THE last known person to have ventured into the secret tunnel that is said to run beneath a village green is being sought by local historians.

Fred Simpson was only a small boy when his grandfather showed him the entrance to the tunnel, and warned him to be careful as the deeper the stone steps went, the more slippery they became.

Fred’s family had lived in Tudhoe, next to Spennymoor, for 200 years, and it was as if his grandfather was handing the local secrets down the generations. Fred left Tudhoe, which historically has been a Catholic stronghold, but returned in the 1970s or 1980s to do some work on one of the large, old houses that line Tudhoe green – reputedly the longest village green in County Durham.

It was then that he told of his childhood reminiscences of seeing the slippery stone steps, and this encouraged others to tell their tales: somebody else told their family story of how a relative had been walking on the green between Tudhoe Hall and Tudhoe House when the grass had given way and they had fallen into a long forgotten tunnel.

The Northern Echo: Tudhoe House on Tudhoe village green from where a tunnel runsThe slippery stone steps were apparently in the cellars on which the white Tudhoe House was built in 1820

Having dropped his bombshell, Fred went to work on the continent but it is believed that he returned to settle somewhere in the Darlington area.


There is plenty of circumstantial and anecdotal evidence to suggest a tunnel might once have connected the hall with the house.

The Northern Echo: Tudhoe Hall on the left and the white Tudhoe House on the right: a secret tunnel is said to have once stretched between them under the greenTudhoe Hall on the left and the white Tudhoe House on the right: a secret tunnel is said to have once stretched between them under the green. Picture: Google StreetView

The hall was built in 1600 or earlier, when Catholic persecution was at its height – there were even priest-hunters who trailed people suspected of administering the sacrament and handing them over to the authorities.

Several Tudhoe Catholics were fined for refusing to attend a Protestant church, and, from 1629, the hall was owned by the Salvin family from Croxdale, who were strongly Catholic – one of their members at this time, Ralph, became a Jesuit priest and changed his name to “Smith” in the hope that no one would notice.

There was evidence in living memory that one of the hall’s out-buildings once had a concealed Catholic chapel and secret altar in it, and there are several spaces in the hall itself that might have been “priest-holes” – holes behind panels or in chimneybreasts where a priest might hide if a priesthunter knocked at the door.

The Northern Echo: TUDHOE HOUSE, COUNTY DURHAMTudhoe House in 2010

The escape tunnel is said to have run from the hall 70 metres under the green to Tudhoe House, which was built in 1820 on top of the cellars of cottages which had previously stood there. It is in these cellars that Fred Simpson is believed to have been shown the slippery stone steps that led to the subterranean exit.

Members of the Tudhoe & Spennymoor Local History Society, who are working with Durham University’s archaeology department to understand the green, have investigated the cellars recently.

“There’s a very nice little archway that seems to lead into nothing,” says Tony Smith from the society. “I’m pretty convinced there’s something in it – it looks highly feasible.”

If only someone knew where Fred Simpson was so that he could pass on his family’s knowledge. If you know of him, either ring Tony on 01388-811195 or email Please copy if you do.


The Northern Echo: Tudhoe village pond was filled in during the First World War which prevented the ghostly black

horse from rising out of it to foretell a death.A 1903 postcard of Tudhoe green with the chimneys of Tudhoe House on the right, and the pond, from which the ghostly black horse emerged, in front

HISTORIC Tudhoe has so many secrets that it has yet to reveal.

“My mother, who died in November 1999, came to stay with us in our house on the green and on both occasions she complained of seeing Roman soldiers walking through the living room,” says Tony. “It was only years later, when we had a talk at the society by an expert on Roman roads in the region that he said that there probably was a Roman supply route, probably stone lined, that led from the large camp at Binchester to Old Durham.”

Memories’ favourite story concerns a ghostly black horse – it is such a well known story that the pub where last year we were involved in unveiling a plaque to the North-East’s most famous pigeon, the Prince of Rome, is known as the Black Horse Inn. The miners who owned that pigeon worked at Tudhoe Colliery, which was also known as “Black Horse Colliery” because of the story of the black horse…

The Northern Echo: The Black Horse, Attwood Terrace, Tudhoe CollieryThe Black Horse in Tudhoe

Because, a death in the village was always presaged by the emergence of a black horse from the village pond on the green near Tudhoe House.

The horse would pop out at midnight and, with a headless rider on its back, would walk slowly up and down the street until just before dawn, when it would return to its watery resting place.

The new day would reveal that one of the villagers had failed to make it through the night and was dead in their bed.

It was said that the rider had lost his head in battle, but his horse had remained loyal, standing protectively over his body until it, too, was hacked to death by the enemy.

This story probably dates from the 12th or 13th centuries when Durham was regularly visited by violent Scottish invaders, but as the pond was filled in after the First World War, the black horse of Tudhoe has not been seen for many decades.

Perhaps once the local history society has found the tunnel, they could seek out their restless equine.