Tunnel mystery below 15th century home

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Mystery continues to surround the origins of a tunnel below a 15th century home in Lancashire.

For 34 years Max and Angie Irvine wondered if a secret tunnel might lurk beneath their house.

And for a moment, they thought someone may have stumbled upon the mysterious piece of history.

Workmen digging for neighbour Marc Mears found a water-filled tunnel between the two homes which headed towards the Irvines' sprawling property.

Investigations found the dark, damp hideaway was 10ft wide, 6ft high and 30ft long.

The find, on Monday, sparked great excitement from the retired GP and his wife. Their home at Bank Hall in Broughton, near Preston, has a priest's hide in the lounge and there have been suggestions a tunnel may lead to it.

A call to an archaeologist followed and, in his opinion, the tunnel is probably a Victorian sewer, but he can't be 100% sure... So the mystery continues.

Father-of-three, Dr Irvine, 66, said: "We thought it was a tunnel which was linked to our house because it's been rumoured over the decades that our house has a tunnel to one of the local churches.

"This was quite exciting. We thought it might be in some way connected. But we got further advice and it seems this is just an old Victorian sewage system.

"It's unusual, because there wouldn't appear to be sufficient property round here to justify such a large system.

"But we're not really in a position to explore any further. It's too big a job for us to tackle at this stage so we're going to put a slab back over it and leave it for somebody else to explore in the future."

Since he retired in 1999 Dr Irvine has keenly researched the history of his home, which dates back to 1487.

During his studies, he learned of rumours that a tunnel led from the house to a church. It was used by priests to hide and escape during the English Reformation under Henry VIII's reign.

And two priests were indeed born at the property – which is now Grade II listed – during the early 1600s.

But Doug Moir, Lancashire County Council planning officer with a specialism in archaeology, said: "It's hard to come to any definite conclusions.

"It's been suggested it may be a means of escape for priests but I wouldn't have thought so. If it's that sort of thing, it would be built out of brick because it would be very expensive.

"Drains need to be cleaned out so it's quite usual for them to be larger to allow people to walk through.

"But we'd be quite happy to change our opinion if he can find something that shows otherwise."

For now, the mystery will remain just that as Dr Irvine prepares to sell his beautiful home.