Chichester's 'secret tunnels': Archaeologist gives his verdict

Smuggling routes, secret passages to Chichester cathedral and hiding places during the Reformation - many Chichester residents will have heard rumours of 'secret tunnels' under the city and some may claim to have seen them.

Monday, 7th June 2021, 5:25 pm

Following a recent surge in interest in the supposed subterranean walkways, we spoke to a local expert who shared his opinion on the rumours.

Archaeology officer at Chichester District Council, James Kenny, has been working in the city since 1983 and has said in all his years of digging in the city, he's sure he would have come across evidence.

South Street, Chichester. Picture by Kate Shemilt
South Street, Chichester. Picture by Kate Shemilt

Asked whether or not they exist, James said: "I don't believe they do. I have been digging holes in Chichester since 1985 all over the place and you would have thought by now we would have found one.

"I have also been in lots of basements in the city when I have been invited down to have a look at it. It's common to have a blocked doorway as cellars are built with relieving archways that look like [blocked up tunnels] but they are not.

"Often they are just a loading shoot and not just under pubs."

Over the years, James said he has heard 'all sorts' of stories about the tunnels, but has never come across any concrete evidence.

"There's a persistent one that there's a tunnel between the old White Horse pub and the cathedral. Twenty years ago some guys were making the pavement wider on the west side of South Street and they said 'we've found a tunnel'.

"Under the 'tunnel' there was a narrow vaulted space - I climbed down into it and looked through into a basement. One of the remarkable things is how big some of these basements are.

"We got into this basement and there were people next door to us who had no idea whatsoever that it had been converted into a cellar. I've been into one in Little London that was similar."

For James, exciting finds under Chichester properties have included historic soakaways and old wells that, to James, looked like an 'entrance to the underworld'.

He added that the gravel make-up of the earth under Chichester does not lend itself to tunnel-digging. "You couldn't tunnel unless you went to great depths which would be incredibly difficult to do."