Urban Tunnellers - What Lies Beneath Our Streets?

Williamson's Tunnels, Liverpool

Last week tongue-in-cheek Northern Irish news site Tyrone Tribulations ("News from amongst the bushes. Accuracy cannot be guaranteed.") published a piece entitled "Omagh’s ‘Shawshank Husband’ Dug Tunnel From Bedroom To Pub Over 15 Years".

“The wife has a bad snore on her and after watching the Shawshank Redemption on RTE one night in 1994, I decided to do something about it so I waited til she was in a deep sleep and then set about digging a hole under the bed in the direction of the pub. I used all manner of tools from spoons to a heavy duty tunnel boring machine I managed to sneak down there when she was at the shops. It wasn’t until 2009 that I hit the jackpot and came up through the women’s toilet mop and bucket room.”

While the chronicle Patsy Kerr's nocturnal misadventures beneath the streets of Omagh should undoubtedly be taken with a hypertension inducing amount of salt, there are many interesting documented cases of urban tunnellers and their subterranean works.

 

William Lyttle -The Hackney Mole Man

In August 2006 retired electrical engineer William Lyttle was ordered by Hackney Borough Council to leave his home at 121 Mortimer Road in De Beauvoir Town, London, UK. Five years earlier an 8 foot (2.4 m) hole appeared suddenly and unexpectedly in the pavement on nearby Stamford Road. When the local authorities investigated, they found that Lyttle had created an intricate network of tunnels, some 26 feet (8 m) deep, spreading out as much as 65 feet (20 m) in every direction from his house. Lyttle had been working on his excavations since the 1960s, digging with a shovel and using a home-made pulley system. Following numerous complaints from people living in the adjacent properties, and with the council looking at and estimated repair bill of one hundred thousand pounds to fill the tunnels in, Lyttle was finally banned from re-entering his property.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper at the time Lyttle - known as The Hackney Mole Man - was asked the big question: why did he dig the tunnels?

"I don't mind the title of inventor," he said. "Inventing things that don't work is a brilliant thing, you know. People are asking you what the big secret is. And you know what? There isn't one." [1]

William Lyttle died in 2010. After remaining derelict for several years, 121 Mortimer Road sold at auction in 2012 for £1.12 million. The house remains shrouded in scaffolding and unoccupied, the tunnels beneath largely untouched and unexplored. [2]

 

Seymour Roger Cray

Seymour Roger Cray was an American electrical engineer and supercomputer architect who designed a series of computers which were, for a long time, the fastest in the world. He is known today as "the Father of Supercomputing". In 1997 - the year after Cray's death - an article published in Personal Computer World revealed some interesting mythology surrounding the man and his methods.

There are many legends about Seymour Cray. John Rollwagen, a colleague for many years, tells the story of a French scientist who visited Cray's home in Chippewa Falls. Asked what were the secrets of his success, Cray said "Well, we have elves here, and they help me". Cray subsequently showed his visitor a tunnel he had built under his house, explaining that when he reached an impasse in his computer design, he would retire to the tunnel to dig. "While I'm digging in the tunnel, the elves will often come to me with solutions to my problem", he said. [3]

 

Williamson's Tunnels

In Liverpool, UK, during the early 1800s, wealthy businessman Joseph Williamson employed a workforce of thousands to carve out a vast, uncharted labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city. The purpose of the Williamson Tunnels remains a mystery — some suggest philanthropy, while others say Williamson was a cultist preparing a safe haven for the coming apocalypse. Sealed when Williamson died in 1840, the tunnels were tapped into from above and used as an immense pit into which the household refuse of the city was tipped for over a century.

Today at The Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre in the Old Stable Yard on Smithdown Lane, visitors can take a guided tour through a section of tunnels cleared over the last twenty-five years by volunteers from the Joseph Williamson Society and the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels. The majority of the brick-lined warren still remains unexcavated and unexplored. [4] Not only is Williamson reputed to have had a tunnel dug to connect his home with St. Mary's Church nearby but also, to his local pub The Bear's Paw. Sadly,there's insufficient historical data to tell us whether or not Mrs. Williamson had a "bad snore on her" or not.

 

Joe De Rio tunnels

This January a jury ruled in favour of the City of Austin, Texas, USA in a case brought against it by 74 year old Austin man Joe De Rio. Joe's claim was that city officials had not followed proper procedures when they seized his home on Canterbury Street in East Austin in 2010.

What has been distressing is the city did not give any prior notice,” [Joe De Rio's Defence Attorney, Joe] McCreary said. “I realize they thought there was some kind of mad bomber-type situation and they mobilized all the horses and all the king’s men. The problem is it’s disturbing when a city will use a warrant to seize a person’s property.” [5]

The authorities became concerned when De Rio's home was inspected following complaints from neighbours and found unlicensed firearms, grenades, and suspicious chemicals on the property. Beneath De Rio's home they found a 35 foot (10.6 m), three tier excavation "supported [in places] by wood and automotive parts" [6] . De Rio claimed that he was merely expanding a pre-existing fallout shelter constructed as part of the home in the 1950s but his efforts left the house in danger of imminent collapse. City contractors filled the tunnels beneath the home with more than 264 tons of concrete and De Rio was billed more than $90,000. [7]

 

By and large tunnellers motives remain a mystery and, of course, we only know about those whose activities are uncovered. How many suburban catacombs remain undiscovered? Do you know really what your neighbours are up to? I've just worked out that it's 1345 feet (410 m) from my house to the nearest decent pub so, if you'll excuse me, I've got some digging to do.

 

1. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2006/aug/08/communities.uknews

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Beauvoir_Town

3. http://www.cs.man.ac.uk/~toby/writing/PCW/cray.htm

4. http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/essential-guide-urban-tunnels

5. http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/jury-rules-for-city-of-austin-i...

6. http://www.statesman.com/news/news/man-who-dug-space-under-home-sues-cit...

7. http://www.kvue.com/story/news/local/2014/05/25/2435656/

Free Sample Articles from Darklore Volume 8

Firstly, just a quick heads-up that the Grail is understaffed for the next few days, so updates to the site may be a little sporadic until the weekend. If that leaves you a bit short on reading material, don't fret: I've made three full sample articles from the newly released Volume 8 of our anthology series Darklore available to download (as PDFs) from the Darklore website, absolutely free. Those three join 21 other sample articles available - so if you're new to the Darklore series, you've got plenty of fascinating material to read through!

The three sample articles are:

  • Martin Shough's fantastic article on the ball lightning enigma, with a discussion of the way science has approached the mystery, as compared to the UFO phenomenon
  • Cat Vincent's intelligent examination of the rise of pop culture-based, hyper-real religions.
  • My piece on the phenomenon of the 'dying light' witnessed by some people at the time of a loved one's passing.

Of course, if the articles whet your appetite, it helps us out a whole lot more if you purchase a copy of Darklore, allowing us to continue making new volumes. It's available from any number of online book retailers, but for simplicity's sake, here's the links to Amazon:

Darklore Volume 8

We appreciate your support of the Darklore series - it helps to fund this website, and also provides financial support for contributors so that they can continue researching and writing about the stranger side of life.

Link: Darklore sample articles

Link: Darklore Volume 8 at Amazon US

News Briefs 30-09-2014

A few of the Grail crew are on the road and off the web in the latter half of this week folks, so advance apologies for a downturn in the number of updates over the next few days!

Quote of the Day:

One should be ever booted, spurred and ready to depart.

Michel de Montaigne

The 'Nazca Lines' of Asia - Archaeologists Discover Massive Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan Geoglyphs

Wow, this looks interesting: archaeologists say they have discovered more than 50 geoglyphs of various shapes and sizes across northern Kazakhstan in Central Asia - a landscape reminiscent of the famous Nazca Lines in Peru:

Discovered using Google Earth, the geoglyphs are designed in a variety of geometric shapes, including squares, rings, crosses and swastikas (the swastika is a design that was used in ancient times). Ranging from 90 to 400 meters (295 to 1,312 feet) in diameter, some of them are longer than a modern-day aircraft carrier.

Over the past year, an archaeological expedition from Kazakhstan's Kostanay University, working in collaboration with Vilnius University in Lithuania, has been examining the geoglyphs. The team, which is conducting archaeological excavations, ground-penetrating radar surveys, aerial photography and dating, recently presented its initial results at the European Association of Archaeologists' annual meeting in Istanbul.

Many of the geoglyphs were made of earthen mounds, although one example, a swastika, was made using timber.

Archaeological excavations uncovered the remains of structures and hearths at the geoglyphs, suggesting that rituals took place there.

Link: Nazca Lines of Kazakhstan: More Than 50 Geoglyphs Discovered

News Briefs 29-09-2014

Got your copy of Darklore Volume 8 yet? Lots of great feedback so far - you can grab a copy from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Thanks Rick and Baldrick.

Quote of the Day:

Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead only try to realise the truth…there is no spoon.

The Matrix

Did Marco Polo 'Discover' America in the 13th Century?

Early Map of the Americas?

Do a set of parchments show that the 13th century Italian explorer Marco Polo mapped the coast of Alaska, some two hundred years before Christopher Columbus 'discovered' the New World?

For a guy who claimed to spend 17 years in China as a confidant of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo left a surprisingly skimpy paper trail. No Asian sources mention the footloose Italian. The only record of his 13th-century odyssey through the Far East is the hot air of his own Travels, which was actually an “as told to” penned by a writer of romances. But a set of 14 parchments, now collected and exhaustively studied for the first time, give us a raft of new stories about Polo’s journeys and something notably missing from his own account: maps.

If genuine, the maps would show that Polo recorded the shape of the Alaskan coast—and the strait separating it from Asia—four centuries before Vitus Bering, the Danish explorer long considered the first European to do so. Perhaps more important, they suggest Polo was aware of the New World two centuries before Columbus.

“It would mean that an Italian got knowledge of the west coast of North America or he heard about it from Arabs or Chinese,” says Benjamin B. Olshin, a historian of cartography whose book, The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps, is out in November from the University of Chicago Press. “There’s nothing else that matches that, if that’s true.”

Link: Did Marco Polo "Discover" America?

Kickstarter: Magical Egypt Series 2

Magical Egypt 2 Kickstarter

Many readers will be familiar with the Magical Egypt series, a high-production-quality DVD set from the early 2000s that explored the esoteric symbolism, philosophy and history of ancient Egypt, via 'alternative Egyptologist' John Anthony West. For those that enjoyed the series - and those that just love discussion of ancient Egypt in general - you'll be pleased to learn that a second instalment of the series is now being planned. In 2014 though, the producers are seeking to gauge interest and raise funds via a Kickstarter campaign:

Magical Egypt series 2 pushes the entire investigation to the next phase. If, as modern science seems to be showing, there actually was a scientific culture that in many respects, was MORE advanced than we are today, or if it was advanced along technological paths different than western science has taken, can we find "recoverable technology" in the considerable relics and ruins left behind by the ancient world?

Magical Egypt is excited to include the unique voices of some of the worlds leading thinkers in "the new counterculture", such as Graham Hancock, Neil Kramer, Lon Milo DuQuette, Robert Bauval, Laird Scranton, Max Igan and the host of the original series John Anthony West.

The campaign has already passed its initial $5000 funding goal, with more than 3 weeks still left to go - but the total they are looking to raise to fund the series is in the region of $50,000 - so take a look at the pledge rewards on offer, and chip in if there's anything that grabs you.

Link: Kickstarter: Magical Egypt Returns

News Briefs 26-09-2014

“In nature there is nothing melancholy.”

Quote of the Day:

“And the devil did grin, for his darling sin, 
Is pride that apes humility.”

Samuel T. Coleridge

Great Balls of Mars! Curiosity Finds a Strange Sphere on the Red Planet

Ballin' on Mars

Let it be said: for a supposedly 'dead' planet, Mars keeps throwing out cool anomalies for us. From odd 'lights' to a buried robot, there's hardly a dull day when it comes to looking for the strange. And here's the Red Planet's anomaly du jour: a perfect little sphere, quietly sitting atop another, separate, piece of flat rock.

Relax folks, it's totally explainable:

According to MSL scientists based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., the ball isn’t as big as it looks — it’s approximately one centimeter wide. Their explanation is that it is most likely something known as a “concretion.” Other examples of concretions have been found on the Martian surface before — take, for example, the tiny haematite concretions, or “blueberries”, observed by Mars rover Opportunity in 2004 — and they were created during sedimentary rock formation when Mars was abundant in liquid water many millions of years ago.

Or, maybe it's just the ripe fruit that seems to have fallen from the Martian ball tree at the left of this image...

Martian Ball Tree

(Thanks to Alienated for the heads-up)

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