When we took over the property in 1996, the old Red Lion had laid empty and neglected for years. There was so much, dry rot, wet rot, woodworm and damp that we had to hack off all old plaster back to the basic stone structure, reveal and replace all of the timbers. In so doing many hidden details from past times were revealed and are many are displayed in the modern presentation of the building.
The most exciting feature which was discovered– a feature which has resonance with many local people is here excavated and displayed. The Border Reivers Escape Tunnel. In 1997, A signal suggesting the entrance to the tunnel, marked by a large iron ring attached to a chain which was in turn embedded into an enormous plug of concrete was discovered . After all of the loose rubble was excavated, significant lengths of tunnel with several culvert branches were revealed.
For centuries there has been legend and stories about a secret tunnel in Haltwhistle – reputedly leading away from the old Red Lion Pele Tower to various possible destinations – The Old Vicarage? Site of Musgrave Tower on Castle Hill ? Bellister Castle? The tunnel shows two directions blocked up – one which was possibly to some original cellars – and the other which is thought to be the tunnel. Excavating further is not possible without endangering the stability of the Hotel floors built in a 1917 extension (now the Garden Suite).
Some Haltwhistle residents have tell about exploring the tunnel in their childhood and the main conclusion is that it at least goes to the Old Vicarage – and who knows, possibly from there to Bellister Castle? However, using dowsing rods the route of the tunnel and has plotted its route through the Hotel, out onto Main Street and across the road to the Manor House Hotel, through the Church yard and to the rear wall of the old Vicarage. (see BBC footage)
Other features at present displayed are
“Secret” Staircase - an intramural access from the first floor (living area) to the ground floor (animal and storage area.) built too narrow to allow enemy access - direction of curve suggests designed for left-handed inhabitant.
Original Pele Tower Entrance – first floor lounge - would have been accessed by stone stairs on the outside of the building. Includes a quench hole (duct through the wall to allow water to be poured through to extinguish fire attack on door)
Baking Oven – first floor lounge - would have been fuelled by hot cobbles brought in from an outside fire.
Jacobean stone mullioned window –on first floor landing – was the external rear wall of the building from about1650-1788. Several other such openings have been discovered and built in. visible in Room 2 bathroom and the lower wall of the conference room.
Oak beams – installed about 1650 - notches suggest reused from an earlier structure, possible even recovered from dismantled ships.
Original Pele Tower fireplace – first floor lounge, with evidence of 4 stages of fireplace rebuilding.
Fireplace in Restaurant – showing the gradual down sizing of fire opening – the chimney has steps to allow access by boy chimney sweeps.
Oak roof structure from 1650 with cantilevered devise to raise the frontage of the building in 1788, commencement of Coaching Inn era.
Other features discovered by dowsing on the hotel site have been a dried up well and old drainage routes in the original Pele Tower. Routes of existing known drainage and water routes are easily confirmed by this technique, as demonstrated by David on the BBC video.
MYSTERY TUNNEL AT HALTWHISTLE HOTEL (BBC VIDEO)