Ancient Dorchester Tunnels, Dorset
After years of searching for possible ancient tunnels in Dorchester and finding dead end after dead end, local newspaper The Dorset Echo reported on two successive finds by Antelope Walk caretaker Terry McGrath within a week of each other.
Luckily, I have contacts who work in the shops in Antelope Walk, and one morning I happened to have my camera gear on me and descended in to the depths of the Dorchester tunnels.
Rumours of tunnels under the Dorset county town have been widespread for decades. I had found several possible entrances, been under different shops in the main high street, and still had one left to explore when the Echo articles were published.
The Dorchester tunnels that run under Antelope Walk and the notorious Judge Jeffreys are stories which are often told hand-in-hand. Legend was, that the judge who lodged in High West Street during the Bloody Assizes would take a secret passage to the court room (now tea rooms) in Antelope Walk to preside over the awful trials following the Monmouth Rebellion.
It felt very surreal to climb down in to the tunnels via shop floors and passageway trapdoors. The tunnels under Antelope Walk no longer connect to one another, but visiting each part individually it soon becomes clear where they once linked up. And there’s an obvious route from High West Street, to directly underneath the old court room. Looking in the tea rooms there’s a secret door amongst the lavish wood panelling, not so secret now as it’s being used as a larder! Terry & I both agree this could well have housed a staircase from the lower level tunnel.
As Dorchester town councillor, David Taylor continues to explore these tunnels along with Terry (and hopefully Dorset County Museum in the near future) I’m sure they’ll find more interesting parts and be able to piece together more of the fascinating history of Dorchester.
The continued effort to find more of Dorchester’s hidden past is well and truly underway. Councillor David Taylor has been busy finding more of the county town’s subterranean history and I have ear-marked a few of my own sites to investigate.
Many years ago I heard of a house in Fordington, a Saxon era region of Dorchester, beneath which lies a large tunnel, like nothing found below Dorchester yet.
Finding the house wasn’t as difficult as I first thought it might be. A large metal grate in the public footpath indicates the tunnel’s existence. A stairway leads down in to the tunnel. Dating from around 1810 the main section of the underground space was in fact a cellar for the long-gone Brewhouse that once stood above it, however at the North-Western tip of the impressive cellar a section about half the size quite obviously would have carried on underneath Fordington and directly towards Dorchester, coincidentally the exact area of Cornhill, Antelope Walk and South Street where other tunnels have been found & rumoured. Could this tunnel really be over half a kilometre long? It seems anything is possible at the rate new discoveries are being made in Dorchester. One thing is for sure, there’s more to be found and you’ll see the photos here.