As part of Peter Bowen's regular column, he explores the story of Leamington s underground tunnels. His previous column on the tunnel at the old family home in Newbold Terrace has led to an interview with someone who actually walked the route. Here is his latest column
There is a tunnel at the old family home in Newbold Terrace after all. It was discovered by two terrified youngsters, who panicked when they could not escape, trapped at the other end by an iron gate, padlocked on the outside. A fading cycle battery frightened the pair, who scuttled back down the narrow tunnel to the house, safe after almost an hour underground.
Although the tunnel's existence is confirmed, there is still the mystery as to why it was built and for what purpose? This is the question? Can anyone out there help with more information?
This week I heard the story first hand from John Wilson (82), 20 years a Midland Red bus driver, who together with the late Richard Parsons, entered the secret tunnel by lifting two metal plates close to the back garden gate in 1949 or 1950. He told me that his mother, Jessica, was housekeeper to the owners at the time, Capt. and Mrs Davy.
“Although Richard, a Warwick schoolboy, was Mrs Davy's youngest son by a previous marriage, we became great friends and played a lot at the house,” John explained.
Readers will recall that back in February, I wrote the original story saying there was a secret tunnel running under the house according to Jeremy Sleath, who was a regular visitor because he was the nephew of the late Bob Parsons, who was a sitting tenant in the downstairs flat. All this was news to the Bowen family, who bought the house in 1957.
There was speculation as to who was the other boy in the story. Was it my late brother Tim or the late Richard Parsons? I appealed to Jeremy Sleath to get in touch and name the other boy. As it happened, Jeremy had not gone down the tunnel but had repeated the story told by John Wilson.
It turns out the two lads, John and Richard, aged 11, were typically adventurous and were curious on finding two metal plates close to the wall by the back garden gate. They lifted them and discovered there were several stone steps down to a hole in the ground. They decided to investigate using a battery powered lamp off the front of a cycle.
“We decided to explore what was a brick built, narrow tunnel. It was dark but dry and about five feet high. It soon turned right towards the road, near the pub in Newbold Street, then turned left under Newbold Terrace by the Clock Tower in the Jephson Gardens, which we heard striking and gave us a clue as to where we were.
"Still curious, we carried on and followed the tunnel, which must have turned right along the Jephson Gardens before coming to an end by the Pump Rooms, near the boiler room. We could hear the river but an iron gate, padlocked on the outside meant we could not get out. No longer excited, by now we were pretty terrified as the lamp was fading, so we legged it back to the house as fast as we could,” John said.
The relieved youngsters decided it would be best if they told someone about the tunnel's existence.
They chose Mrs. Davy but it was Capt. Davy who took them to one side. “He gave us a right dressing down and told us to never ever go down there again,” John added.
I have been told by the present owners of the house that the whole of the back garden where the tunnel entrance is situated, according to my recollection, has been reconfigured and the area is now a bed for garden plants. I plan to get back in touch with the owners to assess whether any further investigation is possible.
It would also be interesting if the iron gate at the Pump Rooms was located so the tunnel could be explored from the town end and discover why it was built in Leamington in the 1830s.
In the meantime, following the original story in February, it appears that there may be several other tunnels in Leamington. It is claimed one is located in the basement of the Burgis and Coleman Store (now House of Fraser) in the Parade. Rumour has it shop girls were afraid to enter the basement, which was used as a store room. I would be interested to learn more and importantly, why the tunnels were built in the first place.