The underground passage

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English Heritage

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Author

Ernest Godman

Year published

1901

Pages

17-18

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'The underground passage', Survey of London Monograph 3: Old Palace, Bromley-by-Bow (1901), pp. 17-18. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=117256 Date accessed: 28 November 2014.


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THE UNDERGROUND PASSAGE.

Direction of underground passage

Following the usual tradition in such cases, an underground passage was commonly supposed to lead from beneath the Palace to one or other of the following buildings: West Ham Abbey, King John's Palace at Old Ford, and Boleyn Castle at East Ham. During the demolition careful search was made for remains of this passage, and it was found to actually exist. Starting from the cellar under the 'scullery' in the north-east corner, an arched opening in the east wall led into a square brick chamber eight feet by ten, with walls and arched roof of red bricks; a section across the chamber is shown in the sketch. Continuing northward the passage still retained its arched roof and was blocked by brick walls, evidently of dates subsequent to the passage, at every few feet. It was again accessible by the trap door in the yard of the adjoining house, shown at G, on plate 1, but beyond here had apparently been destroyed to make room for the foundations of this house. As the work of demolition proceeded these portions of the passage were filled in with rubbish, and so prevented the possibility of further exploration. Probably the passage made a bend here eastward (it did not run under the 'Seven Stars'), and curving round by the north side of the churchyard ran into, or alongside, the river Lea. The crown of the vault is said to have given way a few years since in the road at the north-west corner of the churchyard and to have let a van down.


[Section of brick chamber in underground passage]

The following notes may be of interest, and throw some light on the various statements as to the termination of the passage.

West Ham Abbey

At West Ham Abbey, the Cistercian Abbey of Stratford Langthorne, a passage somewhat similar to that at the Palace was discovered in 1845, and is fully described in Fry's 'East and West Ham,' p. 140. Its general direction was, however, eastward, and terminated at some distance from the abbey in a marsh ditch, from which it was inferred that the passage had been an ancient monastic sewer.

King John's Palace

At King John's Palace, Old Ford (the remains of which, consisting of some boundary walls, gateway, and a few fragments of buildings, are situated in Old Ford Road, about half a mile north of the Old Palace) the writer is informed, by those who have seen it, that an arched subterranean passage exists, commencing beneath the garden of the house at the south-east corner of Wick Lane, running southward under the 'Sounding Alley' on the opposite side of Old Ford Road, then continuing in the same direction across Tredegar Road near the spot occupied by the 'Joiners' Arms' public house. In this part of the passage a stone coffin was found some 25 years ago.

Boleyn Castle

At Boleyn Castle, a building of 16th century date, careful search at the base of the tower, the supposed termination of the passage, has failed to reveal any trace of the existence of such a passage.

It will appear from these notes that very little dependence can be placed on the traditions respecting the termination of the passage. That it existed there can be no doubt; it was much too large and carefully built to be a sewer; it is possible, therefore, that it was used as a secret means of access to the house from the river.