Wednesday, 16 May 2012

On tunnels

When I was a child I lived on the Abbey Hulton council estate in Stoke which was named after the medieval monastery built in the 13th century. The stones of the Cistercian abbey were in the grounds of the high school I attended so they served as a marker on the past. There were always stories of ghostly monks and the like. One legend persisted. It was the sort of story, which always attaches itself to ancient buildings. It was claimed that underneath the abbey there existed a complex tunnels that stretched off in all directions included a passage that connected Hulton Abbey with Stoke Parish Church some 4 miles away, a journey, if true, that would take it under the river bed of the Trent. Even then it seemed to me implausible that the builders of the monastery should have gone to the trouble to cut a tunnel through the clay and rock to such a great distance but this did not seem to have an impact upon the rumourmongers

A similar tale exists about passages that lie under Leek either under the market place or under the parish church one of which leads off in the direction of Dieulacres Abbey. The existence of a tunnel and an event that I relate during the ghost walk is linked to Dieulacres, which is only a short distance away from the town.
The existence of tunnels and passages is a commonly held belief in folklore. Stories often crop up of there existence although exploration often only proves that the tunnel was a cellars or drains. Sometimes the story of tunnels might refer to a historical fact. Houses that belonged to Catholics had secret passages and hiding places. Moseley Old Hall in the south of the county had a priest hole, which was used by the fugitive King Charles II in his escape from the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

To bring the mystery that surrounds tunnels up to date the 70s saw the creation of Subterranea Britannica; a society devoted the study and investigation of man-made underground places from the Second War onwards. Their website for Staffordshire includes a wartime structure in Station Road, Cheddleton- no doubt structures like these will add to the myths in the future.