Secret world under UK town with hidden nightclubs, tunnels and dungeons

Hidden under a large town in Greater Manchester is a busy network of structures that many people may not even be aware of it exists.

Below the cobbled and winding streets of Stockport’s Old Town are secret cellars and bygone doorways that reflect the town’s rich history.

One expert said Stockport is filled with holes and connecting tunnels, comparing it to a “rabbit warren.”

Stockport-born and bred Phil Catlin has deep knowledge about what is hiding below the old pubs and many new independents in Underbanks and around the Market Hall.

Phil, who is also known as the Tunnel Inspector, said there are cellars upon cellars, dungeons, and old nightclubs, including where Jimi Hendrix once famously played in the 1960s, reports the MEN.

The cellars below the Produce Hall


Phil Catling)

The stairs leading to a cellar below Bakers Vault


Phil Catling)

The expert discovers, investigates, and documents man-made and man-used spaces underneath Britain.

With expertise in health and safety, history and archaeology, Phil has explored a large portion of the abandoned sections of the town, taking photographs along the way.

And he’s worked out why the Old Town is higgledy-piggledy in design, with different levels of terrain.

He said: “(Stockport Old Town) was essentially a big sandstone lump, with a church, a castle, and then they ended up with a market.

“It was so easy to dig, so they kept digging down and down.

“Everyone has cellars underneath and some units have double cellars.

“The Bakers Vault pub had a nightclub beneath it, and then another cellar they didn’t know was there.”

The grade-II listed Market Hall was erected in 1861, but the site has housed a market dating back to the late Anglo-Saxon period, with the granting of a formal charter in 1260.

Stockport Dungeons


Saffron Otter)

While Phil says he isn’t aware of anything beneath it, it’s evident that the locals dug outward from this point.

The pavement slopes down to Mealhouse Brow road, and on that corner lies Stockport Dungeons – which is a tourist attraction open today.

Here, the drunk and disorderly were locked up in a cell below ground.

It was also where the Court Leet was held from the 15th until the late 18th century.

Prisoners were held in the dungeon before being taken to court or transferred to Chester or Lancaster Assizes if their crime was more serious.

Next door to the dungeons, at what is now a barber shop, a hatch – with a secret cellar behind it – was discovered by the owners, Phil says.

Further down into Underbanks, Phil explains there was once a stream there, which led to a V-shape forming in the ground, creating a valley.

The former entrance of Sinking Ship Club


Saffron Otter)

It was then covered over and became part of the thoroughfare from London to Glasgow.

Underneath independent business Underbank Studios, on Little Underbank, an extra doorway was discovered that led to a staircase, Phil believes, while the owners of neighboring dry salon also found another secret room that had been covered up.

The Cracked Actor pub on the same road is another that has two cellars, one on top of the other.

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Down the side of the pub is the Royal Oak Yard road, which looks like an abandoned alleyway.

There’s a school of make-up in one part of the building, but below it was once the home of the Sinking Ship Club – where Jimi Hendrix performed in 1967.

“It was a sandstone cave,” Phil said.

“It would get really crowded, and condensation would drip from the ceiling, it would be like sandy water.”

Inside a bin store at Royal Oak Yard


Phil Catling)

The cobbled Royal Oak Yard road leads to a carpark, which could be mistaken for any old rundown space.

But if you take a closer look, large vaults can be found underneath that were used for storage, and caves carved into the sandstone remain.

“Hidden behind the gates there are air raid shelters that the Queen’s Head Pub, which owns them, uses for storage now,” Phil said.

“You can see old chimneys built into the sandstone too, which were used for smelting tin.

“Behind a garage door, my father and I found an old Victorian bottling machine, that they used in Victorian times for bottling sparkling wine.”

Phil also says the area was connected to the Market Place via the yard behind where the Angel Inn pub is now located.

It was used as Stockport’s first theater and a ‘haunt of prostitutes’ lined the staircase down to Underbank.

There was also a rumored brothel, called ‘the dust hole’, by where the old coffee warehouse was on Rowston Brow, which has a number of cellars deep into the ground.

Where The Light Gets In now occupies the top floor of that building.

At the end of Royal Oak Road


Saffron Otter)

Not so secret are Stockport’s official air raid shelters, located on Great Underbank, where, today, visitors can explore the network of tunnels that was carved into the natural sandstone cliffs during World War II.

First opened in 1939, the shelters were the largest purpose-built civilian air raid shelters in the country, designed to provide shelter for up to 3,850 people.

They were extended in 1940-41 to accommodate 6,500.

“Stockport is riddled with holes and tunnels,” Phil said. “It’s like a rabbit warren.”

Warning: Each of the places described has been accessed by a trained professional with full permission obtained by the landowners. Accessibility may vary and not every place is safe to visit. If you wish to explore these places, please visit who will help advise with your subterranean adventure.

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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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