I wonder how many are aware of the chalk workings and chalk caverns under the town. I can at present, only think of three that I have either explored or have evidence of. My memories again go back to the 60s.
The largest and most extensive of these was just out of the town proper, along the now A143, Horringer Road. To the left opposite the junction with the B1066 Whepstead Road, there was/is a farm track. Alongside a wooded area, about a 100 yards or so up this track and off to the left through the fence, you came across a hollow in the woods in which there was a chalk face with two or more openings in it. I don’t remember how we came to hear about these but one day a small group of us went there for a look….we found the ‘Caves’ as we called them and peered inside. We had no torches, so went in as far as we could see with the light from the entrance and decided to come back later with some lights.
This we did, and spent hours exploring what turned out to be, for us at least, quite an extensive network of tunnels eventually finishing up close to a large Red Brick house. Which I see from Google earth is now called ’Clarice House’ (Bury St Edmunds). The ‘Caves’ seemed to us to belong to this house and we were a little apprehensive as to whether we were guilty of trespassing. Clearly we were!
We were so fascinated by our discovery however that after a bit more illegal exploring, we decided to go to the house and ask the owner if we could have permission to explore the ‘Caves’. In payment, we promised to supply him with a map, which we would draw. With great trepidation, we knocked on the door of the house which was answered by an elderly gentleman who said yes, he had no objection, but he would accept no responsibility for any accidents which might happen. He did not seem to know very much about the ‘Caves’ but thought they may have been old Chalk workings, part of which may have been used in the past for cold storage or a wine cellar for the house.
We were very excited about this and came back on several occasions with lamps, compasses and notebooks. We explored the entire network, drawing it out on a large sheet of paper when we returned to my home in Chalk Road. I made a copy of this and presented it to the man at the house who seemed very pleased. Sad to relate I cannot find this map now. I can see it in my mind’s eye but not in enough detail to attempt to re-draw it. Does anyone reading this know of these caves?
The other ‘Cave’ I remember exploring was through a hole in the side of a Chalkface on the north side of a pit which used to be on the north side of Out Risbygate Street, on the same side as the Tech College. Inside this was quite a large ‘Cavern’ very high and extending inward about 50 feet or so. There did not seem to be any tunnels going off from this but some of the roofs had fallen in and may have buried any which may have been there. This was before the Technical College had been built.
In later years, and whilst I was a student at the college, a hole opened up in the car park of the college and a car, I think it was a mini, fell partly into it. The car park had obviously been built right over the ‘Chalk Cave’ which we had been into some years before! I guess the builders of the college had no idea that this ‘Cavern’ existed?
Googling this area now shows no sign of the pit and the college has changed so much, it is almost impossible to figure out where the original car park used to be.
The other evidence of Chalk workings came much later when some new houses were built off Mill Road. ‘Jacqueline Close’ rings a bell and I read a report in The Bury Free Press of a deep hole appearing under the living room of one of the houses. Chalk workings were discovered under there and I believe one or more of the house eventually had to be pulled down. I remember that one of my friends was looking to buy one of these houses. When they were first built they were £4.000 I believe. Luckily he could not afford it at that time!
So I wonder does anyone else remember any of those above, or knows of any others in the town? How many houses remain built over undiscovered ‘Caverns’?