Leeds might have a lot going on above ground but you will be surprised at the hidden world beneath your feet. Neil Hudson delves into the city’s subterranean secrets to uncover some surprising spaces.
TEMPLE NEWSAM SERVANTS’ TUNNEL
VISITORS to Temple Newsam House and glean some kind of picture of what life was like for the blue-blood residents who enjoyed a lavish life in its oak panelled rooms. But beneath the house are a network of cellars and corridors and one giant tunnel built 250 years ago under the courtyard to the front. Running for about 100 yards, it used to link the kitchen to the main dining room and when the council took over the house, an inventory of the cellars included 132 bottles of champagne, 3,800 gallons of ales, 2,200 gallons of beer, 474 bottles of sherry, 72 bottles of fine claret and 77 bottles of spirits and liquors.
MYSTERY TUNNEL UNDER LEEDS
Perhaps one of the most alluring underground spaces in Leeds is the tunnel which runs from Northern Street to Queen’s Street, although its precise length and purpose appears to have been lost to memory. Evidence of the tunnel can still be seen to this day, in the form of two 6ft tall blue metal air vents, which stand like disused postboxes on the pavements of both streets and are intended to prevent the build-up of noxious and possibly explosive gases. One theory is the tunnel was a sewer, another that it was a secret war bunker.
QUEENS HOTEL AND THE SECRET CAVERNS
The Queens Hotel has been a dominant feature of City Square for decades but even it has underground secrets. Service lifts travel connect to cavernous subterranean rooms, some of which interconnect with the abandoned tunnels which run beneath Leeds railway station. One seldom seen storage area contains classic paintings to grand chandeliers and a gantry opens onto the banks of the River Aire. Another tunnels heads off under City Square and runs for a good 100ft, draped in silence and darkness, its floor made of uneven hardened mud and rubble.
LEEDS RAILWAY STATION’S ABANDONED LEVELS
Leeds might be the busiest train station outside London but the thousands of commuters who pass through it daily have no idea that beneath their feet lies an intricate network of tunnels and rooms. They were built in the 18th Century and form part of the original station. The YEP was given access to these in 2011 - they revealed an eerily silent world of cold concrete and brick and rooms littered with abandoned objects - a world frozen in time. There are staircases, old mail rooms and corridors and staircases leading off into the gloom.
OAKWELL HALL HIDDEN VAULT DISCOVERY
In 2013 renovation work at Oakwell Hall in Birstall near the outskirts of Leeds led to a remarkable discovery. When a stone slab was moved from a walkway just outside the 15th Century hall, workers were astonished to find a hole. Initial inspections revealed a brick-lined cavern extending down at least 12ft, although the extent of the underground space remains unknown. Some have theorised that the subterranean area could have been a storage vault, or that it is perhaps part of a tunnel or sewer. It is understood that further inspections will take place soon.