Saturday, 12 February 2011

Here be Tunnels!

My apologies for the length of this post, but I plan to take you on a journey from an ancient stone cross to an upturned double decker bus via a ramble in north Norfolk. The very ramble where the intrepid Mr Gnarus risked body and limb in an attempt to further our knowledge of moated manor houses. Esotericus, the aforementioned Gnarus and I stumbled upon a stone cross set upon a crossroads about a mile south of the small village of Aylmerton. Mr Gnarus who is knowledgeable in the use of maps and topography noted that it is one of at least three that stand on or near crossroads in the locality, but what stood out out about this particular example was that it clearly had three separate phases - From what appeared to be a medieval base, a victorian cross atop and both separated by what seemed to a be a recently replaced middle supporting section.

The Aylmerton stone cross

But why was it here in the middle of nowhere? (Or what is nowhere today) Their location at crossroads might be important for as many of you probably know, crossroads are places imbued with superstition; places where gallows were sometimes set so that the dead confronted with so many roads could not find their way home to haunt the living! That is one consideration, but I Many Coats having some slight knowledge on the subject hypothesised that it might be a boundary marker needed in the somewhat open landscaped with little or no discernible features and only a few small hamlets spread thither and yon to perhaps mark the location and boundaries of markets. Important in a time when markets and their locations were strictly regulated and jealously guarded by those who drew a living from the tolls and fees taken from those who wished to trade there. But Mr. Gnarus did not agree and gave me a sceptical eye. I gave it straight back, for I already had two of my own. Esotericus on the other hand was indifferent to my ideas and I thought at first that he was thinking about the treacle tart and the Werthers Originals he kept about his person for Ragged Rambler emergencies. On closer inspection however I saw that he was trying to discern form and style upon the greatly eroded base of the cross in order to put a precise date to its construction. But to no avail...













Southrepps 'stump' cross












The Sharrington cross

It was at this point however that we were joined by a lady taking her dog for a walk and enjoying the cold yet uncharacteristically sunny day. And she perceiving our excess of tweed and intellect decided to engaged us in conversation. She confirmed (To our great satisfaction) that the middle section of the stone cross had only recently been replaced, although her opinion as to the age of the base differed somewhat from ours as she suggested it was pre Norman in origin, which to our eyes it was not.

More interestingly though the Lady went on to tell us that there is a commonly held belief amongst the locals that the cross marks the route of a tunnel leading from the nearby Felbrigg Hall, which is a few miles east of the cross! We all drew breath for this was what could only be described as portentous, and just an hour earlier whilst taking tea at Mr. Gnarus's house we had been discussing this very subject. We had been pondering the commonly held folk belief in tunnels running from castles to churches and churches to ancient houses and tunnels here there and everywhere. Why at the Castle Museum in Norwich where many of us Ragged Ramblers first encountered each other there is a belief in a tunnel that leads to Norwich cathedral and no amount of clearly low lying marshy land between the two will do anything to diminished the idea among many of the citizens of the City. Indeed It has been our collective Ragged Rambler experience that the belief in tunnels leading thither and yon is held deep within our primitive psyche even though there is little in the way of verifiable evidence to prove their existence. They are to my knowledge few and far between and one of the few whose existence is verified is a tunnel leading from Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire, which was recently rediscovered by the storyteller and Ragged Rambler Friend, the Yarnsmith of Norwich. His blog about the exciting discovery can be found here...

Few verifiable tunnels yet so many stories... Why we pondered as we drank tea at Mr. Gnarus's house are there so many stories? Perhaps it does indeed have something to do with a primitive folk memory and the need for sanctuary and safety in all of us. Having visited the ancient iron age villages like Carn Euny in Cornwall and having seen the underground 'fogous'-the stone lined tunnels that are common on these sites, it seems that tunnels were necessary to our safety and the protection of our goods long ago. Although it could be that the idea of tunnels appeal to the sense of adventure in all of us - For tunnels suggest smuggling and treasure hidden long, long ago.

In Norwich however it might simply be that the origins of our tunnels tales can be found in a more obvious source - namely the huge amount of still extant medieval undercrofts; early cellars that once served as craftsman’s shops and merchants warehouse in times past. For some of them are large indeed, they turn corners and seem to go on and on. And then there are the medieval chalk mines that skirt the periphery of the City and occasionally swallow a bathroom or even a double decker bus!


A chalk mine under the west side of Norwich

The double decker bus swallowed by the old chalk mines on Earlham Road in Norwich (1988)


Norwich Bridewell undercroft

But when all is said and done a mine is just a mine and not a tunnel and an undercroft is what it is and nothing more. A tunnel by definition must take you on a journey, it must have a beginning and end and take the traveller from point A to point B.. And if we are to apply that definition to Norwich and Norfolk, then there are no tunnels leading from house to church or church to coastal cave.

But do not get me wrong - It is not my intention to stomp upon such long held beliefs and If anyone out there knows of an ancient tunnel then I for one would be first to swap tweed waistcoat for a safari shirt and hat. I would be first to venture forth with a flaming torch in one hand,a divining rod in the other and me Werthers tucked safely in my back pocket. And it must be said that even we Ragged Ramblers are not infallible - I myself got well and truly lost in the Bowthorpe housing estate whilst looking for a ruined church and I cannot be trusted to take care of a Roman Samian Ware bowl. And so if anyone out there knows of a hidden tunnel kept secret for many years, then we of the Ragged Ramblers are waiting to hear from you - our flaming torches at the ready...

+Many Coats+

22 comments:

  1. I do confess it; my mind had wandered to thoughts of that delicious treacle tart - ratherer! Upon engaging with the matter in hand, however, I found the whole business made me rather cross (do you see what I did there?). I am not often stumped (again, you see...), but this left me feeling most perplexed.

    Antiquarian Salutations!

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  2. Sir!

    I defy you: there are tunnels aplenty in Norwich. There is one which runs from the Guildhall to Great Walsingham; another which, being a thousand yards in depth, was where the Nineteenth century Norwich poisoner, Kirk Flint, stashed the bodies of his victims. Why, there is even said to be a tunnel which runs from the castle to shirehall... although I have my doubts about the latter.

    How can I be so sure, you ask? Well, I have been on many of Ghastly Dave's tours of Norwich, and he wouldn't simply make it up would he!

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  3. During my high Polly Perkins period, I dug many tunnels - metaphorical ones... but they became dead-ends when she left... isn't it

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  4. It doesn't matter what you people say, there are tunnels under Norwich and Norfolk and there always will be. You just have to believe!

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  5. Moi cousin, Uncle Jack, do say that them as don't think on tunnels is a bunch of...

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  6. That is quite enough of that thank you! Dersingham Vicky, whilst comments are currently unmoderated, if you persist on coming on here and insulting the esteemed members of the Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers, then I will be compelled to restrain you. Please be warned!

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  7. No tunnels in Norfolk my big bad a..e. You should try having to crawl down one to fix an appliance. Then you'd see....

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  8. Dear Esotericus

    I did see what you did and 'stone me' that was good. Although it was I think on the 'boundaries' of good taste. Did you see what I did there by way of a reply?

    +Many Coats+

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  9. Woooooooo. WooooooOOO. Wooooooooo

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  10. Dear Mr 'Many Coats'.

    Far be it for me to pour scorn upon what was for the most part a carefully crafted post, but I can assure you that as a divinator of many years standing, one needs two hands to devinate effectively.

    Yours,
    R J Ooonstead (deceased)

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  11. Dear Mr Ooonstead

    Thank you for your comments although I can assure you that it is possible to divinate with just one hand. I refer you to my late great posh uncle 'Many Blazers' who lost his arm in a tragic accident whilst goading the Norwich 'Snap' at the Postwick St Georges celebration in 1912. He did however go on to become a celebrated exponent of the divining rod - his greatest moment coming in 1934 when he discovered the source of the river Wensum at a leaky standpipe just off the Dereham Road.

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  12. Dear Mr. Many Coats,

    As you are no doubt aware, I am rather drawn to some Scottish bloggers who have actual real hills and mountains to roam on. One of my personal favourites - which I have only recently stumbled upon - has a post about caves which I think Our Reader might appreciate...
    http://blueskyscotland.blogspot.com/2011/01/heart-of-darknesspart-one.html

    Antiquarian Salutations & a thousand 'Huzzahs' to you!

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  13. Thank you Esotericus. One can only imagine that our reader is overwhelmed by the attention we lavish on him. Do we know if he is a boy or girl?

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  14. In addition Estoricus my friend. This very day I found a black coat in my car that was covered in flour. Since as you and I both know millers traditionally wear white coats, I find this to be most perplexing.
    Yours +Many Coats+

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  15. My dear Mr. Many Coats,

    The gender of Our Reader is a mystery unto me...

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  16. A black Miller's coat - what an oddity! When we curate our Ragged Ramblers' exhibition, is this the kind of artifact which might draw in the crowds perchance?

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  17. Sir!

    This piece is too short. In the 1950s - which is when I am - this would be considered an introductory paragraph. You people!

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  18. Thank you for comments mr Grumpage, but owing to a backlog of posts caused by the disappearance of the Contributions Sec and the fact that no one knows who he is, then you will appreciate space is limited.

    And Esotericus we can only hope that the mystery of black millars coat will be solved on later blog posts...

    +Many Coats+

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  19. Ello Dearies,

    My Earnie used ta wear underpants he did... unless he was giving me what for out back... He's dead now though, my Earnie - the bastard! I remember when you could leave yer door open and there was pianas in the street - and not a tea-leef in sight, apples and pears. Strike a light ma dearies, I've gorn an shat meself I 'ave...

    Naw where's those Inko-pads got ta? Hmm...

    I luvs my Earnie, I does!

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  20. It's good to hear from you again Saxlingham Pete and Doris have you ever thought of collecting your memories of the good old days into some kind of audio archive? The UEA in Norwich may well be interested and I'm sure the costume collection at the V & A would be well happy to aquire Ernies pants if you still have them?

    +Many Coats+

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