The Underground Arches of Newchurch

Rossendaale Free Press 21st April 1960

By a "Free Press" Reporter

A "Free Press" reporter last week told us something of the old dungeon at Newchurch and gave some scraps of history connected with it. This week he has gone deeper; he has found some rather intriguing subterranean passages under the old village, but unable to find any historical support for their presence has been letting his fancy run on smugglers, conspirators, highwaymen, cavaliers and Roundheads.

Along with a photographer I have been, further exploring the old village of New-church. I wonder how many people know of the subterranean passages that exist there? We have just come out of one.

This passage lies directly under the garden of Holly House, which fronts upon Church-street, and we have been enabled to inspect and photograph it. Equipped with electric torch and candle, and accompanied by Mr. Maurice Whitehead, who lives at Holly House, we proceeded to the rear of that dwelling. There we found some stone steps railed off. Descending these steps, we passed through a door and began our underground tour.

After traversing a short and gloomy passage that calls for no particular comment, we were given a warning by our guide to "mind our heads," and found ourselves taking a sharp turning to the left and stumbling and half crawling over a heap of rubble. Having safely negotiated this turning, which reminded one of an s bend, we reached our objective. The ray of light from the torch and the fitful gleam of the candle revealed to us that we were in a fairly spacious passage, in which it was possible for a reasonably tall man to stand upright, with a few inches to spare from the perfectly arched roof. Though black and damp through the ravages of time, the arch, which is of stone, is in well-preserved condition.


From it hung many stalactites, of varying length, most of them only an inch or two long, but others being up to six or seven inches. As these formations of carboriate of lime take a considerable number of years to form, and as our guide informed us that there had been much longer stalactites in the passage, some idea of the age of the archway may be gathered.

The cavern ran in three directions, and at the point where we had entered, the archway was part of a twin opening, the second passage running at an angle from the junction and being a continuation of the gallery in which we were standing. This passage did not go far, being blocked up at a point which we judged to be under the garden gate. Our particular section of this underground network was about 20 to 30 yards 'in length and ended in a bricked-up wall, which excited curiosity as to what lay beyond. For about a couple of feet at this end the arch was slightly higher and appeared to be of brick.


Mr. Whitehead told us that smugglers were reputed to have used this passage in days gone by - what they smuggled no one seems to know, and where they came from or where they went is also rather vague - and that the passage before being blocked up continued to the old and now disused mill in Back-street, Newchurch. Whereabouts the passage began, Mr. Whitehead was unable to say.

There is no clue as to the year or period in which these archways were built, but 1 it is easy to imagine that they hold many secrets, perhaps romantic and grim, locked in their silences.

Can it be that once they served as the hiding places of gay Cavaliers, fleeing from the vengeance of the Roundhead forces, or for people hunted because of their religious beliefs ?


Maybe they have been the meeting place of conspirators engaged in all manner of plots, or of highwaymen or others engaged in illicit transactions. Yet again, fair ladies may have ventured into their cavernous depths, to succour friends with food and drink, until such time as they could make good their escape from the forces that pursued them.

Standing there in the semi-darkness it was possible to conjure up all sorts of exciting visions of this nature, and one almost expected to see shades of those who might have once traversed these dark and gloomy ways, or a rotting skeleton, clothed in the rags of a costume of some forgotten age. One almost felt a party to a conspiracy one's self, with the faint illumination provided by the candle, the dripping of water, the stalactites, and several barrels, adding to, the illusion. The barrels, however, were not filled with gunpowder, but had merely collected nauseous looking water from the dripping roof.


Once our lights were extinguished and an awesome blackness descended upon us. A moment later there was a puff, and a blinding flash ! No, the spirits of departed conspirators had nothing to do with it. It was just the photographer-; taking a flashlight photograph of the scene.

I must confess however, that I experienced a thrill recalling the youthful days when I devoured the stories of hidden passages, haunted houses, and smugglers' caverns.

As we made our way back, and into daylight again there was a sound of movement outside and I half expected to flnd a troop of Roundhead soldiers awaiting us. But it was just a 1934 Ratenstall Corporation 'bus.


During recent excavations in connection with flagging operations in front of Holly House, workmen uncovered another of these underground archways. This archway was also in an excellent state of preservation, and its course lay under Church-street. It has been now filled in. There also exists, it is stated, a further similar passage which follows a course from Church-street to St. Nicholas Churchyard.

One wonders why they were built. What purpose did they serve in the old days, and why should our progentiors so honeycomb the village with, subterranean passages?