Tunnels and Treasure

(See also: No. 10, Dissolution of the Priory)

The background

The Dissolution of the Priory The Priory at Bridlington had indeed had a long and splendid past. But from the evidences of King Henry VII’s commissioners in 1537, who went round all the monasteries to draw up a catalogue of their assets, we get a picture of a great Monastery in decline, in debt, with its buildings untended, even the church itself in “farre decaye”. But was this true? Because of the scarcity of documents for those years we shall never really know the full truth behind this situation. What we do see at dissolution is a great Augustinian Monastic establishment stripped and plundered of its “treasures” by various agencies both governmental and civilian. These treasures would have included church plate – all sorts of gold and silver vessels – statues, crosses and other easily moved objects; carved woodwork and hangings; all the gold and silver and other precious objects in and on the shrine; books from the magnificent library; and all the objects used every day.

Just how did the magnificent Priory woodwork come to be split up into various churches in the North of England, particularly Leake and Flamborough? Who was it decided it had to be spared? Was it spirited out of the Monastery in the two months period between two visits of the King’s men? And how much else was spirited away? Records show that Pollard, the second commissioner, was most indignant at the amount of theft of artefacts from the Monastery between his predecessor leaving and himself arriving.

Was the shrine of St. John really demolished or was it removed section by section in the hope that someday it could be reassembled? Did they think that the dissolution was going to be soon over and things restored to normal, “A flash in the pan”? Even Norfolk reported to Cromwell that “Saynt John shrine…….the people will be desirous to have it”. But only a few objects, including a precious book, survived in Bridlington.

Rumours of tunnels and treasure

From time to time during modern building development in the surrounding area various remains of the Priory buildings have been uncovered. On Church Green during the late Victorian period, vaulted cellars were found in the vicinity of the row of cottages. Within the cellar it was reported that a “treasure box” had been found, but unfortunately we are not told of the contents. Cellars were also unearthed in the 1870’s on the North Eastern side of the Bayle and were found to contain supports for barrels or casks. In the 1950’s a Mr Eric Mellor recited the tradition of a buried gold crucifix “man sized” hidden by the Augustinian Canons to prevent its desecration by the Kings commissioners.

Also there has been for many years a standing tradition of a tunnel from the Priory to the harbour. Various sightings of this have been noted, one when Queensgate was being constructed, another when the cafe opposite what was Lloyds Hospital was being modernised, contractors broke through into the tunnel. A reported description of this “tunnel” was of a brick lined conduit which was dry. There is also reported a perusal of a similar passageway, early the last century, near to the Priory, somewhere outside the churchyard at the east end near the car service centre on Sewerby Rd. Apparently the brave explorers went as far as possible until their candles went out, they then beat a hasty retreat! Could this have been the entrance to the tunnel to Danes Dyke rumoured to exist. Apparently, even up until wartime, schoolchildren were shown a ‘false stone’ (gravestone) in the Priory grounds, near to the Great Gale memorial. This could be lifted up to reveal a set of stone steps leading down into a tunnel. This tunnel was apparently of very sound construction and only a little damp. Allegedly this tunnel was exited somewhere near the Danes Dyke area in an area “very wet and sometimes knee deep in water”. We also hear of tunnels down Green Dragon Lane and east of Pinfold Street. Likewise, there was a rumour that a tunnel had been discovered when one of the town centre banks was being built. There was much concern as it was thought it may present a security risk! Similarly, there is also a story that when the Superdrug site was redeveloped, a tunnel was discovered near to the lift shaft.

Many of the “tunnels” are undoubtedly water supply or water drainage structures. There is map and in some cases photographic evidence that many were open ditches until housing developed over them. Certainly if made of brick in Bridlington, they are almost certainly no earlier than about 1650. No brick was used in Priory constructions.

Suggested activities

  1. Pupils can collect stories of tunnels and treasures from their family members and compare their findings.
  2. Pupils can compare old and new maps to study water supply and drainage channels in the area.
  3. Use the stories to prompt creative writing on how the treasures went missing, where the tunnels led and what/who passed through them.