What’s the truth behind the possibility of a tunnel network under Leighton Buzzard town centre?

The existence of a network of tunnels under Leighton Buzzard town centre has been dismissed as an urban myth by a leading local historian.

Following the discovery of a sinkhole in New Road, Linslade last week, speculation has been growing that the void was connected to the presence of a mysterious series of tunnels under Leighton Buzzard.

Do tunnels exist below Leighton Buzzard?  (Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Do tunnels exist below Leighton Buzzard? (Photo for illustrative purposes only)

But Paul Brown, chairman of Leighton Buzzard & District Archaeological & Historical Society, said there was “absolutely nil chance” the sinkhole was connected to a tunnel network. “New Linslade came into being when the railway opened in 1838 so there would be no reason for an ancient tunnel,” he said.

He added: “The tunnels under Leighton Buzzard are an urban myth - at least as far as I am concerned. If I had £10 for every claim I have heard about the tunnels I would be a very rich man. This does not mean there are no tunnels, but give me the evidence.”

Back in 2015, the town council staged a Living History event where residents had been invited to pop along to the cellar at Wilkinson Estate Agents in Market Square. The publicity material for that event, which can be still viewed online, states: “See for yourself the entrance to a historic network of tunnels running beneath the High Street of Leighton Buzzard.”

This week, however, a council spokesman said they respected Mr Brown’s opinion on the topic and that the council wasn’t aware of the existence of any tunnels.

The void in New Road, Linslade sparked speculation about a network of tunnels. Photo: Leighton Buzzard Community Policing Team

The void in New Road, Linslade sparked speculation about a network of tunnels. Photo: Leighton Buzzard Community Policing Team

Other online sources suggest that those fearful of religious persecution built the tunnels in the Middle Ages, or alternatively, that they were built during the English Civil War.

One website states: “The tunnels have not been investigated, but one is easily accessible from the cellarage of Wilkinson Estate Agents at the top of Market Square.

“The cellar, probably an ice house, extends under the road by some 16 feet and is in very good condition. The tunnel is sealed for safety reasons. It goes in a southerly direction towards the former Market Tavern (now Bell) public house some 100 yards and legend has it that other tunnels from the church and other public houses link up under the street in network that covers some 500 yards.”

Mr Brown said some of the claims he had read about the tunnel network were “extraordinary” and “complete nonsense”.

He explained: “Every shop in the High Street has cellars, and each cellar has an arch which has been bricked up, so everyone who sees one, including me in the first instance, thinks they must be the entrance to a blocked up tunnel.

“They happen also to be a medieval method of strengthening the floor above. If you remove the bricks there is earth behind not a tunnel.

“That does not mean there are no tunnels but I have looked, with the fire brigade. We found the cellars under where the old brewery was in Waterborne Walk but no tunnels.

“There was a belief that there was a tunnel from the Prebendal House (next to the church where some modern Middle School buildings now are) to Leighton House (where Wilkos now stands).

“Choirboys at All Saints had an initiation ceremony when they were shoved down some steps in the churchyard (the alleged entrance to the tunnel) and told to walk along it until they got to the High Street. These steps led down to the cellars of the long demolished Prebendal House and inevitably after wandering around for some time the hapless choirboys came back up into the All Saints Churchyard up the same steps. This entrance has now been blocked up for obvious health and safety reasons.

“If you go into Wilkinsons the Estate agents they do have some steps down to an area underground that looks like a tunnel, and I think when I went down there years ago had some water at the bottom. It does not go anywhere, however.”

“This persistent urban myth about the tunnels under Leighton is mirrored in lots of other towns in England. Sadly very few are true.”

> If you have any views or evidence about the existence, or otherwise, of the tunnels email news@lbobserver.co.uk