I’ve had a really interesting email in from the Brownhills Blog Canada Correspondent Brian Edwards who relates a very interesting tale concerning Stonnall, and the discovery of a tunnel there in the late 1960s.
The story is familiar but sounds like a conflation of two to me – the Lost Hoard of Stonnal, where remarkable historical artefacts were found near Grange Farm over a century ago – the finds from which have mysteriously been lost, and the recurring tale of the tunnel from the Old Irish Harp to… Castlehill.
I’m not going to reiterate my view here on this too much, but tunnel folklore is recurrent and this one (although not here) frequently connected with bad boy Dick Turpin. I know lots of places with similar tunnel folklore – Willenhall is said to have a tunnel between the Marketplace Clock and Church; I’ve heard similar for other local villages.
I commend anyone interested in the Turpin connection locally to read this at Wikipedia. The trouble with Turpin legends for me is that for a rum cove operating in cloak and dagger style, he didn’t half seem to make his presence felt…
When considering tunnels and stories of them, consider the following points.
- Tunnels are hard to construct – laborious, dangerous and something has to be done with the spoil.
- The bigger diameter a tunnel, the harder it is to dig by hand.
- Consider the ground a tunnel is alleged to be going through – soft, sandy soils don’t support tunnels and have to be lined. Rock is clearly difficult too.
- A tunnel is hugely costly. If someone built it, why, at what cost was it worth doing?
- Usually, tunnels are alleged to be relics of pre-Victorian times, when mining was so poor, we were still digging bell pits. Tunnelling technology was not great then. How much of an engineering feat in the time of construction would this have been?
When considering tunnels, remember there are many difficult and challenging practicalities.
None of this is intended to denigrate Brian’s tale which is fascinating, but I just want folk to consider it carefully. Many people have mentioned this tunnel over the years (some alleging it was big enough to get a man and horse though) yet proof seems scant, and all written material I’ve seen is speculative.
If anyone has records from the historians or geological societies who might have been concerned with this, I’d love to see them.
I’d really like to thank Brian for a great, thought-provoking and high quality article like so many he’s contributed to the blog over the years. Come on, out me as a doubting Thomas… Please do comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at googlemmil dot com.
Brian Edwards wrote:
I was reiterating this story to a History teacher friend of mine when I thought it best to also share this with you before it is lost in time.
This is a short story I should tell before it is lost from memory.
When I was attending the Art School of Walsall on Goodall Street back in 1968 by chance I met up with an old high school master of mine and his wife. Alan Lord was the Master of Careers at Shelfield Secondary Modern School. Upon our meeting on the near top of the high street on market day just past the old courthouse we decided upon taking tea at Lil’s Café. The café was just a little farther up the hill from Goodall Street on the left side. Conversation began with a sharing of the general interests in one and other before leading onto the story I wish to share with you.
I am not exactly sure as to which house Alan was talking of but I know that it is a large house situated in the triangle of land that lies beside Main Street where it meets with the Chester road.
Alan had decided that part of the floor in one of the rooms that was laid with flagstones required levelling somewhat so both his son and he began the task of correcting this. It was on the lifting of the third flagstone that their first discovery was made. As the earth below was dug so as to replace it with sand it gave way somewhat and as they removed more flagstones a tunnel entrance was revealed. The son entered the first few feet of the tunnel before returning for safety reasons but he did not return empty handed. He was carrying both a sword and a helmet. The correct authorities were called and both geologists and archaeologists were brought up from the London Museum of Natural History. It was discovered that the tunnel went as far as the Chester road but from that point on it had collapsed, most probably from the construction of the road. Excavation on the other side of the Chester road was not entered into but it was believed that the tunnel might have run up to an area nearing the old fort at the top of Lazy hill. More artefacts were removed and also a fresco was removed from one of the rooms. It was discovered that the subject of the fresco was a depiction of the local surrounds. The painting was framed as if looking through a window and after more investigation it was discovered that there had been a window near to where the painting was executed. The walls had previously been covered with layer upon layer of wallpaper and it was the removal of these layers and also paint layers below that when the fresco was discovered.