Going underground

Recently I’ve read about or been told about a few different tunnels under the streets of York. Two of which definitely existed and perhaps still do, while a couple are more mysterious. Perhaps readers will know more. Comments welcome below.

Known tunnel 1: sorting office

This is the fairly new cycle/pedestrian entrance to the railway station, looking away from the station. Scarborough Bridge is behind the trees, the station platforms are to the left and Leeman Road sorting office is that pale building to the right.

Somewhere under here there was, and perhaps still is, a tunnel connecting the sorting office with the railway station platforms. You used to be able to see the entrance to it beneath one of the platforms, apparently, though I don’t know if it’s still visible, or indeed still in use. My dad remembers it, so does a friend.

Known tunnel 2: Rowntree’s

Not much mystery there then. I thought I had an alluring mystery tunnel to tell you about when I read a document on the proposed (now implemented) Conservation Area on Haxby Road, around the Rowntree’s buildings. It said that the dining block was ‘possibly connected by subways under the highway’. The ‘possibly’ made it sound intriguing.

… No mystery here actually. There was definitely a tunnel, between the main factory building and the dining block. Stephen remembers it, and a later planning document refers to it. I expect it’s been sealed long ago, particularly as the other end is now a Nuffield Hospital, and they won’t want urban explorers popping up in their basement.

Mystery 1: a tunnel under Blossom Street?

Audrey lived on Blossom St in the 1930s, and remembers the Forsselius garage (now a Premier Inn) being built (it opened in 1938). Audrey mentioned a rather more mysterious rumoured underground passageway:

‘When the new Forsselius garage was built at no 20, the old one that had been based in the old Horsley Gunsmith site was knocked down. I had lived there before that as dad worked at Forsselius. I was told as a child that during the excavations for the garage a passageway underground was found leading towards the Bar Convent. I believe it was collapsed in part. But it was thought it might be an old escape route from the days after the suppression. Now it seems to have not been put in recent records, but I remember my parents talking of it. It would I think have been under the road from the Convent and going under the no 20 site. No doubt during the digging and may have been covered quickly to avoid work being stopped!!! I do remember it well though it was quite a family topic of conversation when dad came home.’

It would be nice to know if anyone else has heard the same story, or has any further information.

Mystery tunnel/tube 2: station to former railway offices

Over Christmas I was discussing with my dad the development of West Offices, where he used to work, and the former railway headquarters building opposite, now the Cedar Court Grand. He recalled that there was some kind of underground communication between the railway headquarters and York station. Not a person-sized passage, more of a pneumatic tube type affair, as some old department stores had, delivering cash or documents.

Again, if anyone else has heard this, or knows more, please share.

And others …

There are of course many other rumoured underground tunnels and secret passageways. I’ve just asked my partner if he knows of any. Yes, from 56 Stonegate, where he worked years ago. Its cellars had a bricked-up part which, rumour had it, covered the entrance to a tunnel leading to the Minster …

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  1. i did xmas work at the post office in my youth, worked in the basement on nights.. every few hours a train would come in, we’d walk down the corridor, get in a lift, and pop up on York Station, Platform 4….

    this pic shows the lifts on the station: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dalesrailphoto/6155542927/

  2. YorkStories

    Excellent, thanks Mallory :)

  3. Thank you for this interesting post, it jogged my memory enough to get me out the house and to the station today to take some photos and try to remember more detail.

    I was a postman in the 80s. Did a lot of shifts on the station.
    Used that tunnel all the time and it made me feel pretty special, there you were with all the normal people and passengers and then you could walk down the platform and you had access to a secret exit lift to a secret tunnel.
    We had an office/tearoom in the top of the building that is now York Tap.
    We used to load bags into the power cars of the old yellow 125s. It was hot in there and it stank of engine oil and you had only two minutes exactly to throw all the bags on and get all the York bags off – if we delayed the train the Post Office would be fined.

    I tried so very hard to recall the actual tunnel while I was down there today but it’s gone. It was a long time ago. I wish I could just picture it, especially the sorting office end.
    Took quite a few pics of the lifts to jog my memory.
    The lift doors are now fixed shut, but only with a flimsy metal bar each. Anyone with a spanner could easily remove them. Doubt there’s any power now though.

    Thanks again for stirring those memories. Wish I had more info for you in return.

  4. YorkStories

    I like the addition of this secret lift to the secret tunnel. When I added the info originally I hadn’t really thought about how people got back up to ground level, and imagined more of a sloping thing, which of course was illogical, as there’s not enough room between the two buildings.

    Really appreciate your memories of working there, and the record of the former life of the building that is now the York Tap. And your memory of having special access to a part of a place not open to the wider public.

    Your mention of the 125s … I remember the excitement surrounding their introduction, and perhaps even some event a friend at primary school was involved in when they first arrived on the East Coast Main Line.

    Thanks for your contribution, much appreciated.

  5. There is 4 tunel still possible to access from the river that lead 1-from the Clifford’s tower pit used in times of siege , when I worked for York minster there were two that lead from under the naive and gift shop this if anyone remembers why the bus dropped through a hole in kings square, the 4th one is from barely hall to the river this was used to sneak food in from the river in times of attack,

  6. I work at 47 stonegate which has a bricked up tunnel in the basement that used to lead to the minster

  7. I maybe wrong but the York city council evacuation map that was delivered to properties in the city centre, shows the tunnels as deviding lines between sectors.
    I think they could be showing people that if you happen to be above the tunnel and there’s an earthquake, to get somewhere more solid, like the the middle of the sector. It adds up but is just my theory, anyone else know about this??

  8. YorkStories

    Really pleased this page continues to have comments added, all these months on. Haven’t seen that evacuation map, any more info?

  9. My dad used to sneak into the minster in the early 60s when there wasnt hardly any security . He said him and a few mate used to climb down a small spirell staircase in the corner of the towers and it would lead down under the minster to these tunnels that was knee deep in water and pitch black . They had to use a candle to see . He believes they lead to the river , so when under attack the munks could escape. He said some had collapsed so far down but some went on for hundred’s of yards . But they never went too far as they got tight .

  10. I was at All Saints school, behind the convention you go into the chapel and to the left of the altar, and behind the wall there is a priests escape hatch . It goes down internally in the convent, one end was found when the built the pub on the corner at micklegate bar, presumably the other went under blossom street.

  11. Colin Durrans

    I’ve heard tell of old passage ways from West Offices too but can’t recall how far they reached.

    We can still see two doors to the WW2 bunker set into the City Walls (West Offices Side), they may be connected in the function and stories. Subterranean Britannica records it as one of ten hardened emergency control centers built by the LNER during WW2. Recent years have seen railway companies use them for equipment storage, I’m sure they’ve a Highways sign on them now.

  12. This isn’t strictly a tunnel but a Roman drain that run’s for about 100 yards in Church street. The entrance is a manhole at the corner of Church Street and Swinegate. The drain is superbly built to about shoulder height and still in full working order. You can still access it but I don’t know who to ask for permission. I’ve been down in in the late 60’s.

  13. I am from pontefract and here we have the odd few medieval tunnels, nobody knew about them until the council dug up the roads. They led from a church gravestone and nostell priory all the way to the castle. We also have a hermitage underneath the main road into town.

  14. Most secret medieval tunnels were created during the English reformation and henry tudors dissolution of the monasteries. Mainly by the monks which prevented them from being documented, tunnels with purpose such as sewers etc are probably more likely to be roman.

  15. chris rowe

    A long time ago I used to have Ye Olde Starre Inne, Stonegate and it was said that there was a tunnel leading to the Minster. Secret tipplers, perhaps?

  16. Surely there’s loads. Just look at the side of the river ouse underneath coney Street.! A friend of mine worked in O’Neils and he said in the basement there were tunnels leading off it which he always wanted to go down but never had a torch.

  17. Interesting stuff on here! The old convent on Lawrence street had tunnels so i am told. There have to be loads under our feet in York.

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