“WELL I never,” says Greta Potter after reading in Memories 463 a fortnight ago about the secret tunnels beneath Yarm and Stockton.

“My mother, who passed away many years ago, lived at Eaglescliffe and went to Yarm Grammar School. She always told me about tunnels in Yarm. She told me there was one from the church in Yarm up to Egglescliffe which, she said, came out just passed the grounds of the rectory in a small brick building.

“I always thought it was all old wife's tales.”

Memories 463 uncovered stories of a network of tunnels that apparently ran from Mount Grace Priory into The Friarage in Yarm (now Yarm School) from where one ran under the river to Egglescliffe church, and the other went down the High Street, under the river and up to the site of Stockton castle.

And Stockton has a High Street that is almost undermined by secret tunnels. It was said to be possible to walk underground from one pub cellar to the next the entire length of the High Street.

“I can confirm there were tunnels under Stockton as I have been in them,” says Allan Pool. “It was many years ago, in the mid 1960s.

“Although a Norton lad born and bred, I attended Holy Trinity school for boys, which unfortunately is now a roundabout, and on many occasion during the one-and-a-half hour lunch break, a small group of us rebel boys used to walk into town to pass the time away.

“Where the Swallow hotel was there was on the corner was a picture house, if memory serves me correct it was the Empire (there was also the Plaza near the riverside, the Hippodrome and the Essoldo, apart from the larger Odean and Globe), and running in an L-shape around the Empire was a small arcade.”

Briefly to interrupt Allan’s story, he’s correct: the Castle Theatre opened as a music hall in 1908 near the site of Stockton castle and it was renamed the Empire in 1914. It closed in 1963 and was demolished soon after so the Swallow and the Castle Gate Shopping Centre could be built. Stockton castle was an out-house of the Bishop of Durham which was built around 1170 and fell down about 1650. All of Stockton’s secret tunnels seem to radiate from the castle.

Back to Allan…

“Within that arcade was a newsagent, which was long closed down, and behind the counter was a trapdoor through which one could enter the tunnels below Stockton.

“We could get along the High Street direction to the north but the opposite direction had been sealed by, we assumed, the cellars of the CWS jam factory, which was derelict. The cellars below CWS were flooded so no access could be gained, but we never realised there could be tunnels heading towards Yarm.”

The CWS preserve factory was in Tower Street, next to the castle site, and is now a car park.

SECRET tunnels are, like coronavirus, catching. John Hill takes us into Darlington.

“When I lived in Bloomfield Road, many years ago, neighbours spoke of a network of tunnels in the area, but I was unable to find out if this was true or not,” he said.

These rumours of tunnels emanating from Victorian millowner and railway entrepreneur Henry Pease’s Pierremont mansion near Bloomfield Road are the strongest in Darlington. Some say the tunnel ran in to the town centre, but most sources claim that it ran under the Cocker Beck to the Brinkburn mansion which Henry’s son built in the early 1860s.

It is said that multi-millionaire Henry was so worried about his personal safety that he constructed the subterranean bolthole.

But it may not have run from the mansion itself, which dates from the early 1840s, but from the clocktower, of 1872. Is it a good idea to build a tall clocktower and then undermine its foundations with a tunnel?

ANOTHER enduring tunnel story involves the hilltop village of Sadberge, which was once capital of a large area of land – a Saxon wapentake – from Teesdale to the sea. The courthouse was the Three Tuns pub and its cellars were the jail.

A tunnel, the bricked up entrance of which can still be seen, leads from the jail down to the bottom of the steep hill, under a very plashy area, and then up the other side to the top of the next hill which is now the Dogs Trust Darlington kennels. It is known as either the Hill of Pleas or Gallows Hill.

There’s a story of an 11-year-old boy, found guilty of stealing a loaf of bread, who was dragged screaming along the torch-lit tunnel to the Hill of Pleas, where he was given one last chance to plead for mercy. He failed, and he was hanged on the hilltop gallows for all to see.

The last case was heard at Sadberge courthouse in 1457, but the tunnel story has lived on for more than 500 years.

THERE are tunnels in the most unlikely places. Take Howlish Hall above the Dene Valley on the edge of Bishop Auckland. It is first mentioned in 1345 as Howledge and it does seem to be on a high ledge around which the wind would howl.

Now a care home, outside it is the “whale road” along which great oaks were once hauled by horses from the forests of Durham and Cumbria to the shipbuilding centre of Whitby. The horses returned hauling bits of whale blubber full of oil.

Inside it is The Grey Lady, a ghostly figure, and beneath it is a tunnel which stretches a mile-and-a-half or so to Windlestone Hall. The tunnel is said to date from the English Civil War of the 1640s when the Eden family of Windlestone were noted royalists and were so regularly bothered by the parliamentarians that they built an escape tunnel.

When Howlish was derelict in the 1980s, a brave band of locals apparently investigated the tunnel and got a couple of hundred yards along it before their nerve gave out.

IN the late 18th Century, soldiers stationed in Richmond castle discovered the lost entrance to a secret tunnel which was rumoured to lead a couple of miles to Easby Abbey. They selected their smallest member, the drummer boy, to be lowered in, and they followed him on the surface as he drummed subterraneanly.

He left the castle, crossed the Market Place, dropped down into Frenchgate, passed the church and when he reached the Swale, he stopped, and the drumming ceased.

No one ever saw, or heard, him again, and a stone by the riverside footpath marks the point at which he disappeared deep underground.

It is said that he had stumbled into the secret cavern where King Arthur and his knights of the round table sleep, waiting for the call to save England. His drumming woke one of the nights, who asked: “Is England at risk?”

“No,” said the drummer boy.

“Then don’t wake the king,” said the knight, and both he and the boy fell asleep in the cavern beneath Richmond, but the will rouse themselves in the hour of the nation’s need.

Perhaps someone could go and jump up and down on the riverside stone to try and wake them – the hour is close at hand.

A SIMILAR story is set in Durham, only this tunnel is haunted by a terrible beastie who does such horrible things to any trespasser that their minds are destroyed.

It from Finchale Abbey into the cathedral. As the crow flies, or the tunneller digs, this would be about five miles due south and involve going under the Wear. The last known investigation of the tunnel in Victorian times suggests, though, that the tunnellers avoided the river by swinging out east to the A1 and then approaching the promontory via the moors near Gilesgate.

It was last investigated in Victorian times. One man is recorded as having got a way along it until his progress was blocked by a strong door. “He returned scared by the horrors he had witnessed and refused to brave them again,” said William Henderson in 1879.

Another, more intrepid, investigator picked up the torch and took a hunting horn into the tunnel with him. He blew it regularly so that those above ground could walk with him.

“The horn was heard at intervals till the crowd above reached Gilesgate Moor, when a shrill and hasty blast alarmed them,” said Henderson. “It was the last they could distinguish — the man had succumbed to the horrors of the place.”

BLOB SO beware – tunnels can be dangerous places. If there are any other secret tunnel snippets or stories, we’d love to hear them. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk