Under the Hill

From Almondbury, Beaumont Park, Farnley Tyas, Berry Brow, and Huddersfield Town centre they came. All of them, deep underground and all travelling to the same location, Castle Hill. More than enough has been written about this local landmark for you to likely know its general history.

Once home to a Neolithic settlement, the summit of the hill has seen its fair share of use over the years (Ahier, 1946). An Iron Age hilltop fort, a late medieval castle and nineteenth-century inns, farms and Victorian follies have all adorned our local hill. Over the years, countless individuals have strolled upon the summit of this [mostly] ever-present natural wonder. But, how many of those folk have wondered what is beneath it?

Well, numerous individual legends tell of a handful of tunnels that make their way to Castle Hill, and I am assuming join up beneath the summit in, what some folk say, is a giant cavern. Some of these tales, such as those about tunnels in Huddersfield town centre and Beaumont Park, read like this: somebody found a tunnel that, for no particular reason, could not be further explored and then somebody speculated that it led to Castle Hill.

And this is how legends are born.

The Farnley Tyas tunnel is little more than a suggestive footnote that has perhaps been conflated with a legend that suggests that water for Castle Hill’s supposed mediaeval moat was sourced from Farnley Tyas. Speculating about how this water might have reached the hill, it is not a stretch to consider how tunnels may have been the appropriate means of travel (Ahier, 1946). 

Another area water and legend meet is in the ancient village of Almondbury. Rumour tells of a tunnel that runs from St Helen’s Gate out to Castle Hill. It is thought that this romantic speculation is related to St Helen’s Well on the site. As we will see, it is not the only well linked with the underbelly of Castle Hill (Hemingway, 2013). Still, there is something about the general feel of this legendary tunnel that intrigues me.

Named after a pagan-turned-Christian deity, Saint Helen, the upper part of this street has long been known as Hell Hole. Whether this name is due to the sharp bend in the road, the well itself or some long lost tunnel to Castle Hill (or Hell), we may never know (Minter & Minter, 1993). My imagination likes to consider that the ‘gate’ in St Helen’s Gate represents a  metaphysical barrier where you can cross to the spirit lands beyond. But I doubt that.

Where our unlikely tunnels begin to pick up more of a legendary narrative is on t’other side of the hill to Almondbury, in the little village of Berry Brow. The quietly menacing gritstone behemoth known as Deadmanstone is home to its own stories relating to dead bodies and the afterlife. While this stone has been said to have a tunnel that runs to Castle Hill, it is the ones that were said to lie in the basement of the sites historic home, Deadmanstone House, that deserve the attention here. 

In his 1946 pamphlet, Huddersfield historian Philip Ahier spoke of an individual who had uncovered the entrance to a tunnel in the basement of the former Deadmanstone House. A similar incident was noted in the Examiner, where residents of the house in the 1960s had found some tunnels and attempted to access them. But, unfortunately, like all such tunnel tales, there was an impassable obstacle stopping any progress. Locals of the area had speculated that the rumoured tunnel had been an exit point for Romans escaping from a potentially under-siege Castle Hill (YorkshireLive, 2012). While this is unlikely given there is no evidence for a Roman settlement on the hill, it is at least of interest.

Less specific on location are the tunnels mentioned in the legend of Devil’s Rock, Netherton. This story tells of the Devil escaping from the locals and wandering the tunnels under Castle Hill (Hemingway, 2013). It does not specify how the Devil accessed these passageways, but I can only speculate that he did a better job at finding an entrance than I have.

Putting legends aside, Castle Hill does have a tunnel of sorts, accessible via its summit. Sat behind Victoria Tower is well that dates to the thirteenth-century medieval castle that once stood on the site. Beginning in 1939, but then put on hold during the Second World War, a team of archaeologists set off down the well to discover the hill’s lost treasures. While they did not find the entrance to our mythical tunnels, what they did find was a little more grisly.

Well well well…

At the foot of the well, they found dog bones, and while I did consider that this may be the unfortunate remains of a dragon’s lunch, they were not. These were likely the bones of hunting dogs used in the Middle Ages at a time when the hill’s castle was thought to have been used as a lodge (Manchester Guardian, 1948). 

A subterranean space that may have existed on Castle Hill was said to be beneath the original inn that once sat on the summit. It is said that when constructing this establishment in 1810, a spiral staircase that ran down into the hill was found and then subsequently filled in without being explored (Ahier, 1946). Typical, why does nobody explore these things?

So, as we burrow our way out of legend and to the summit of Castle Hill, acknowledging that there is no reliable evidence for any of these passageways, let us leave the topic of tunnels buried for now. I will close with one lesson that I hope we have all learnt in the relaying of these little legends relating to underground passageways. If you do find a tunnel, remember it, report it and go to all efforts to encourage Kirklees Council to explore it.

Ahier, P. (1946). Story of Castle Hill Huddersfield throughout the centuries: Bc 200-ad 1945. The Advertiser Press Limited.

Hemingway, A. (2013, February 3). Castle Hill: History & Folklore Pt2. AndyHemingway. https://andyhemingway.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/castle-hill-history-folklore-pt2/

Manchester Guardian. (1948, August 27). Excavations at Almondbury. The Manchester Guardian.

Minter, G., & Minter, E. (1993). Discovering Old Huddersfield Part One. Huddersfield Local History Society.

YorkshireLive. (2012, October 9). Underground in Huddersfield: Are there tunnels under Castle Hill and Beaumont Park? YorkshireLive. https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/lifestyle/health-family/underground-huddersfield-tunnels-under-castle-4940838

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