floorboards up so that they could utilise the space underneath to house their electricity meters, which is fair enough. But they didn't know quite how expansive it was down there.
Now I'm no architect or historian. I don't know why the underside of Shrewsbury was connected via a series of passageways and tunnels, but I am the person who is photographing, documenting and mapping their existence, and for me this was a massive step forward. Getting into the underground tunnels via a removed floorboard allows the potential to get around any blocked doorways.
I headed straight over and within minutes a ladder was lowered down into the enigmatic depths.
While I won't be giving the exact location of the entrance away, I will say that these particular tunnels run beneath Wyle Cop, and are ridiculously labyrinthian. It was pitch black down there and the floor was bog-like, no doubt from flooding.
There's a random shelf down here. Who knows why?
Some parts of the maze did show protrusions of modern building technology, but this is something I've seen in underground tunnels before, where various ages of architecture are mishmashed together, and it doesn't matter to the aesthetic of a property because these places are then sealed off. Sealing off is cheaper than demolishing, which is fortunate because it means it's all preserved, but at the same time it bugs me because there are so many properties in Shrewsbury that will insist that they have no cellar or anything beneath them, and they are very, very wrong.
Here's a bricked up door, probably leading into the cellar of a local business. Ordinarily I'd be on the other side of the bricked up doorway thinking "If only I was allowed to knock a few bricks out and crawl in." Well now I was in, and it felt great. But check out that supporting pillar. It looks pretty ancient.
Looking at that door though, it has some interesting architectural tidbits.
Check out the diagonal brickwork that runs horizontal on either side of the doorway towards the top. Little things like that suggest that these tunnels weren't just serving a practical purpose. Someone once wanted them to look nice too.
It's definitely worth mentioning that in some parts of these tunnels I could hear footsteps, voices and occasionally traffic above me. As well as running underneath several buildings, these ran under the street too. The parts that ran under the street were predictably boggy. Shrewsbury is a town known for its flooding, and long abandoned tunnels aren't exactly going to have the best protection from the elements.
These steps led up to a narrow passage that turned at a right angle, before getting blocked off.
But these blocked off doorways, while annoying to some extent, didn't stop me having a lengthy, enjoyable adventure.
Here you can see some stairs on the right, but they're crumbly and ancient. And as this was such a cramped area, it was impossible to get a decent shot of them. But as you can see, they're old.
The bottom steps have completely deteriorated, and the upper steps are completely blocked off. So whatever shop I'm underneath would have had access down here many years ago.
Beyond the stairs, there seems to be wooden frame work in the wall similar to the blocked up door. Perhaps this is indicative of another bricked up doorway.
There were several other points of interest down here. One of the more intriguing parts was this arched area, which was a sudden departure from the rectangular coridors I had been scurrying around so far.
This tunnel was pretty flooded and bog-like but I managed to scramble along it utilising the numerous chairs that seem to have just been carelessly tossed down here. They weren't exactly stable but they served their purpose.
There are a few other blocked up passages down here and there was also this ancient looking relic.
Seriously, how long has this old boiler been down there?
One of the curious aspects of this wide arched area, other than its general resemblance to other tunnels that I've found, is its proximity and trajectory to the cellar of the Nags Head, a justifiably popular pub on Wyle Copp.
The Nags Head, still in use, has a cellar that is much, much cleaner than this one, and also a lot more modernized. However the architectural similarities cannot be ignored. I did ask if I could take a peek, and I was allowed. I won't be showing the entire thing, since I felt it was a little invasive of me, and also since the cellar of the Nags Head is split into two segments, and in this case I only need one.
Obviously, while I did have permission to go into the Nags Head Cellar, I don't actually have permission to use a shot of their cellar in a blog post about underground tunnels, and I really like it there so I want to say to the staff at Nags Head, if you want me to take this down just say so. Lets not provoke animosity in one of my favourite pubs.
Like I said, it's a lot less flooded and a lot cleaner than the other tunnel but the architectural similarities plus the trajectory and proximity really suggests to me that these two areas were once linked. If one was allowed to demolish all of the bricked up doorways, they'd probably find that the Nags Head connected to the the Wyle Copp tunnels. But why?
At this point it is all speculation but what I do know is that it's not uncommon for older pubs to have tunnels that once led to nearby churches and other religious or important sites, so that people such as monks, priests or other humans who had to repress their humanity in their professional lives could enter the pubs, brothels and other places without their reputation being ruined. The Nags Head certainly is old, dating back at least as far as 1780, has retained the same name throughout its time and has always been popular. There's a lot of history there, and predictably it's home to a lot of ghost stories and legends. Allegedly there are three dominant ghosts here- a coachman who hung himself, a woman who threw herself from a window and got crushed under a coach and horse when she hit the street, and a soldier from the first world war who shot himself. All these people had in common that they looked at a mysterious painting in the Nags Head that drives whoever looks at it to madness. It had no effect on me, but that's because I'm already differently sane.
(Edit- Someone has recently got in touch and said that their grandfather used to play in the tunnels under the Nags Head in the 1940s. If this is true then it does confirm that they were all connected at some point)
But enough of the Nags Head. If you're in Shrewsbury, go there for a drink.
But back to the tunnels for me!!!
Beside the bog tunnel, there was another little chunk of history that had me really intrigued. The tunnels I explored opened themselves up into some kind of café graveyard.
It's pretty creepy down here. At some point in time, a café closed down and all the furniture, cups, cutlery and signs were just left down here to gather dust.
The cups on the table were a lot cleaner than the cups on the floor, though still pretty dusty. It seems that the table protects them from flood water and the door propped up against it protects it from drips.
The floor was littered. Some of the clutter was sinking in the bog-like floor.
The final room that was accessible was pretty big, and had this massive bucket in it. On top of café graveyards and potential underground entrances to the Nags Head, and numerous offshoot tunnels, this is where things got a lot more interesting.
This room is right underneath the street. I could hear people and traffic above me. It was pretty surreal.
Now keep in mind it was pitch black down here. I dont really have the opportunity to examine closely everything I see. Often I photograph it, using my camera flash or my phone to see roughly where I need to be going and what I need to be photographing. In this room there was an odd smell. I assumed I had stepped in something and would just need to wipe my feet once I got above ground level. But after a while I also felt a little light headed too. It doesn't take a genius to know that if you're underground in a confined space that hasn't been touched for years, and you smell something odd and start to feel faint GET THE FUCK OUT!
And with nothing more to see, I did just that. Only then, when going over my photos did I find out what it was I had been inhaling.
Yeah, that stuff. Shit.
So my dizziness and faintness not subsiding, I took to Googling this stuff. It turns out Sodium Cyanide is that white stuff all over the floor, so someone had toppled the bucket at some point. It'll result in a fairly swift death if consumed, but will only form a toxic vapour if it comes into contact with certain liquids. The ground, while not exactly flooded, was pretty damp. I googled what to do should one inhale this stuff, and the internet basically told me that I was dying. Checking the internet for the meanings behind various signs of illness can be misleading, and sometimes tricks one into thinking that they have body ravaging syphilis or something. In spite of knowing this, seeing that I was about to die sure didn't help my light-headedness!
It's quite scary, thinking that one is facing their own imminent death. And I'm quite logical and ruthless when it comes to problem solving. It's why I'm so happy. I can get through anything. I'm a highly efficient survivor. In this scenario, I had nothing. I wanted more than anything to speak to my neices and nephews but they would have been in bed at this point. So I did the only other thing I could think to do and sought help.
Luckily, it turned out that while I had in fact inhaled a teeny bit of the cyanide, I had actually only taken enough in to make me feel like crap for a few days. I was reassured that had I inhaled a fatal dose, I'd already be dead. The best course of action at this point was to drink lots and urinate it all from my system.
Needless to say, I went straight for a good strong rum, with the orders "If it does get worse, dial 999 straight away."
The next morning the internet was a warzone. It was the day of the EU referendum! Pro-remainers were venting their rage. Pro-leavers were mocking them and telling them not to be sore losers even though they'd be doing the same if they had lost. Daily Mail readers were all like "Hell yeah, no more immigrants." Any pro-remain or pro-leave folks with anyintelligence at all would respond with "What are you on about? This won't stop immigration, you berk."
Families were divided, friends were bickering, couples broke up.
And I was just happy to see another sunrise. It was beautiful.
I genuinely thought I was dying.
And before anyone like that pesky media jumps on this, I contacted the person who pulled up the floorboards and told them what I had found, and I am informed that the cyanide has since been removed and disposed of. So there is no concern for alarm.
But why was it there in the first place? What was a bucket of cyanide doing in a cavern under a street?
Cyanide has a long, impressive history and many, many uses. Poisoning people is perhaps its most famous use, what with Hitler swallowing it before shooting himself in the head and the KGB using it to assassinate people. Even Egyptian hieroglyphs have been found containing the phrase "Death by Peach" which has been interpreted as a possible reference towards cyanide found in peach pits. Cyanide occurs naturally in other fruits too, but not in a fatal ammount. Historically it has been used to kill rats and other vermin, which is the obvious solution to why it was down in the tunnels.
But it's also used to make paper, plastic, and textiles. It's used for photo developing, electroplating, metal cleaning and removing gold from its ore. I guess it's feasable that a company on Wyle Copp years ago might have required cyanide for those purposes but I am leaning more towards the rat killer theory.
Keep in mind though, that I accessed this place through removed floorboards. The stairs that I found that did once lead up to the surface would not have brought me up in the same building I left, and in addition to that we have at least four blocked up doorways to other places. So it's impossible to know exactly where this came from. Let's just take comfort in the fact that the relevant people are aware and it's been taken care of.
But just think, had those floorboards not come up, this all would have gone untouched and undocumented. How much more is there to see???
If anyone in Shrewsbury does have anything bizarre underground, I would love to see it, even if it is just a bricked up archway to parts unknown. It all adds up to the developing map of the tunnels under Shrewsbury.
If you liked this blog post, please share it on social media. In this case the more people in Shrewsbury who see this, the more of a chance I'll get to photograph more places like this one. You can also follow my Instagram, and Twitter. If you can spare some change to the adventure fund please do so via the donate button at the top of the blog. But far more important to me is that you're good to each other. Literally every single time someone kills themselves the people around them will say things like "If only we'd been there for them and noticed that they were unhappy." Well there's still seven billion humans to be there for. Get going. Make someone smile.
Thanks for reading! Stay awesome!