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An eerie Victorian street which includes an unofficial air raid shelter and tunnels which are "too dangerous" to go down has been hiding underground, a historian has revealed.
Dave Stephenson set himself the mission to uncover the legends surrounding Lawrence Hill in Bristol and is pleased to confirm the spooky truth.
The street had been plagued with tales that a road could be found beneath, with glazed shop fronts and old gas street lamps hanging on the walls.
Rumours went as far as to say that one man had lost his posture after downing too many pints and had fallen down a hole in the road, which saw him taken back in time.
In 1999, Dave climbed down into the cobweb-encrusted enclave with some companions and returned with photographic evidence of the mysterious street, reports Bristol Live.
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He has since investigated the real story of how these secret cellars came to be there and what they have been used for in the past – which includes Hells Angel discos under the Packhorse pub, a coffin store for the undertakers, a stable for old Co-op delivery horses and an unofficial air raid shelter during the Second World War.
One tunnel apparently ran under a bank, but they closed it up after someone attempted a break in from underground.
Dave explained that 200 years ago the well-known Herapath family owned the brewery connected to the Packhorse Inn, with the whole property stretching down to Duck Road and as far back as Lincoln Street.
In 1832, a horse-drawn railway went through Lawrence Hill, next to the pub, and there was a wooden bridge over the top.
“When the Bristol and Gloucester Railway arrived on the scene William Herapath sold most of his estate to them for £3,000," he said.
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"By 1879 this wooden bridge needed replacing, so the authorities decided they would heighten the road.
"In the process, the Packhorse Inn – and the neighbouring shops – disappeared as the new road was supported on a series of arched tunnels. Amazingly, the present Packhorse is built on top of the old one and still retains the very steep stairs down to the original.”
Twenty plus years later, Dave looks back fondly on his initial trip underground, recalling the exact location they took up a grille and put a ladder down the drop.
He found evidence of four tunnels, but only one remained open spanning right across the road.
Three had been bricked up halfway across, as had most of the old Victorian shops, mainly to deter thieves targeting the new businesses above.
The whole place was thick with dust and filled with builders’ rubble and random items including a horse trough and an old wheelchair.
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The street lamps had all gone when Dave visited and a local scrap dealer later told him they disappeared in the 1950s and would have been quite valuable, but the old paving stones remain.
These days the tunnels are strictly off-limits to explorers, so Dave hasn’t been back. However, a while ago he joined an arranged visit to the original rooms under the Packhorse Inn with a group of local cavers.
Dave said: “The cobwebs there were as thick as a baby’s arm and the fire grate remained, covered in years of dust. A giant RSJ beam engraved with the letters GWR (Great Western Railway) had been put in to strengthen the building.
"The road above was built for horses, carts and carriages. Even with all today’s traffic, which includes hundreds of buses and very heavy lorries, it still stands, but few people suspect what lies beneath.”
- Urban Explorers
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