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Tongues wag over tunnels mystery

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Newbury residents and retailers have voiced their opinions on the possibility of tunnels under the town

TALK of tunnels under the town has set tongues wagging across Newbury.

Last week, Newbury town councillor David Allen (Lib Dem, Victoria) invited the thoughts of anyone on the possibility of underground passages connecting various areas of the town centre, following some photographs he took while under the town hall researching a guide book.

Newburytoday.co.uk has since been inundated with response, and despite the odd disbeliever who stood by local historian Garry Poulson's claim the Victorian sewers are the only passages running under the town, the majority of the correspondence told tales of lairs, dungeons and even labyrinths for historical armies.

John Hunter, from Shoemakers Bookshop in Newbury said work done on the former Daniels department store, which his store had taken over, had unearthed a previously unknown tunnel.

“The part exposed ran underneath the shop we were taking on, parallel with and alongside the Arcade, through what is now Strada's shop to the Market Place (it was all one building at the time). The contractors filled it in, but it was a brick-lined tunnel. It was dry and I did think it could have made a downstairs feature, but probably more of a store because of its size,” he said.

Civil War re-enactment participant Mark Moss offered a different solution.

“Newbury was a Royalist Strong Hold in the English Civil War in the 1640s, and the Parliamentarians besieged the town and two battles took part in and around Newbury,” he said.

He said tunnels linking the town hall to the Corn Exchange and St Nicolas Church may have been hiding places for battle weary soldiers.

Brian Withers, aged 73, said his grandfather, who was a builder in the town, told Mr Withers that his firm did a lot of work for the borough council between 1895 and 1935, and that Market Place may have sat on top of a number of large grain stores.

“I remember grandfather saying said that they were really big rooms and almost reached to where the Corn Exchange is. If I had realised that there were blocked up entrances I might have pursued it further.

Thatcham resident Paul Hilton pondered if such tunnels were the reason for the prohibition of traction engines in Mansion House Street.

“If, after the tunnels were built, traction engines were stopped because of their weight, then the date of the prohibition might give a clue to when the tunnels were built,” he said.

Colin Nightingale, from Newbury, said an old story he had heard was of dungeons under the town hall which were used detain prisoners up for trial at a court in Newbury, and that shackles could still be seen on the walls.

Whether they all prove to be tall tales is another matter, but Mr Allen said he was delighted to have provoked such a response, and would consider compiling some of the most interesting suggestions as part of the guide he is compiling.

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