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The secret underground of the UK: What lies beneath your city?

From the best spots for sightseeing to the quirkiest bars and restaurants, you might think that you know a city like the back of your hand. But there are intricate webs of underground tunnels, blocked up or built on top of over the years. Whilst some of them are relatively well-known, there are secrets and urban myths that also make up the UK’s underground.

In Newcastle, the most famous set of underground tunnels is the Victoria Tunnel. This is known to be a preserved 19th-century wagon-way which runs beneath the city from the Town Moor to the Tyne. The two and a quarter mile tunnel took 200 men two years and ten months to finish constructing and there was a famous party on its completion to celebrate. It was originally built to transport coal from Spital Tongues Colliery to the river and operated between 1842 and the 1860s. Unfortunately for the founders, the coal was deemed to be inferior to other products and the colliery had to be closed.

However, it didn’t remain closed forever. Throughout WW2, the tunnel was converted into an air-raid shelter and the remnants of public signs and seating can still be seen today. After the war, the tunnel was closed again before opening in 2008 for tourists.

We were enlisted to carry out an annual survey of the tunnel to monitor it for movement and today you can pay for a guided tour.

 

Rumours and urban myths say that there are many roads and tunnels that lie beneath the city of York that we don’t know about. However, one that is known about (and well preserved) is Commonhall Lane which sits beneath York Guildhall. This runs along the line of an old Roman road and is only open for special tours.

Aside from this one, there is a whole series of Roman roads that were built on top of and then forgotten. One of the most famous was discovered by an apprentice beneath the Treasurer’s House.
Other secret tunnels include an escape route for nuns from the Bar Convent which is thought to have been built when anti-Catholic sentiment was rife. At the time, nuns feared government raids so the Bar was built with eight exits so that anyone inside could escape without being spotted.

 

There is a lot of speculation as to what exists beneath the city of Leeds. There are rumours, and some evidence, of air raid shelters, nuclear bunkers and abandoned subway systems.

Below the famous Queen’s Hotel which sits on City Square, there is reportedly a network of stone chambers and abandoned interconnecting tunnels. These tunnels are rumoured storage areas which contain paintings and chandeliers from years ago.

There are also some passageways beneath Leeds railway station, with others leading towards City Square and the banks of the River Aire. The Merrion Centre is also said to be home to an abandoned subway system which started as many underpasses built to give shoppers access to the centre without having to cross a busy road. You can spot some of the entrances to these tunnels on the north-west side of the centre from Woodhouse Lane, at the back of Morrisons.

 

In Manchester, there were once big plans to create an underground tube line similar to London. The structures and tunnels began to be built beneath the Arndale Centre before the plans were scrapped.

There are also tunnels that have been developed during the Victorian period when there was a surge of underground projects underway in the city. Some of these include the Victoria Arches which are in the embankment of the River Irwell. There is also evidence of underground river and canal tunnels such as the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal Tunnel which connects the Rochdale Canal and the River Irwell.

There have been tours of the tunnels in the past, some of which had to close down because of health and safety reasons. Organisers have put in place plans to bring these back in 2020 so tourists might be able to walk beneath the city again.

We can forget that there are secret roads, pipes and tunnels running beneath the land that we walk on. When it comes to building structures and working on land projects, it’s important to consider what lies beneath the city before you begin a development. Landform Surveys can map the position of tunnels and basements assuming accessible is possible. We can also carry out GPR surveys from above ground to locate the position of sub structures and help prevent any costly delays or risks.

Get in touch with us today.