A forgotten city centre tunnel thought to have played a pivotal role in a devastating blaze more than 50 years into Peterborough’s past has been unearthed.
Construction workers carrying out the £800,000 revamp of the Cowgate area of the city discovered the mysterious channel beneath King’s Street on Thursday.
While tales of medieval tunnels running under Peterborough have been passed down from generation to generation, this particular subterranean passageway is thought to have origins closer to the present day.
Andy Tatt, transport and engineering group manager for Peterborough City Council, said: “We believe that the area underground discovered below King’s Street was the centre part of a service tunnel that once linked the two Robert Sayle buildings either side of the street.
“Both ends of the area must have been filled in previously, leaving a middle section.”
Robery Sayle was the trading name of the John Lewis Partnership in Peterborough until 1956, when the two main blocks of the building were destroyed by fire.
Stuart Orme, interpretation manager from Peterborough Museum, said it was thought the fire had started in one building and then spread to the other via the tunnel, which had been used to store roles of fabric from the haberdashery department.
Of the passageway, he said: “There are one of two like that around that were built for business purposes in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
He welcomed such rediscoveries.
He said: “It’s fascinating, really. There’s so much history in Peterborough. It’s great whenever this development work takes place, clues from the past get exposed and give us a little bit of the city’s story.”
Long-standing Peterborough city councillor Charles Swift, aged in his 20s at the time of the fire, remembers the outbreak well.
He said: “It just went up in flames.
“The flames could be seen from many miles away.
“I don’t think Peterborough has experienced a fire like it before or since.”
The tunnel, which was empty except for some rubble, will be filled in with foam concrete.
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