By Chaz Harrison
Follow us on a journey underneath Northampton’s streets where a labyrinth of tunnels, cellars and ancient crypts exist below.
The story might sound like something out of a fictional book but there is actually a lot of history underneath our feet.
According to local historian and founder trustee of the Holy Sepulchre Restoration Trust John Kightley MBE, many of these cellars are thought to have originated from church buildings centered around the market square, and All Saints Church.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Fifteen years ago John was told by a colleague at The Holy Sepulchre Church about a large tunnel under the building. "It has been said by historians that medieval tunnels ran from the church to Delapre Abbey and this could be one of them." He said.
In came the detectives…
John was fascinated and brought in his son Peter who was studying Geo Physics at Birmingham University to find out more about the tunnels underneath the church. Using electronic ground radar equipment to measure the earth’s movement Peter found something quite intriguing. John was ecstatic "The equipment went crazy, there was a lot of movement under the church which suggested there may be more cellars but as we haven’t been able to gain access underneath it we can not physically prove anything." He said.
Before the Northampton Train Station was built in 1859 the site was occupied by Northampton Castle. The castle was the site of Parliament for over 200 years and used regularly by the Royal family. It was said that this castle had a tunnel linking it to All Saints Church. This tunnel, some historians claim, may have been used by Thomas Becket to escape from the castle and the town on his way to France.
Market square on a wet day
Down under the Market Square
The Market Square has three tunnels running north to south. Two of them lead to the Holy Sepulchre and one longer tunnel leads to the steps of the former Peacock Coach Inn, now known as Peacock Place.
On the west side of the Market Square there is also the remains of an air raid shelter. John got to see it "When I went underneath the market square I saw open fronted air raid shelters, apparently they were open to prevent suicide."
At the bottom of Bridge Street there is thought to be a tunnel which may have allowed the nuns of Delapre Abbey to escape the Battle of Northampton.
This hidden underground world is now no longer accessible. The chambers were closed off for health and safety reasons in 1990. Yet the intriguing story of this historic underworld still fascinates people today.
John is disappointed about the lack of public awareness of the cellars and tunnels underneath Northampton "It feels like a part of our history is lost, now the council have closed off access to the tunnels for health and safety reasons not many people will get to see the wonders we have below our feet".
last updated: 16/04/2009 at 12:09