As part of Peter Bowen's regular column, he explores the story of Leamington s underground tunnels. This week he has spoken to Ian Painter who went looking for a tunnel under The Parade.
Trailing cobwebs and covered in dust Ian Panter emerged from the cellar and confirmed there was a second tunnel in Leamington under the building where he works close to the Pump Rooms. He had not been in the basement for 10 years but the gated access was just as he remembered it.
Ian had been in touch following last week's column when John Wilson described going down the secret tunnel from an entrance in Newbold Terrace via Newbold Street, Newbold Terrace, and Jephson Gardens which came to an end with a gate padlocked on the outside meaning there was no escape for the eleven-year-old and his pal, the late Richard Parsons.
Ian's interest was spiked by the similarity of the two underground tunnels.“I was aware of the tunnel entrance in the basement of The Parade office when I started there 15 years ago. I have always wanted to know more about it. It is gated and padlocked similar to the one you were writing about,” he told me.
At the weekend, Ian investigated further and discovered both tunnels are gated, brick built, about five feet high and have several steps down from the entrance. “The start of the tunnel is at the far end of the cellar. It is set out in such a way that it feels like a small labyrinth going south”, he explained.
Ian, a 40-year-old IT manager, who lives in Rugby, has always been interested in subterranean works and is known for visiting and researching Royal Ordinance Corps bunkers in the local area. He says: “There were four steps down to the tunnel entrance which was blocked by two iron railings fixed in place. There is a lot of rubble inside the entrance but further down it appears clearer.
The tunnel is made of brick and may be covered in lime plaster. One can see brick built supports at regular intervals. It immediately turns right outside the property's boundary and I have the impression it runs towards Bedford Street and turns in the direction of the Pump Rooms.”
After taking pictures, Ian plans to ask the owners of the property if he can arrange to have the gates opened in order to explore the tunnel further and establish where it goes and why it was built.
Linda Shorthouse says she also knows of several tunnels from her time working at Freeman, Hardy and Willis in Bath Street in the sixties. Rubber wellingtons were stored in the cellar. “We used to get the wellies out for customers as fast as we could as we girls were frightened to death going down there,” she wrote in a Facebook post. There is also thought to be a tunnel in the basement at House of Fraser in The Parade, previously Burgis and Colbourne..
By all accounts many buildings in the town constructed around 1820 had large cellars used for storage.
It is known that several older properties in The Parade have cellars running out under the street. An example is Lloyd’s Bank which used its cellars for storing archives.
However, this does not explain why the Newbold Terrace tunnel was built or the similarities with Ian's tunnel. His manager speculates the office tunnel maybe just an extension of the cellar but Ian feels that it could be a link to a labyrinth of other passages to adjoining properties.
“It is unusual because at one point it has a cobbled surface and parts even look sculptured. I just want to know more,” he declared.