Not the obscure music here, but instead, the ancient sewer systems and underground passageways that we unknowingly walk over every single day.
Not so long ago, we were telling you to look up, at the building that make this beautiful city of ours. But now we’re driving your attention down, to the underground labyrinth that lies beneath our feet. But be warned, there is a lot of speculation as to the existence of some of these secret haunts.
Nuclear bunker below Millennium Square?
On the surface, Millennium Square is a metropolitan space, full of the hubbub of city dwellers enjoying the bars, restaurant and entertainment that’s on offer here. But, we’ve heard rumors… rumors that below our feet lies a nuclear bunker.
Yes, it does sound a bit far fetched, but isn’t that what makes it interesting? It’s believed the rumors began when the underground toilets and changing areas were built on the Square’s redevelopment by architect John Thorp. These are accessible by the rather obscure rocket-shaped tower that’s near the museum. Not quite a bunker, then, and nothing more than an urban myth.
Under Leeds Town Hall
The Town Hall took five years to construct and was built by Cuthbert Broderick in 1858. It was opened by Queen Victoria – which should give you some kind of time frame for the kind for the things you might find underneath it.
A basement is the norm in a building of this era – that’s not the surprising bit here. What is intriguing is the notion that under the front steps, you can find ten very unnerving prison cells. The conditions in the Bridewell prison cells were so bad they were classified as inhumane for prisoners in 1902 and were later used as cells until 1993 until prisoners were later held in magistrate courts.
Underneath the Victoria Hall is the crypt, which was surprisingly used as a restaurant during war time. From 1942 the public could purchase a hot meal on a budget, a much needed delight during such hardships.
To explore this Leeds landmark, call the City Centre Box office on 0113 2343801 for guided tours which are held throughout the year.
A new respect for the sewage system
This less majestic structure of the city also underground – the sewage systems of Leeds. One of the main sewage systems runs underneath the well-trodden Kirkstall Road, travelling to Knostrop at a distance of six miles. Most of us walk the city centre’s streets each day unaware of the main sewage systems found directly beneath them.
As one of the first towns in the country to have water piped to houses below ground, Leeds became a much cleaner settlement with this new invention. As the correlation between running sewage in the streets and health were not recognised, disease was still rife until the 19th Century. Two major outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and 1847 led to the installment of the sewage systems which were introduced as part of the Leeds Improvement Act of 1842 – a real indication of how dirty life was.
Of course that’s not to say Leeds was remotely clean – local privies were still in use as well as middensteads (pits of human excrement, not unlike those you’d find at music festivals) and one particular pit used in Wellington Yard measured a horrific 2m deep and 7m wide. It was reported that one fateful night a local drunk fell in and drowned. Suddenly the sewage systems of Leeds seem slightly more impressive than before…
Safe havens under the city
Aside from sewage systems and prison cells, the underworld of Leeds once offered a place of refuge in times of need, thanks to the World War 2 bunkers scattered throughout the city. Hyde Park, Chapel Allerton and East End Park all housed underground tunnels and shelters with separate compartments for men, women and children. Once all were safely tucked inside, the exits were sealed to ensure the wreckage of bombs raining down on the city would never reach those locked away. They were fitted with drinking water, toilets and warden’s posts with emergency exits to be used if necessary.
The bunkers proved paramount during the most serious air raid on 14th March 1941, when just before midnight the City Museum and Town Hall were severely damaged and 4,600 houses were ruined.
After the war the entrances were filled in and the exits sealed off for safety reasons, but they can still be seen from above ground; a grassy mound in Hyde Park, facing towards Brudenell Road was once a shelter and has now been sealed up with concrete. Rich in history, Leeds was a target for no fewer than nine air raids, six of which were serious, but its comforting at least to know that there is a city beneath our feet that protected those in need.
Rooms under the train station
For most of us, the Leeds Train Station is an obstacle course of confused and hurried passengers, but directly underneath it are long forgotten rooms and corridors, that stretch out as far and wide as the station itself. A building that encompasses the glory of the industrial revolution, these rooms were abandoned when the station was completely renovated in the 1960s.
There are countless rumors of the underground subway station, which is said to have been abandoned due to World War 2, but the red brick rooms beneath our very own station are only too real. When the new railway station was designed in 1967, it was thought to be more appealing to create staircases that would take passengers over the platforms instead of underneath, thus leaving the space below to become deserted. There are toilets and running taps in the workers restrooms, with even a Bakelite telephone resting on the wall, indicating that they were last in operation in the ‘60s. The underground station is a real ghost town of the Victorian age.
The Leeds underground recalls the rich history of the city, with most of the haunts existing unbeknownst to us. The underground keeps the city clean, has provided justice, and kept our parents and grandparents safe in the most desperate of times. A thriving world of the past existed right beneath our feet and it is certainly worth taking note of.
Featured Town Hall images kindly provided by CarlMilner licensed by Creative Commons.
Under train station image kindly provided by Tim Green aka. atoach licensed by Creative Commons.
Kirkstall Road image kindly provided by russelljsmith licensed by Creative Commons.
A.R.P Shelter image kindly provided by Mtaylor848 licensed by Creative Commons.