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Buckley's Duke of York Tunnel: legend or fact? by Neville Dunn"

Duke of York Public House, Brunswick Road, Buckley

January 2004

See 96.89 for a mention of The Duke of York.


Written January 2004.


See 23.21 for Fig.1

97.1 - 4 for Figs 2,3,5,6.

112.1 for Fig.8



by Neville Dunn


In 1969 Clwyd County Council started to plan for the replacement of Buckley's small and outdated fire station which was situated in the yard behind the Buckley U.D.C. Offices on Mold Road. The new station was to be built on Brunswick Road and the chosen site was occupied at that time by Liverpool House which had come into the ownership of Buckley U.D.C. who intended to sell the cleared site to the County Council.


I was an architectural assistant in the County Architect's Department at the time and had been given the task of designing a new library and a small fire station in St Asaph. These projects were interesting to me because they were to be the first local authority buildings to be built in North Wales using metric measurements. However, I became far more interested in fire station design when I was also given the Buckley Fire Station project. Some preliminary survey work had been done using imperial measurements and it was decided to retain them for the drawings which were to be my last to be drawn in feet and inches.


I was born at 17 Park Road, a few hundred yards from the proposed site, and as a youngster had been told that Liverpool House was originally the Duke of York Inn which was why we had always called the fields opposite the Tivoli Cinema "The Duke's fields". I had also grown up with a legend that a tunnel ran from the Duke of York Inn for some six miles in a south easterly direction to end in Caergwrle! Here then was an opportunity to be relished. Would I get a chance to prove or disprove the legend?


I first carried out some checks at Hawarden Record Office and was able to confirm from census records that there had been a Duke of York Inn which was owned by Squire Davies of Gwysaney, Mold who also owned the bulk of the Buckley Commons. The inn did not appear near a rough track crossing over Buckley Mountain on the 1800 Enclosure Act Map but it was to be seen on a Broughton-Mold Turnpike map covering Buckley Mountain dated 1820. By the first 1:2500 scale edition of the Ordnance Survey was issued in 1871, the inn had reverted to a private house (see Appendix Fig.1. Entry 23.21).


Liverpool House was a fairly large detached house fronting on Brunswick Road and was set in a walled garden with open fields to the south. It was once occupied in more recent times by well-known Buckley coal merchant, Mr Alec Hughes. A shop building lay to the east that was originally known as the Market Hall while on the western side was a cobbled yard with two single storey outbuildings which I remembered had once housed Mr Collins' furniture workshop and a small hairdressing salon.


In my youth I had been told that in the inn's days the cobbled yard and buildings were used by visiting coaches, that entertainment was sometimes provided with bear baiting and that the hangman travelling to executions in Ruthin often stayed there and, of course, had amused the customers with a personal demonstration of a hanging as seems to have happened with hangmen all over Great Britain.


The Department's surveyor had already prepared a site plan showing the house in outline with its surroundings as existing (see Appendix Fig.2. Entry 97.1) and, as Buckley UDC intended to demolish the house before selling, it was decided not to prepare a plan of the house's interior. I made a point therefore of meeting the occupants of the house and carrying out some internal checks of my own. On querying the existence of a cellar, I was shown where the steps down had been boarded up and, having had that taken away, I expectantly went down the steps.


I found an empty square cellar, at 14'3" x 14'7" smaller than I expected for an inn, but with a very well constructed brick barrel vault roof running east-west. The stone steps were built into brick side walls and the space under them was also lined with a brick barrel vaulted roof 5'6" high (see Appendix Fig. 3. Entry 97.2). Shining my torch into this space, I saw that it did not end in line with the adjoining cellar wall as expected but continued as a tunnel for a distance after turning through forty five degrees to point due south east towards Caergwrle! Had I indeed found the legendary tunnel?


Pushing my way into the tunnel, I disappointedly found that after eight feet or so my way was blocked by compacted rubble extending from floor to ceiling. Short of bringing in diggers, there seemed to be no way of checking where the tunnel went. However, I had had some experience with an office device called "The Revealer" and I decided to try and use it at the site to gain further knowledge. This instrument consisted of a pair of cranked brass rods pivoting very easily in upright brass handles and was a sophisticated (and costly) chrome plated version of something similar that was made by amateurs from a pair of welding rods.


To use this instrument, one gripped the handles and balanced both rods straight out in front of one until they were steady and then moved forward carefully like a water diviner. If one practiced sufficiently (and most never succeeded), when one crossed over an underground material that was different from its background material, the rods crossed and then uncrossed after one passed the object. There was even a means of checking the depth and the underground material eg copper, iron, ceramic. Water filled piping gave a ghost route lying some feet parallel to the actual pipe route.


I had achieved quite a lot of success with The Revealer, easily finding single objects like covered manholes but I had also learned how to pick up and follow linear objects like drains, water pipes and electric cables. In the latter cases, the rods splayed outwards instead of crossing and, by keeping them equally splayed, it allowed me to follow the object's line. I came back to Liverpool House with The Revealer and in the course of a day picked up the course of two parallel underground objects four feet apart travelling south eastwards from the back of the house, under the garden wall and out into the field.


Sadly, the signals faded out some 100 feet from the cellar which, from previous experience, denoted that the underground objects were now too deep to be detected. I had to repeat my experiment the following week for a reporter from the Manchester Guardian newspaper (as it was then named) who took a photograph and made notes (see Appendix Fig.4. Not entered on archive due to copyright restrictions). He managed to get the inn's name wrong (Duke of Wellington instead of Duke of York) and included much invention in his published story, eg that I considered the tunnel might have been used for smuggling purposes!


After office discussion, I decided that, for historical reasons, I would try to retain the cellar and tunnel but use them as part of the fire station design (see Appendix Fig.5. Entry 97.3). Although it was to be a retained station, ie one manned by part time firemen, it was to have a full drill tower and, to allow extra training with breathing apparatus in restricted spaces, my design positioned the cellar under the drying room floor with access from a manhole cover (see Appendix Fig. 6. Entry 97.4). Sadly, when Buckley UDC's demolition contractors came on site, they did no more than bulldoze the thick house walls inwards the shock of which broke the back of the brick barrel vault and this feature had then to be deleted from the design.


When the building contractors, B & G Raw Ltd of Hawarden, started work both the cellar and tunnel were filled with compacted sand but excavations for the adjoining foundations uncovered two unusual features in what had been the cobbled yard. I was called to site to inspect two circular, bricklined shafts of 4 feet in diameter that were filled with coal clinker. When the clinker had been removed to a depth of six feet or so, it was noticed that there were fluelike holes built in to the shaft sides facing the house. Nobody could offer an explanation for either the shafts or the flues.


A short time later, I mentioned our discoveries to an elderly ex-miner, Mr Williams, who lived on Bannel Lane, Buckley. Mr Williams had previously given me much information about Buckley life in earlier times although his family originally came from Leeswood. He had related how his grandfather remembered regularly walking to Buckley as a boy to pay the family's Miner's Club subscriptions and been threatened by his father not to linger in Buckley because of its lawlessness with barefist fighting on the Common, cockfighting at Etna and general rowdiness. He had also told me a weird tale of Jonathon Catherall and his mates from Buckley going to poach rabbits in Padeswood in depression times in the middle of the 19th century and how they had seen a UFO land and take off! But that's another story.


Mr Williams looked at the shafts and the field beyond to the south and said in Buckley vernacular "Thou knows what thou's found, lad. Look yonder at that hillock over there with the fir trees on it. Does thou know what that is?" I pleaded ignorance. "That's the site of the up-shaft of the Lexham Green Colliery and this tunnel's connected to it". I then queried the brick shafts. He said "Well, before steam engines were invented, the only way to vent a mine was to burn coal in ground shafts to create a strong up draught which would then be made to pull stale air from the workings up the up-shaft and allow fresh air to replace it down the down-shaft". That seemed to make sense to me in the circumstances but was the old miner correct?


Why connect a mine shaft to these ventilation furnaces via flues running through an inn cellar? We shall now never be sure about those flues but, with rumours in 2004 of more development to take place on the land between the Somerfield Store and The Tivoli on the north side of Jubilee Drive, perhaps the rest of the tunnel may yet be verified. The shaft of the Lexham Green Colliery was not recorded on the 1871 OS Map nor on the 1974 Edition OS Map (see Appendix Fig 7. Not entered on archive due to copyright restrictions) although the mound with its conifer trees is shown on both maps. When Buckley developers M & B Building Ltd started their Alexandra Court housing site on Jubilee Drive in 1997, an eight foot diameter mine shaft was discovered as had been pointed out in 1969 by Mr Williams. The shaft had to be capped as indicated on the site plan (see Appendix Fig. 8.).


In October, 2005 Mr Jim Dymond of Watnall, Nottingham, who has a passionate interest in coal mines and is familiar with the Buckley area, sent me a copy of one of three Abandonment Plans of the seams in the Lexham Green Colliery as they existed in 1893. He sent me a copy of the plan for the Main seam, which was the deepest, that he had obtained from The Coal Authority, and it clearly showed the mine shaft mentioned above lying in the sout west corner of the workings as they existied when the colliery closed.


The plans had to be submitted to the Home office and the accompanying letter and plans were signed of behalf of Lexham Green Colliery Ltd by Mr F Hayes. I have reduced the plan from the original 20 chains to 1 inch scale to a scale of 1:2500 ( see Appendix Fig. 9.) so that the surface features on the plan can be linked to the 1871 OS Map (see Appendix Fig.1.)



List of illustrations

Fig. 1 Liverpool House on1871 Edition of the Ordnance Survey Map XIV.8.



Fig.2 Survey plan of Liverpool House, outbuildings and yard - 1969

(with acknowledgement to R W Harvey, RIBA, lately County Architect

of Clwyd County Council).



Fig. 3 Survey sections through cellar of Liverpool House - 1969

(with acknowledgement to RW Harvey, RIBA, lately County Architect

of Clwyd County Council).



Fig. 4 Article in Manchester Guardian (as it then was), April 1969 showing

Author with The Revealer.

NB. Not inlcluded


Fig. 5 Design block plan of new Buckley Fire Station, April 1969

(with acknowledgement to R W Harvey, RIBA, lately County Architect

of Clwyd County Council).



Fig. 6 Original design sections through new Buckley Fire Station - April 1969

(with acknowledgement to RW Harvey, RIBA, lately County Architect

of Clwyd County Council).



Fig. 7 Buckley on 1974 Edtion of the Ordnance Survey Map SJ2863

(By permission of the Ordnance Survey)

NB. Not included


Fig. 8 Development block plan showing capped mine shaft at Alexandra Court,

Jubilee Road, Buckley (with acknowledgement to Mr A Beckett,

M B Building Co Ltd, Buckley and Wheat Edwards and Associates,

Architects, Connah's Quay). (112.1)


Fig.9 A n Abandonment Plan of the Main seam of the Lexham Green Colliery Buckley, as submitted

to the Home Office on 21 February 1893. (With acknowledgement to The Coal Authority, 200,

Lichfield Lane, Berry Hill, Mansfield, NG18 4RG, and to Mr J Dymond, Watnall). (161.1)



Author: Dunn, Neville


Year = 2004

Month = January

Building = Commercial

Gender = Male

People = Single

Extra = 2000s

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