Underground Greenwich – The Phantom Fantasises on a Tuesday Morning

Last night I was flicking through some old magazines one last time before chucking them out and I came across this little event. It’s  a guided tour of Exeter’s underground passages, which date back to medieval times. Exeter is so proud of these (fabulous, from the picture) tunnels that they are making a tourist destination out of them.

Of course I’d missed the event, but the photo brought to mind a picture we were talking about just a couple of months ago, taken by the Subterranean Greenwichexpert Per Von Schiebner. I have no idea HOW he took the picture, but I’m mighty glad he did. Take a look at page four of this PDF document. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the Exeter tunnels, don’t you think?

Now – I know that there’s not the cash knocking around that there could be for creating new attractions, but, in a moment of idle fantasising, I found myself once more wishing that Royal Parks, instead of shutting these amazing tunnels up and banning even experts from visiting them, could actually see them as an asset and turn them into a super-soft-adventure historical attraction?

It’s not like it would be the first time – back in Victorian /Edwardian times, right up to the First World War (and possibly beyond)  it seems that everyone used to wander round the secret tunnels from Hyde Vale to the strange little hobbit hole by the kiddies’ playground so often that Professor Stone (frustratingly) didn’t even bother describing them in his 1913 lecture – he just assumed that everyone knew them already and that they would always be open. No health and safety issues then.

I just think it would be a really great thing for all kinds of people to do - from bored foreign teenagers to curious local Phantoms. It wouldn’t have to be the entire network, (even the incredible Napoli Sotterraneacan’t do that) just a few hundred feet of Tudor brickwork, gothic arches and curious steps would do me. In my imagination it would start in the Conduit House, which would also have a little exhibition about the amazing Swizz cheese that Greenwich is, including all the sundry tunnels and secret passages under our feet. And, of course, since this is MY fantasy, Jack Cade’s Cavern would also be open, too.

I know it’s a financial thing as much as anything, but there also seems to be the lack of any political will to do anything about these tunnels. As far as the Olympics are concerned, the Officials seem to be pretending the tunnels aren’t there and keeping their fingers crossed about any sudden unscheduled water jumps that could appear, but to me they should be actively celebrating these wonderful, creepy, exciting pieces of Greenwich Heritage, rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist.

If Exeter can do it, surely Greenwich could? I bet there’s not a Phantomite reading who wouldn’t pay sixpence to have  sneak down there, guided, of course, by Dr Schreibner himself.

While we’re on the subject of Olympics and Greenwich Park, Methers points out that there is still some unfinished business to be dealt with. Whilst the battle to remove the Equestrian events from the park was lost, there was at least a whole bunch of planning conditions that LOCOG would have to obey. They have now applied to have at least some of those conditions overturned. Quite which conditions they are I don’t know (yet) but I’m guessing that NOGOE will have something to say about them.

Of course, NOGOE could always play the financial card. It MUST be cheaper to put the events somewhere there are already facilities?


the attachments to this post:

exeter tunnels
exeter tunnels


7 Comments to “Underground Greenwich – The Phantom Fantasises on a Tuesday Morning”

  1. Jack Cade’s Cavern

    fnar fnar!

  2. Joe F says:

    You describe Greenwich as being a “Swizz cheese” rather than a “Swiss cheese”. A Freudian slip, Phantom?

  3. EnglishRose says:

    As a starting point, I wonder if the Powers That Be could be persuaded to open up a very short stretch of the tunnels for the annual London Open House Weekend? Any ideas how we might go about suggesting this idea?

  4. I think the issue there, Rose, is that they don’t even allow experts down there, and I suspect that they’re not actually that safe at the moment – they probably don’t even know themselves the full extent of the tunnels, since I doubt there’s anyone left alive who really knows them.

    So it needs to be first investigated properly by experts (you’d have thought that was a given since there are going to be expensive horses thundering over the top of them, but apparently not) then probably remedial work done to make sure they’re not going to cave in on top of visitors. I don’t know how much that would cost, but it would be such a great investment.

    But the first steps are definitely proper maps and a survey, which I am pretty sure has not been conducted for many years now.

  5. [...] Credit to The Greenwich Phantom for spotting this, and I thought it merited a higher profile. Olympics organisers LOCOG are trying to strike out some of the conditions imposed on them by Greenwich Council at March’s planning meeting which gave the green light to equestrian events in Greenwich Park. [...]

  6. Jack says:

    Perhaps I’m becoming a cynic in my advancing years, but I can’t shake the feeling that the powers that be don’t want to run tours in the tunnels because it would cost them too much money to repair them to a standard where this could happen. And if they collapse before the work is done, well, good thing we didn’t waste our money on that, then.

    Running horses over the tunnels probably wouldn’t damage them – they used to build things properly, back in the olden days – but if they did happen to collapse with a world audience? Well, it won’t be LOCOG’s fault, obviously. Or Chris Roberts and his fiefdom. Or the Royal Parks.

    It would probably be the fault of the local folks. Yeah, they never look after their own neighbourhood, do they? There’s no point putting resources down there – they’d only waste them, after all.