Inside secret Victorian street underground buried – with road, gas lamps and shops


Lawrence Hill in Bristol has been dogged with tales of a hidden street for decades, and a historian has confirmed the legends about this mysterious underground world are true

`One of underground areas and a bricked up door found by Dave Stephenson on his 1999 expedition under Lawrence Hill
One of underground areas and a bricked up door found by Dave Stephenson on his 1999 expedition under Lawrence Hill

When you stroll down a street, it’s not often you think about what is under your feet – let alone a long-abandoned street from Victorian times.

Lawrence Hill in Bristol has been dogged with tales of a hidden street and one historian is proud to confirm the legends are true.

Dave Stephenson did the leg work and delved into the underground street after spending years listening to the stories.

Dave heard many fascinating tales about this secret underground world, stretching from Ducie Road to the Packhorse pub, with glazed shop fronts and old gas street lamps hanging on the walls.

There was even an anecdote of a man who fell through a hole in the road after a few too many pints and found himself transported back in time.

Dave Stephenson, right, and Andy Jones examine an old shop window still in its frame in the Victorian street beneath Lawrence Hill, Bristol

According to Bristol Live, back in 1999 Dave and a couple of companions set out to discover the truth.

They climbed down into the cobweb-encrusted enclave that lies buried beneath the road at Lawrence Hill and he returned with amazing photographic evidence of the eerie remains of a forgotten era.

He has since investigated the real story of how these secret cells came to be there and what they have been used for in the past.

This includes Hells Angel records 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.

Dave Stephenson, right, investigates the underground world beneath Lawrence Hill in 1999 with fellow local historian Andy Jones

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.

He said: “When the Bristol and Gloucester Railway arrived on the scene William Herapath sold most of his estate to them for £3,000.

“By 1879 this wooden bridge needed replacing, so the authorities decided they would heighten the road.

Lawrence Hill in Victorian times when it had a busy railway station

“In the process the Packhorse Inn – and the neighboring 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.

The tunnels are now considered too dangerous to enter.

Dave found evidence of four tunnels but only one remained open, spanning right across the road.

An underground passageway under Lawrence Hill, Bristol, full of rubbish, including a spooky old wheelchair

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 one underground shop still open had been stripped of everything, even down to the fire grate and other fittings. I spotted an old Victorian sash window frame, still intact but with most of the glass panels missing,” Dave said.

The whole place was thick with dust and filled with builders’ rubble and random items including a horse trough and an old wheelchair.

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 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.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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