St Mary's House, The Close.
My introduction to Lichfield’s underground world came a couple of years ago, on the thoroughly enjoyable Gruesome & Ghostly City tour.
Then, back in January 2011, there was a series of great posts on TamworthTimeHikes about underground mysteries in Tamworth. As a result, information came to light (sorry!)about tunnels in Lichfield and Mark kindly passed the information on to me. Since then, tunnels have resurfaced several times (sorry again!), most recently in conversations with Vickie Sutton, Brownhills Bob , the folks at the BeaconStBlog, and as you may already have seen, in the comments section of the Monks Walk post. So, I thought I should finally get around to doing something on them! Here’s what I’ve heard/read/speculated about so far…..
1) Under Sandford St
My first tunnel! Standing on the corner of Sandford St on a chilly October night we were told that tunnels led from that area to the Cathedral. In recent conversations on the Monks Walk post, ‘Born a Lichfeldian’ has contributed more to the story of the tunnel, suggesting that the tunnel also runs to The Friary. You can read the discussion here.
2) White Hall on Beacon St
In a book ‘Lichfield & its Cathedral’ by H Snowden Ward (1893) is the following description “From the cellars of the inn, an underground passage ran some distance and was popularly believed to terminate as St Chad’s Church. That is went so far is extremely unlikely, and what was its object or termination will never be known, for a few years ago the late owner of the White Hall caused the portion under that house to be filled up, and without having the passage explored through its whole length”.
City librarian & historian J W Jackson (who I’ll introduce you properly to another time) noted in his weekly history column in the Lichfield Mercury of the 1930s that the tunnel under White Hall was dug out by a previous owner during the plague. Presumably he wished to go about his business without soming into contact with carriers of the disease or the bad air that some thought caused the plague at the time. Would be interesting to see if there are stories of any tunnels elsewhere being dug for this purpose?
3) Under Dam St
Some information from googling, that I think came may have originally come from the Staffs Books Shop that used to be on Dam St, says that there is speculation that a passage runs along Dam St from the Cathedral to the Guildhall, and was used as an escape route during the Civil War. In an 1819 book, ‘A Short Account of the Ancient & Modern State of the City & Close of Lichfield’, it says ‘A large subterraneous passage of stone, several feet beneath the surface, has been traced from the middle of Quonians Lane, under the houses on the west side of the street, for a considerable distance in the gardens; its use cannot now be ascertained.”
4) St Mary’s House in The Close
In the Lichfield Records Office there is a copy of Lomax’s Pictoral Book of Lichfield, edited by Alan J Bull. It describes St Mary’s House as the oldest house in Lichfield and says that the East & South walls are part of the original building which dates back to before 1321 and formed part of the Close’s defences – at the base the walls are 6ft thick and you can still see the arrowslits. The book goes on to say that tradition has it that below this building are underground passages leading to St Chad’s, White Hall, the Friary, St John’s Hospital and the Old Brewery on Sandford St.
5) Beacon Street again!
Vickie’s Aunt remembers seeing a very large tunnel somewhere in the vicinity of Beacon St, which she describes as being whitewashed and large enough for a coach & horses to get through.
6) Tudor Tea Rooms
On their own website, there is a description of a passage going from their cellars to the Cathedral. They speculate that it may have been dug out during the Civil War. Apparently, the “passage has been followed for some distance in recent years, but is too dangerous to pursue further”
A rumour of a tunnel behind a building on Greenhill, which used to be a pub called the Spread Eagle. (You can still see the archway for the coaches & the building is called ‘Spread Eagle House’).
As well as discussing tunnels, I’ve also been talking to people recently about the importance of stories & legends, like these. Do we really need to get to the truth or should we leave them be & enjoy them for what they are? I still haven’t made my mind up, so, I’ll leave it for you to decide in this case.
Therefore, this next part is a bit like a Choose your Own Adventure book (remember those? I used to have my fingers bookmarking about 5 different options at a time!). If you would like to investigate the truth behind Lichfield’s mysterious tunnels you could start by clicking here or exploring some old maps of Lichfield here. Just suggestions though, can’t guarantee you’ll find the answers!
If you’re happy to accept the stories as they are, then relax and perhaps go & make yourself a nice cup of tea 🙂
I’ve been told about another tunnel by someone on Twitter – one between Gaia Lane and the Cathedral. Apparently it leads to a house that used to be used as a laundry/servants quarters. A relative of my tunnel informant has actually been in the tunnel, and says it is blocked off. We’re thinking laundry tunnel, servants passage – anyone else know anything?
Interestingly there was a daughter and mother, Ellen Stone and a Mary Skelton, both described as a ‘Laundress’ living at Gaia Lane on the 1851 census. Going off topic somewhat, Ellen’s son Henry lived with them. He was illegitimate and there is some interesting speculation on who his Father may have been. You can read more at the Stone Family History site here.
I’ve come across a scribbled note I made some time ago which says there is a tunnel underneath Farewell Church. Interestingly, there is a work of semi- fiction set at the nunnery that preceded the church. The story is set at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and is called ‘A Tale of Fairwell’. The last scene of the book is set in ‘the subterranean vaults of Fairwell Priory’.
Also, Hanch Hall has a confirmed underground passage of some description – the listed building description says there are ‘extensive brick vaulted cellars with vaulted passage or drainage channel leading into the park’.