SCRATCH beneath the surface of Dorchester and who knows what you might find, as a trap door has unearthed another underground passage complete with a police station and cells beneath the town’s Corn Exchange.
Town councillor David Taylor rediscovered a tunnel beneath the floor of the building after he was alerted to its underground secrets by James Simpson, the Keeper of the Town Hall.
He said: “It was right there beneath the floor. We just lifted up the hatch and went down some stairs to the basement and if you follow it through on the right there is what looks like an office where they would process people, and to the left there is a cell that could easily hold four or five people.”
Cllr Taylor said the underground station also had a bricked-up tunnel which he thinks may lead to Dorchester Prison, as well as what he believes to be a gun strong room for what would have been the town’s militia.
Describing the cells, he said: “The bars on the door to the cell are at least two or three inches thick, there would be no getting out of there if you were locked up.”
Previously Mr Taylor and Antelope Walk caretaker Terry McGrath rediscovered an underground passage believed to have been used by the renowned Judge Jeffreys, and also tracked down the entrance to what they believe to be a tunnel leading to the prison from the banks of the River Frome.
The councillor, who also works for Dorset County Museum, explained that since they first started investigating the underground tunnels in the town they have had several more reports about tunnels in various areas in the town including under Antelope Walk, Shire Hall and Glyde Path Road.
Cllr Taylor said: “Once again a secret of Dorchester has been discovered.
“This only confirms how rich in history the heritage quarter of the town is as this will make the third tunnel we have found.
“In this case the tunnel is a really significant discovery as it has revealed one of the first police station’s in the area, dating back to around 1760.
“This shows that Dorchester was at the forefront of developments in the penal system.”
He added the history of the passages and cells could predate the police station as the area above ground was once home to a medieval castle.
Cllr Taylor said he wants visitors to Dorchester to see Dorchester’s interesting past for themselves and would be interested in the possibility in the future of opening the underground passages for tourists.