The Tunnel is a sub terrain former wagon way, built in 1839 and opened in 1842 to transport coal from Leazers Main Colliery in Spital Tongues 2.4 miles to the River Tyne in Newcastle, where waiting boats could transport it out to sea.
After the colliery ran into financial difficulties, it was forced to close in 1860 ending the tunnel’s main purpose of transporting coal, having only been in use for 18 years. The pit was closed down and the tunnel was sealed up and forgotten about. The entrance was built over by housing, and the exit made way for The Glass House Bridge foundations.
Following the outbreak of war on 1939, underground public air raid shelters were needed. The council new that there was a tunnel below Newcastle, but with it being built on, it took 2 weeks to locate a way inside, so it could be modernised and new entrances constructed along its 2.4 mile route. At its peak, it could hold up to 10,000 people below ground during an air raid.
Following the war, most of the entrances were sealed up and forgotten about again. Years later, it was voted #1 as Britain’s Worst Air Rade Shelter due to its dark and damp conditions. Legend has it that one man who suffered shell shock during WW1, refused to leave the Victoria Tunnel, and spent 6 years underground without ever leaving.
The main ghost said to haunt the tunnel is that of William Coulson, a staithsman who was killed in 1852 when he was struck by an out of control wagon. He had been showing 2 businessmen the tunnel who had the intention of buying it. A note asking for no wagons to be sent down failed to reach the pit head in time and a wagon was sent into the tunnel. The accident came less than a week after an explosion at the colliery killed a man called John Burrell, and left the steam engine out of order that pulled wagons back up the tunnel.
A dark figure is the most common sighting in the tunnel, most recently made by a tour guide in April 2018 while on a tour with a group of 12 other people. Many people believe this to be William’s ghost. The oddity about the sighting is that the figure’s feet were below ground level. In 1939, a new concrete floor was added to the tunnel which would not have existed when it was being used as a wagonway.
In total, eight people have died in accidents either at the Spital Tongues colliery or within the tunnel itself. Most of those deaths were due to being crushed by coal or being killed by the tubs.
During the war years, some young children used to try to avoid going into the Victoria Tunnel to shelter, and preferred to watch the planes, and collecting shrapnel to take to school the next day. A boy known as Ben was struck by a piece of shrapnel and lay dying in the street outside of the tunnel. This story is not available online, but only by the accounts of living witnesses. One medium picked up on Ben’s presence in the tunnel, and claimed Ben was carried to safety inside the tunnel but sadly died of his injuries. This cannot be verified by myself at the time.
There is also a story of a lady called Ethel, whom had rushed into the Victoria Tunnel to shelter from an air raid when she realised that she had forgotten her identity papers. It was important that people carried these on themselves for easy identification. As Ethel rushed home, she was killed in a blast.
In 1941, an area above ground called Tarset Street had been bombed during an air raid. Several days later, a 7 year old girl called Irene Page fell into a bomb bottle neck bomb crater that she had been playing beside. When she did not climb out, another local boy called Ernie Smith went looking for her using a rope, but he also failed to surface. 2 off duty firemen climbed down, and again, neither came back up. That day, 4 dead bodies lay at the bottom of the hole, killed by a pocket of poisonous gas left in the hole by the bomb. The Victoria Tunnel runs under this spot. The presence of Irene in particular is commonly mentioned by mediums. Strange activity is also reported at this spot – torches being turned off, and a child’s voice has regularly been heard.
In 2014, a ghost hunting group posted a video on YouTube that shows strange EMF activity responding to questions, and footsteps audibly coming towards them and then stopping right beside them. They soon left the tunnel!
Other strange activity includes flashing lights, growls, sudden cases of extreme emotion and the constant sensation of being followed. Many of the tour guides at the Victoria Tunnel will refuse to go down by themselves.
Visit The Victoria Tunnel
Victoria Tunnel Tours (Meeting point)
55 Lime Street
Newcastle Upon Tyne
(The Tunnel entrance is on Ouse Street, a couple of minutes walk away)
Telephone: 0191 230 4210
A 700 meter section of tunnel is open to the public today thanks to lottery funding, and this is the same section we were given access to in our show. This is run by The Ouseburn Trust. An entrance close to the Great North Museum (formerly the Hancock Museum) is still visible but not accessible to the public.
The closest Metro station is Manor’s. Exit the station and walk away from the city towards Byker. Turn right at The Tanner’s Arms onto Crawhall Road and walk down Stepney Bank. This was the location of one of the old WWII entrances to the tunnel, which you will be shown whilst inside the tunnel on a tour. Also, note St Dominic’s Church – the tunnel runs directly below it, and is marked by a cross on the wall of the tunnel where people would often go to pray during an air rade.
From Gateshead, walk over the Millenium Bridge and walk east until you reach the point where the River Ouse merges with the Tyne. Head along there and it’s a 5 minute walk, and very pretty.
There are 2 types of tours: a one hour tour (£9 for adults, £4 for children), and a two hour tour which runs deeper into the tunnel and goes into more details (£11 for adults, £4 for children). This tour will show you the inside of another war time entrance as well as the area where a tour guide saw what he believes to be William Coulson.
Due to high demand, tours need to be pre-booked. Note – food and drinks are not allowed inside the tunnel.
Edit: Every few months, tunnel tour guides are given a chance to access the ‘north’ end of the tunnel, and I was allowed to record with them on a one of these visits in July 2019. This section of the tunnel is not open to the public. To see what this area looks like, see the video below! Sadly as you can see!