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Medieval Peterborough tunnels simply local folklore

Gates in Holywell, Longthorpe, Peterborough. Photo: Rowland Hobson

Gates in Holywell, Longthorpe, Peterborough. Photo: Rowland Hobson

Tales of tunnels said to run under Peterborough are simply local folklore, say history experts.

The Peterborough Telegraph has been inundated with calls and letters since running an article earlier this month about an amateur archaeologist, Jay Beecher’s attempt to unearth a mythical 700-year-old tunnel.

Mr Beecher (25) had been regaled with tales of the tunnel ever since he was young boy and believed that the mysterious passage ran for more than a mile from the Cathedral to a grotto in Holywell, Longthorpe.

He claimed that the tunnel, believed to date from the 1300s, was used by medieval monks as a safe route and he planned to gather archaeological evidence to prove its existence.

Since we published the article several people have contacted the Telegraph also claiming to have heard of local tunnels.

Tony Martin, who now lives in London, claimed that a series of tunnels ran between Peterborough and Thorney via a secret underground chapel.

Mark Laud, from Werrington, said that he recalled seeing part of a tunnel in the cellar at a home in Norfolk Street, Peterborough.

However, these claims have been disputed as local folklore by two historians.

Stuart Orme, marketing officer at Peterborough Museum, said: “Tales of tunnels under the streets of Peterborough are the most-quoted pieces of local folklore that I’ve heard during my time here.

“But they are little more than local legend, stories that have been passed down the generations and embellished.

“The main reason why it’s not possible is local geology. Because we’re on the edge of The Fens the majority of land in the city and surrounding area is too soggy to tunnel under.

“This factor is why many local houses don’t have cellars, you simply can’t go too far underground round here.

“And the notion the medieval monks would need a tunnel to journey to places is also wide of the mark - they simply would have gone over ground.”

Rebecca Casa-Hatton, an archaeologist for Peterborough City Council, added: “There is no archaeological evidence to support these claims.

“There may be a number of service tunnels in the city but these would have been built in the 19th century to underpin the foundations of buildings.

“But I would like to know how these legends started.”

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