Friday, September 22, 2017

An Old Story, A Mysterious Tunnel


My Aunt Flo, who passed away last week, lived in Grantchester, England, not far from Cambridge. When we visited her there the first time, my cousin Les (her son) offered to take us for a walk where his father had walked daily--my Uncle Ted would walk into Cambridge every day along a footpath by the River Cam, get his newspaper, and walk back. The path he walked was very lovely, and it must have been a treat to see the fields and trees change with the seasons.

Recently I came upon a story in an old collection of Cambridgeshire tales about a mysterious tunnel. According to the story, there was a fiddler named Robert Ling who was walking to a fair in Royston--the village my parents lived in when they were first married in WWII, but this story was much earlier, in 1724.

Was this the house in the story? Built about 1452, and listed as
"Manor Farmhouse" on the registry of historic buildngs
When the fiddler reached the path to Grantchester it was almost dark so he decided to go into the village and stay there for the night. He secured a room at the pub and was just having a pint or two when some builders came in. These men had been replacing tiles in the old Manor House, and when they removed old tiles in one area, they found the entrance to a stairway leading down into darkness. They had knocked off work and come to the pub to discuss the tunnel over a glass. In the course of the evening the fiddler was drawn into the conversation, and one of the men had an idea--send the fiddler down the tunnel playing his fiddle, and they would follow above ground, listening and following the music until the fiddler emerged at the other end.

Ling agreed to the plan, and they all went to the Manor House and made their way to the uncovered stairway. Ling tucked his fiddle under his chin and proceeded down the stairs into darkness, playing as he went. The builders trailed along above, and followed the sound of the music out into the garden and out into a field. The sound grew fainter and fainter until finally it was gone. All was silent.

The men hurried back to the tunnel entrance and waited for the fiddler to return, but he never did. No one ever knew what became of Robert Ling and his fiddle.
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The story was so curious that I looked it up online, and found it mentioned in another book, the World's Greatest Unsloved Mysteries by Patricia Fanthorpe. The author noted the Grantchester tunnel was supposed to have connected to King's Chapel in Cambridgeshire; in this version, the fiddler attempted to explore the King's Chapel end when he disappeared. But she states that an exploration of the Grantchester end of the tunnel at some point showed that it did not go to Cambridge, but seemed to be heading toward the local church. She went on to say that there is a remarkably similar tunnel story placed in Norfolk, with the fiddler's name being Jimmy Griggs.

So who knows which is true, or if perhaps there is some truth to both legends? It's a fascinating story, and I hope that when I get back to England I can visit the old Manor House and maybe see the tunnel entrance myself, if it is still in existence.



Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

5 comments:

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Subterranean fiddlers are more common than one might expect. Anstey in Hertfordshire had a fiddler called Blind George who went exploring a tunnel under the local castle. In this case his screams were heard and his dog ran from the tunnel scorched by fire. The local pub is to this day known as the Blind Fiddler - so it MUST be true!
The story I've heard about the Manor Farm tunnel is that during the turbulent years of the Reformation a Catholic priest escaped down the tunnel to King's College in Cambridge. This could make perfect sense: the Manor houses of England often clung to their Catholic beliefs and sheltered priests in times of Protestant persecution; often private masses were held in the great houses. In some of the colleges there was also tolerance of Catholicism - you've been to King's Chapel and seen those huge windows, well somehow they escaped the vandalism carried out by Protestant iconoclasts elsewhere. Which just leaves the tunnel to be explained: why on earth would there be a tunnel leading all the way from Grantchester to Cambridge? I can easily explain a tunnel as far as the river; early sewers were built in just such a way. So maybe our unfortunate priest escaped from Cromwell's men down the sewer tunnel as far as the river and then went by boat to Cambridge. With a few re-tellings the tunnel got longer!

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

I also was interested to read about Robert Ling. I have an old friend from the Cambridge area who is a very fine fiddle player; his name? Tom Ling.

Mac n' Janet said...

Interesting story. That's an area we've not spent much time in.

Granny Sue said...

John, according to one account, the tunnel was to allow students to escape from rampant diseases into the cleaner air of the country--but that makes no sense, really, considering it ended in someone's house! Also, the books said there is a field at King's College, I believe it was, called Fiddler's Close.
Very interesting about your fiddling friend! And even odder, when I told this story the other day, I incorrectly called the fiddler Tom Ling.

I would be really interested if you happen to hear anything more about this story. It certainly grabbed my imagination.

Granny Sue said...

Also interesting that there are still other tunnels with the same story. That makes me believe that there is some truth in it--that it did indeed happen, somewhere. And if these were, or joined with, sewer tunnels, the methane gas could explain why the unfortunates never returned. Ewww....bad way to go.

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