Fresh debate on underground tunnels in Spalding and Whaplode

David Rous with the Sir Anthony Irby crest at Irby House. SG300617-107TW
David Rous with the Sir Anthony Irby crest at Irby House. SG300617-107TW
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Our story on the Spalding legend of underground tunnels linked to an ancient priory sparked debate – and opened a new mystery about a tunnel in Whaplode.

Many Spalding shops have cellars affording glimpses of priory ruins but, so far, no one has found hard evidence of a tunnel.

The Sir Anthony Irby tomb in Whaplode church. SG300617-113TW

The Sir Anthony Irby tomb in Whaplode church. SG300617-113TW

In Thursday’s Spalding Guardian, county council historic environment officer Louise Jennings poured cold water on the legend, asking why monks would go underground when, in the days before street lights, they could sneak about under cover of darkness.

But readers appear to be sticking to their own views on the legend.

Our story revealed Louise had seen part of the priory ruins when visiting a shop cellar.

But reader Rachael Lynn, who once worked in a town centre shop, believes the ruins were “bricked up to look like cellars”.

Ayscoughfee Hall shared a link to our story, saying: “What do you think? We’re meant to have tunnels leading under the river from here too!”

Geologist Tim Langdale-Smith told us that Spalding’s ground is unconsolidated (soft and wet) clay, silt and sand “that causes even shallow excavations to collapse if unsupported”.

He said: “Any tunnels would have been a nightmare to excavate by hand without de-watering. Even now the groundwater beneath Spalding rises and falls with the tide!”

Whaplode reader Keith Welch told us about tunnels in his village, reputedly dug when MP Sir Anthony Irby was under house arrest.

Sir Anthony was one of Oliver Cromwell’s commanders and his tomb is in the village church.

Two Millgate homes carry the Irby name followed by ‘House’ or ‘Hall’, although the House and Hall names were at some stage swapped, according to David Rous, who renovated Irby House 25 years ago.

He says his work was so extensive it would have uncovered any tunnels, if they existed.

The renovation means parts of his home can be dated back at least 460 years and he believes it sits on the site of a monastery.

Fellow Millgate resident Stephanie Brown said: “We have been told there’s definitely a tunnel from our house through to the church and that it links to Irby House.”

Stephanie and husband Ian had their cellars bricked up but Stephanie hopes one day to get to the bottom of the story by researching archives in Lincoln.

Archaeologist Louise believes it unlikely that a tunnel was dug over such a distance with the MP under house arrest because there would have been nowhere to dispose of the vast amount of soil – and it would have been easier for his friends to visit him rather than Irby going underground.

Previously ...

Exploding myth of Spalding’s tunnels