WELCOME to Haunted Wirral, a feature series written by world famous psychic researcher, Tom Slemen for the Globe.

In this latest tale, Tom explores the history of Wirral's lost Mersey Tunnel...

On Tuesday 31 August, 1971, a hole being dug by a gang of Wirral Water Board workmen in a private road in Thurstaston suddenly caved in – and revealed an old smugglers’ tunnel.

The workmen had been laying a new water main off Station Road, near St Bartholomew's Church, when the surprise discovery was made.

A young lady named Rita Howell, who was working on her father’s farm near the site of the intriguing excavation, crawled sixty yards into the tunnel and later told newspaper reporters, "The air was very pure down there and the passage was carved expertly out of the sandstone. It seemed to run in the direction of Thurstaston Hall and could have come from the ancient Dee port of Dawpool."

Miss Howell added that there had always been talk of secret smugglers’ tunnels under the area but most thought they were just local legends.

Wirral is criss-crossed with unchartered subterranean passages in some areas, and some tunnels are vaguely known to the public – such as the ones under Bidston Hill and the Tranmere tunnels - but have never been thoroughly explored and accurately mapped.

The most incredible local legend concerning a secret passage is the one concerning Wirral’s Lost Mersey Tunnel.

Around 1967, on Birkenhead’s Church Street, just a stone’s throw from the Priory, there lived a 48-year-old man named Arthur who was something of an eccentric but a brilliant engineer who had worked on the tunnels in Gibraltar in World War Two.

Arthur was having an affair with Helen, a beautiful 25-year-old blonde lady in a nearby street.

When Helen’s husband – a wheelchair bound man in his forties - heard about the alleged affair he literally kept his wife locked up most of the day in her home.

Because of his wheelchair, the husband could not go to the cellar of the house, and Helen went down there to bring up coal now and then. One day, Arthur said to his friend Barry, "There’s an old proverb: 'Love can go through stone walls' – well so can I!"

"How do you mean?" Barry asked, and Arthur smiled and mimed a man digging with a spade. "You can’t be serious?"

Barry gasped, but Arthur was deadly serious, and he went into his cellar and with pickaxes and shovels he and Barry started to dig a tunnel to the cellar of the house where Helen was being kept a virtual prisoner.

The two men reinforced the tunnel with wooden stanchions and had to make a few diversions to avoid gas and water pipes.

After almost three weeks of digging, Arthur and Barry broke through the cellar wall of a house forty feet away.

Helen was flabbergasted when she saw what Arthur had done – all to be with her, and he later asked her to desert her husband but she refused.

During one of the subterranean trips to the trysting place, a section of the tunnel fell away to reveal a passage which was illuminated by burning torches secured in sconces.

Barry was told about the discovery and he and Arthur went down the illuminated sandstone tunnel with flashlights.

According to Arthur’s estimations, the passageway led to an area behind the Royal Hotel (now called the Swinging Arm) – an area where part of a graving dock had been filled in.

Here, the men came upon an amazing sight – inside of a cave with stalagmites hanging from the ceiling, there were chests filled with gold coins, various gold crosses, including a giant cross embedded with rubies, emeralds and pearls.

Two more passages ran from this cave – one which must have run towards nearby Birkenhead Priory, and the other towards the Mersey.

Two hooded figures, dressed in the attire of monks, came down the passage from the Priory, and seemed oblivious to Arthur and Barry.

The monks took hold of one of the chests of gold items and carried it slowly to the tunnel leading to the east – which must have led to a subterranean passage under the Mersey.

Barry exclaimed, "Jesus Christ!" and the ceiling of the cave started to fall in, and a boulder hit one of the monks on the head.

The blast of thick dust blew out the torches on the walls and Arthur pulled a blinded Barry back up the passage towards their own tunnel.

They coughed as they escaped and made it back to Arthur’s cellar.

"They must have been ghosts, Barry," said Arthur, pouring a scotch for his trembling friend.

When the men later returned to the tunnel they saw it lit up again, as if nothing had happened, and they saw a monk looking up the tunnel towards them – and then, that tunnel caved in.

Arthur talked about tunnelling for that gold he had seen but decided it would be unlucky to take that which belonged to the Benedictine monks of Birkenhead Priory.

It is an old legend – that long ago, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the psychopathic henchmen of Henry VIII were sent to take the gold and valuables from the Priory, but the monks, unable to transport the gold by ferry over to the monks of Stanlawe’s monastic Grange in Aigburth for safekeeping, decided to use a tunnel they had been working on for many years – the very first Mersey Tunnel – but there was a tragic cave-in, and somewhere beneath the bedrock of the river, there lie the skeletons of the monks and what would now amount to millions of pounds in gold – in the lost Mersey Tunnel...

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