Exploding myth of Spalding’s tunnels

Louise Jennings, historic environment officer with Lincolnshire County Council. SG220617-121TW
Louise Jennings, historic environment officer with Lincolnshire County Council. SG220617-121TW
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It seems hard-wired into Spalding’s collective psyche that there are tunnels under the town linked to a former priory dating back to 1052.

No one would like to believe the story more than Louise Jennings, an historic environment officer with Lincolnshire County Council.

But Louise has been in her job for 16 years and has yet to see any evidence of the tunnels, although she has come face to face with bits of the ancient priory which stretched over a huge chunk of the town centre.

She says: “You have got to ask yourself ‘why?’

“Why would you build a tunnel, that’s the first question?

“If you wanted to do something furtive, before the invention of street lights, then you would do it under the cover of darkness on a cloudy night.”

Louise says tunnels are a very expensive engineering solution and although wealthy men had tunnels built for seemingly bizarre reasons in this country, in Liverpool and Nottingham, there is absolutely no evidence of monks making underground tunnels in Spalding.

Spaldonians speak of tunnels linked to the Prior’s Oven pub and there was excitement earlier this year when Anglian Water was working in Winsover Road and an underground structure once again opened the tunnels debate.

A sign currently on the restaurant wall in Spalding’s branch of Beales declares: “Beales is built upon an old monastery, where underground tunnels led to the river for boats to collect supplies.

“Beales endeavour to keep these channels open metaphorically and stay united with the local community.”

A spokesman for Beales confirmed this week that the Market Place store does indeed sit on part of the site of the former priory but accepts the assertion about tunnels is rooted in the town’s “folklore”.

Louise says Spalding’s priory was a dependency of the Abbey of Crowland but was gone by 1540, a casualty of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.

In a cellar in a Sheep Market shop, now Nasza Biedronka, Louise saw stone that once formed part of the ancient priory and says many residents will have a little bit of former priory “work” (carved) stone in their garden walls.

As for the tunnels?

Louise says: “I would love somebody to prove me wrong.”

• Tell us if you can prove Louise wrong about Spalding’s tunnels. Please email lynne.harrison@iliffepublishing.co.uk