In search of a secret tunnel.
In the past I have written about Biddulph Old Hall and the stories surrounding it, these can be found under my other listing titled Biddulph Old Hall. However this story concerns some information which was given to me on the 11th May 2010 concerning the existence of a secret tunnel which is said to exist and apparently runs from the cellar of Biddulph Old Hall and is said to exit in woods off Fold lane in Biddulph. From here it is said that a cobbled road can still be found which then leads to nearby St Laurence church in Biddulph.
On the 18th of May 2010 I set out with a friend to try to ascertain whether there was any truth involving this secret tunnel which is said was used by priests as a possible escape route to avoid persecution? We started our search from the Talbot public house and followed the stream down the ravine which can be found behind this location, the stream runs through the woods which adjoin Fold lane where the entrance to the tunnel is said to exist. Although we followed the stream and came upon ancient ruins and walls, we were unable to detect a tunnel entrance, after returning to the Talbot pub we decided what our next move was going to be over a well deserved pint.
After thinking about the problem for a while we decided to approach the problem from a different angle, we thought by visiting St laurence’s church we might be able to find the remains of the cobbled road which would then lead us to the entrance of the tunnel. After searching the grounds of St Laurence church and being unable to find any evidence of a cobbled road, we were about to give up the search when we noticed some contractors cutting grass in the graveyard. I approached one of the contractors and as luck would have it he was familiar with the location of the tunnel entrance and gave us directions on how to find it, he said that its location was on private ground and he gave me directions to the house in Grange road where the owner resided. Unfortunately when we called at the house the owner was not in so we decided to still seek the tunnels entrance which the contractor had told us was located between an old air raid shelter and some garages towards the end of Fold lane. We headed down Fold lane on our motorbikes and had to swerve a deep depression at the side of the road before we parked up at the garages. From here we retraced our route by walking back up Fold lane and when we reached the depression we were forced to swerve around my friend trod on its centre and it gave way and surprisingly enough it revealed the tunnel we had been searching for!
I decided to try to take a photograph by lowering my digital camera into the hole and trying to capture a shot of the tunnel to see if it would reveal anything. The following photograph reveals what can be seen underneath the road.
On thursday the 20th May 2010 I returned to Fold lane intending to explore the woods and tunnel location further, however on my arrival I found that the lane had been closed due to the road subsidence.
What concerns me is that the contractors who are going to repair the road are not aware of the tunnel’s existence and may just decide to fill it with concrete. For this reason I intend to contact Staffordshire Highways department on Monday 24th and make them aware of the historical importance of this site before any irreversible damage is done. I have also contacted Congleton Historical Society and alerted them of the situation.
From Fold lane I entered the adjoining wood and followed what I believe to be the course of the tunnel, I made a couple of exploratory holes with a trowel to see if I could detect the stone lining of the tunnel, but was unable to dig deep enough. I followed the tunnel to the edge of the gorge which can be found in this wood and where I believe the tunnel exit can be found, however it may have been sealed up or just covered over by generations of accumulated debris. More evidence has now come to light, what I initially thought was the course of the tunnel running through the wood is in fact an old walkway which has been filled in some time in the past. The depression which runs through the wood is evidence of this old landscaped walkway which would have connected with the ruined dam and sluice gate down in the clough. Also I have been informed that when the walkway was filled in some time in the past an Austin Seven car was also buried at this location, there may be some truth to this story as the photograph on the right shows a spoked wheel which I found on the surface where the car may have been buried.
What I did manage to spot when I was standing at the top of the gorge was the remains of a wall so I descended down the steep sides of the gulley to photograph and inspect it from a closer perspective.
Although now collapsed there is evidence that there was a walk way alongside this wall which it appears formed a dam across the stream as a sluice gate can be found at the side of this ancient construction. Perhaps it is possible that the priests who travelled from St Laurence church and used the tunnel came out above this dam, they then crossed by means of the walkway and then either entered another tunnel which took them to Biddulph Old Hall, or alternatively they made their way alongside the stream where steps can be found and then entered the grounds of Biddulph Old Hall via a stone entrance way.
The remains of the ancient sluice gate which can still be seen.
Are these steps found in the gorge the route that the priests would have taken on their journey to Biddulph Old Hall. It is more logical to suggest this theory than to theorise the existence of another tunnel leading from the gorge to Biddulph Old Hall which would have to be around 500 yards in length.
By following the path up the gorge it eventually leads to this stone entrance way into the grounds of Biddulph Old hall, could this be the route that the priests used all those years ago?
Due to more evidence having come to light in the last few days it would seem that I now need to rein in my imagination. Apparently the existence of the tunnel has nothing to do with priests travelling between St Laurence church and Biddulph Old hall, nor does it have anything to do with a means of re-supplying the Old Hall when it was under seige in the past as some people have speculated. It now appears that it was created by the Bateman family in the late 1800s who owned Biddulph Grange and was created for purely ascetic reasons to enhance a landscaped walk between the Grange and the Old Hall.
So although the true purpose of the tunnel is far less exciting than I first thought, at least I am pleased that I have brought its existence to the notice of Debbie Langley at Staffordshire County Council Enviromental Country Section who will be forwarding my photographs to their Building Conservation Officer, who will then liase with the engineer responsible for the repairs to the road and they can then determine the best way to preserve the integrity of the tunnel.