This is a picture of the old part of East Street, taken by Charles Wardell in 1960, looking north towards what is now the roundabout at Swan Court. The houses on the right still exist today, minus the two in the foreground. The house to the right of the lamp post (No 28) was demolished in early 1963 and when the contractors began to tear it down, some interesting features caused Mr Wardell to go to the house with his camera and record what was there.

When the floorboards were removed, an extensive cellar was revealed - no surprise in itself as the grille to provide light is plainly visible at pavement level below one of the front windows. However, there were also two archways, which plainly led somewhere and were bricked up at some time, the suggestion being that here was evidence of underground tunnels.

Local folk tradition has long supported the existence of tunnels underneath the streets of Andover and when the wholesale demolitions began in the1960s, there were various places where subterranean features appeared that were difficult to explain.

Andover Advertiser: The typical manner in which the archways are bricked up. This entrance faces up the street.The typical manner in which the archways are bricked up. This entrance faces up the street.

In those days, there was little opportunity to examine the archaeological evidence and indeed there was no official or legal obligation to do so. The Andover Archaeological Society under Max Dace was formed in the mid-1960s but it relied upon volunteers and was regarded by officialdom as very much the interloper where building projects were concerned and the society always had to fight to be allowed to carry out any investigations. Builders themselves, employed to carry out a job of work during a specified timescale, did not want their work to be stopped for a team of amateur archaeologists to crawl all over the site, and therefore much of value was allowed to disappear under concrete.

Occasionally the Advertiser would report interesting peculiarities that came to light but there seems to have been little appetite for anyone to investigate properly. It was just accepted that there were tunnels of some sort underneath the town, the most popular explanation being that they were dug during the age of religious persecution in the 17th and 18th centuries when nonconformist congregations gathered in secret. This was then a clear breach of the law and a punishable offence. Although in hindsight there was little danger of local religious groups of small influence ever needing to run for their lives, the execution of the Catholic martyr John Body in the market place at Andover in 1583 for denying Queen Elizabeth’s title as head of the Church in England would have been a potent folk memory.

Andover Advertiser: Another bricked-up archway in the cellar, probably leading south.Another bricked-up archway in the cellar, probably leading south.

The bricked-up archways were often a feature of what was found underground but nobody seems to have ever broken through to discover what lay behind. There were of course sceptics and various explanations were given as to what these curiosities were: passages between cellars which led nowhere but to the next cellar; means of ventilation to allow circulation of air to prevent damp; some sort of primitive, sewerage system; culverts to take away excess water and finally, ground floors of medieval houses that had fallen down and been gradually buried during the succeeding centuries as soil levels rose.

And if they were secret tunnels, with Catholic or nonconformist origins, how were they dug in secret? What happened to all the removed earth and chalk? What about the noise of digging these extensive underground earthworks? In a town of 2,000 people or so, surely everyone would know about it, including the Established Church?

The house in East Street had had a number of interesting occupants, including the photographer Fred Wright around 1910, and also a well-known Baptist minister, Joseph Hasler who lived there from 1872 until 1895. In 1963, his surviving daughter Edith, who then lived in Vigo Road, was taken to the house to have a look at the place in which she grew up but she knew nothing of what was in the cellar, having never been down there. The owner during the 1830s until 1855 was one Mary Godden. She too was a nonconformist but a member of the Congregational church at the top of the street, now the United Reformed church. Neither of these two 19th century occupants would have been involved with covert meetings; by their time, the attitudes towards other faiths had softened, both legally and socially.

Where did the East Street tunnel go? Certainly, not far up the street under the nearby houses. Hairdresser Martin Hollis, now retired, whose salon was at 32 East Street, kindly showed me down the cellar there (next door but one to the demolished house). Under that building the cellar wall nearest to No 28 was of undisturbed solid chalk. He did tell me that when Eastern Avenue was constructed there was a tunnel that went across that site but it was filled in with concrete. In 1967 the Advertiser reported the discovery of a hub of three tunnel entrances in the back garden of Lloyd’s bank, soon to become part of George Yard car park. These were under the floor of a 19th century brick and flint summerhouse. Did one of these entrances link up as well?

An underground passage certainly runs across the back wall of Clark’s and Specsaver’s in the High Street. The whole site was formerly Pond’s and later Habel’s, the latter deciding that they did not need such an extensive showroom (which stretched back almost to Swan Court).

In 1983, King’s the builders were employed to construct two separate shop units to face the High Street, with Habel’s retaining the rear showrooms. A mechanical excavator was used to dig a foundation for the new rear wall to the proposed shops and in starting work, the floor fell away to reveal a deep passage that went right across the entire shop – forty feet or so, another instance of an unexplained underground feature.

So, we really do not know what these things are. Some people are dismissive and perhaps some supposed instances of tunnels are nothing of the sort but the subject is fascinating for many others who would love to know more; an intriguing feature of old Andover (to read more about 28 East Street, see Lookback at Andover 2020).

Andover Advertiser: The Victorian style lamp post and the grass area marks where No 28 East Street stood.The Victorian style lamp post and the grass area marks where No 28 East Street stood.