L.H. DAVIES describes the dark history of Newcastle-on-Tyne’s spooky Victoria Tunnel
In its original state, it led from the Leazes main pit to the banks of the river and throughout its long and varied history, it has had many uses and numerous series of abandonment.
It probably goes without saying then, that this has become a place of great interest to many and in more recent times, those seeking out the paranormal.
At more than two miles in length, the original tunnel was of Victorian construction; work began in 1839 and reached its completion in 1842. Sloping at a gradient of 1:19, this was enough for the waggons to travel down the tunnel to the river by gravity, a rope attached to the back returning them to the Leazes pit by means of a single stationary steam engine.
Unfortunately, whilst the tunnel was a successful investment, the pit for which it was built was not so profitable, and in 1860 it was closed.
No longer required, the tunnel, too, was shut down.
In its 18 years use as a waggon way, the Victoria tunnel and its stationary steam engine laid claim to three lives; twice, the engine itself exploded, each time claiming the life of a worker.
An accident within the depths of the tunnel claimed the life of William Coulson.
Coulson was a staithsman who, along with two other men were tasked with inspecting the tunnel, which measures seven feet and five inches in height and its width is but six feet three inches. This leaves absolutely no place to avoid potential accidents.
On June 16th 1852 Coulson entered the tunnel with his fellow workers, having instructed the pit the previous day that no waggons were to be sent down.
Sadly there was a misunderstanding and during the men’s investigations, a train of waggons was sent into the darkness, claiming the life of the staithsman.
Eighteen years after the tunnel’s closure, the river end was demolished to make way for the Glass House Bridge and later, in 1928, 50 years later with the tunnel long since abandoned, entrepreneur Thomas Moore had an epiphany.
Victoria Tunnel, he thought, would be the perfect place in which to farm mushrooms. His success however was somewhat short-lived, when a year later, following a dismal harvest the idea was shelved and the tunnel once again shut down.
In 1939, Britain went to war and the city of Newcastle capitalised on its subterranean waggon way.
The Victoria Tunnel was turned into an air raid shelter: blast walls, electric lights, bunks and chemical toilets were all fitted and several further entrances were built. When the war ended, so too did the requirement for the Victoria Tunnel.
All but one entrance was bricked up and it became abandoned once more. An area between Ellison Place and Queen Victoria Road was, in 1976 converted into a sewer and only in 2006, when Newcastle city council received lottery funding, was the tunnel finally restored and opened to the public.
The Ouseburn Trust who run tours into the tunnel say on their own website that there have been ghostly sightings since the tunnels reopened and indeed there has been a great deal of interest from paranormal investigative teams.
Those on Ouseburn tours have claimed to have witnessed a person disappear into the walls of the tunnel and there have been numerous photos taken within the darkness that have on printing revealed a mysterious mist that couldn’t possibly be smoke or breath.
Flashes of light in the distance have been seen, but upon inspection no light source has ever been found and at least one local paranormal group has successfully obtained EVPs from within the tunnel that deliver disturbing messages of malevolence.
With the long history that the Victoria tunnel has, could there have been any unrecorded deaths? Or perhaps those who have experienced ghostly encounters have met with the unfortunate workers who have returned to haunt those that dare enter the darkness beneath the city.