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"One of the most thrilling reads of the 21st Century"- Marilyn Monroe

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Shrewsbury Music Hall, revisited.

Shrewsbury Music Hall is situated at the back of the square, and is actually a fantastic amalgamation of three old buildings- two of which were separated by an alleyway that led to the courtyard of the third building, Vaughan's Mansion, an early medieval defensive quarters.
In 1835 the two houses at the front were joined, making the alleyway effectively indoors, and then this was extended backwards and joined with the original mansion. There are also 18th Century prison cells and a Cold War nuclear bunker. The amalgamation spans around 750 years of architectural history, and this resulted in the Music Hall being wrapped in scaffolding for many years. The idea was to fix it up as a museum, but the more they fixed it up, the more complexities they found in the architectural mash up, and the more work they had to do.

Nowadays, the Music Hall is a lovely museum, which I decided to walk in. There's a lot of historical artifacts contained in those walls. But one thing I found of interest was this-


That is, a large circular crater in the wall of the museum. I asked someone who worked there what this was, and he had to admit he had no idea. And that's not to dismiss his knowledge or his skills- he was a very knowledgeable human, and I found the customer service at the Music Hall to be all around great when I checked this place out, with staff willing to give their time to the customers, and genuinely loving history. But the Music Hall is one of those places that you can walk around every inch of and still barely scrape the surface. It is a hive of mystery.

Now, my interest in the ground floor museum, and lovely cafe on the old courtyard, stemmed from my earlier adventures when the place was abandoned. You can read the full article here, but to cut the story short, my urban exploring posse climbed the scaffolding, took some sexy photos of the Square from the roof, found an open window, explored the place from top to bottom, and made our way to the ground floor, whereupon we set off an alarm and bolted back to the roof, where we lay on scaffolding for ages while waiting for the security guard to finish poking around and drive off.

And given that the jail cells and nuclear bunker were supposedly down on the ground floor and even, according to rumour, at the end of a tunnel leading under the square, not being able to access the ground floor was very agitating for someone addicted to the adventure.

And so now that the Music Hall has been reopened, I find myself drawn there just to take in the contrast. Even when it was covered in scaffolding I was able to point a camera through the window and snap what I assume was Coffee House Passage, the original alleyway to the courtyard, now altered dramatically to be the entrance to the cafe.



And then of course we have the main theatre room, where the Beatles once performed back when Shrewsbury was even more of The Place To Be than it is now. We photographed the place when it was big and abandoned, and I photographed it now that it's all reopened.


And for any people with any historic interest, I nabbed a picture from Google of what it looked like years ago...


Back in the day, the Music Hall was the definitive place to be if you were in Shrewsbury between 1835 to 2008, unless you were under 14, smoking, spitting, swearing or just dirty. Then you'd be removed from the premises.

In the new Music Hall, I was determined to find out once and for all what I was missing back when I explored it and fled from the ground floor alarms.So I asked if I could see beneath it. The ground floor itself wasn't such an issue- it's a cafe, art gallery and museum and only the upper floors charge access. But the cellar, with its alleged tunnel beneath the square, needed to be sought out, along with the jail cells and any other historic nuggets.

And the staff were more than happy to let me poke around in spite of my admitting that I'd actually explored the upper floors through unconventional means.

I had a good facepalm at the discovery that the door to the cellar was actually right next to the stairway down to the ground floor. There would have been maybe one or two motion sensors between me and the cellar door, and all I'd needed to do was find out where they were and duck where appropriate.

The stairs to the ground floor back when it was abandoned.

There was, right before the cellar steps, an intriguing blocked doorway.


But I didn't ask where it had once led, unfortunately. But we're still on the ground floor at this point, so there was probably just another doorway to another part thats still accessible.
The stairs that led downward were ancient, and led into the first room of a segmented cellar.



From the bottom of the stairway, an arched ceiling gives the impression of passage left and right. But does it look like it may have once gone any further than simply under this building?


Well there's no denying that this wall has been altered, and it DOES head right in the direction of an actual underground tunnel that I discovered nearby. The underground tunnel in question is only lockable from the inside, yet leads nowhere and has no means of getting to it other than that single door. It was quite obviously bricked up too, and goes right underneath Princess Street before its mysterious dead end. And yet some parts of the floor in that room are hollow. And while I'm not promising anything I may have something on the horizon that can confirm whether or not this room in the Music Hall was once connected to the nearby tunnel.


In the corner of this wall was an old coal chute, which would have been used to deliver coal into the cellar from the alleyway next to it, which is still walkable today!
On the outside it looks like this-


In the other direction, the tunnel vibe continues but somehow looks a lot less ancient.


It's important to remember, in this direction is the alleyway that got turned into the main corridor to the Music Hall cafe, and that this cellar is just the cellar of one of the original buildings. The other is on the other side of Coffee House Passage under the second house, and apparently it DOES exist, but there is no way down there. But looking here, there is a rectangular indent in this wall that I shamefully did not notice at the time I took this picture. But it's easily believable that the two buildings cellars were joined once, seeing as the Music Hall is an amalgamation of three buildings.

It doesn't end there- there is a small doorway that goes into the extended area.



Beyond this was a large room, which faced the actual Square, and has, in my opinion, concluded for me that the Music Hall did not posses any tunnel that led under the square. Although lets remember, this is the cellar of one building. The other half of the Music Hall with its inaccessible cellar might be different. I was quite happy with this though.
This area was once lived in, probably, and has got a window leading out onto the square, although we're about eight feet beneath the square at this point. Of course, this lends credence to the tunnel by the stairs ever having an underground extension, as Shrewsbury is sloped all over. One could easily enter a building at ground level, and be underground by the time they simply walk to the other side of the same floor. This may be part of what fuels the underground myths though.


This window faces the square. The cables next to it are connected to the cinema in the middle of the square, and as such some work was done to connect the two via the underground. Work that never revealed a tunnel under the square, unfortunately.


The fireplace is opposite the window, with the doorway I'd come through on the left side of the image.


This wall faces Coffee House Passage that is now the Music Halls entrance, and as you can see, there were once windows allowing light down into this area.


But opposite that, and again in the direction of that underground tunnel I once explored, are these little rooms. But I'll get to those soon.

First I took a look around the side of the fireplace.





More replaced brickwork but in the direction of Coffee House Passage, so probably nothing too exciting.

The lift shaft had also been filled in. And I asked- this is indeed the bottom floor.

But onto those rooms- There are three in total and they all look pretty similar to the original room.
That is, an arched ceiling pointing in the direction of a confirmed underground tunnel that goes underneath Princess Street, but not actually connecting.








And again, there is evidence in the brick work that it has at some point been replaced in places, begging the question of what lies beyond. These three smaller rooms, plus the original room, mean that four parallel rooms with archways and replaced brickwork point towards an already established tunnel.

This reminds me of Castle Carpets, which was possibly once attached to a bomb shelter and/or the castle. But that's ridiculous. They're quite far apart. But still, this intrigues me, and will be looked into on a closer level.

One area of interest is a coal chute next to the fireplace. While the previously mentioned one came out in an alleyway, this one is right in the middle of the room, away from both alleyways, and the square. The room above it on the ground floor is an art gallery, and the folks who work at the music hall have no idea where this chute comes out, why it was placed in the middle of a building, or when. It's a mystery.


While that concludes this particular cellar, there were a few smaller rooms at the back of the Music Hall which have yet to be made particularly useful and are in fact underground due to the sloped terrain of Shrewsbury. The public don't get to see these parts, but they were part of the third house- Vaughans Mansion.

The first room was pretty interesting, historically. I can't remember quite what it was for, but I'm pretty sure it was to store films back when the Music Hall had a cinema functionality. And I love it. Once upon a time, a lot of effort clearly went into decorating this room, including painting it. Even the wooden ceiling has been painted. And no doubt once long ago the walls were decorated with movie posters, three of which still remain. In spite of how worn this place is, it retains some of the atmosphere.




At the back of this small room, there is an archway. It's painted, sure. But in my opinion this is perhaps some great evidence of what was once a tunnel. The cellar archways could have just been a decorative cellar. But this is a wall, with an archway randomly on it. And to my delight, some bricks missing! Nobody knew why! But I stuck my hand in, and was able to stick my arm in right up to my shoulder. While there is dirt and rock behind these bricks, there is also a long, and sloping downward, gap, the bottom of which I couldn't reach. So was something once here and filled in? Nobody knew!

But this was facing in the direction of the road behind the Music Hall. Or rather under it.

The next room wasn't that photogenic. It had one doorway but split into two though, and again, the wooden slats on the ceiling. The doorways have been replaced, and so have the walls. The sloped part of the ceiling is due to a stairway to the floor above, so hardly special. And yet there is still











Looking at these walls, it's possible that there may have been more to this at some point, but again, nobody knows, not even the staff.

Following this, I was shown upstairs, where I was greeted by the sight of this lovely window, positively ancient but ruined by the need to have bars on it. A tragic reflection on modern society.


And another interesting curiosity- a walled up balcony.


This was Vaughan's Mansion I was in at this point, or the museum remnants of it. I've since learned that this was at one point in the early 1900s a Freemason Hall, too. Again , I explored the upper floors of this part of the Music Hall when it was all abandoned, and the contrast here is very eerie.

The final room of this part was an old room for storing alcohol, and prior to that it was toilets for the guests. While much of the floor is modern and ugly, one can see the original Victorian floor tiles.





But lastly I want to show you the main thing I sought out the ground floor of the Music Hall for- the bunker and jail cells. The jail cells were implemented to store prisoners awaiting trial at the courthouse that is now the cinema in the middle of the square. If you go to Shrewsbury square and look at the gargoyles on this little cinema you'll notice they're wearing little Judge wigs. 

The jail cells were worked into the bunker during the cold war, and now it's all an office, so I felt a measure of guilt for snooping around this area that was clearly in use.

I was told that the entrance to the bunker started near where the cafe is now, and from the cafe one can see the steps that lead up to it.


Apparently the entrance to the bunker was in front of these stairs and had I explored the ground floor when it was abandoned, I would have found showers on the right hand side, after a massive metal door that no longer existed. And then up the stairs was the rest of the bunker.




As much as I'd love to tell you that this bunker has been left undisturbed for decades after it fell out of use in the Cold War, I'd be lying. This is just an ordinary office now, that just so happens to be situated right in the middle of one of Shrewsbury's most historic buildings.
The only part of it that hinted back to its days as a bunker was the window.


The vertical row of bolts along the side of the window was used in the cold war to attach a massive metal plate over the window, and this was allegedly going to protect the inhabitants from a nuclear strike. It sounds preposterous but then, families were given leaflets that described protecting themselves from fallout by propping a door against a wall and hiding underneath it.

The jail cells were the real treasure though.









The lighting really played havoc with the camera, and nobody knew what lay behind the blocked up door at the back. One can imagine though. Until we're proven otherwise, lets conclude/hope that during the Cold War, a politician barricaded himself in there due to a bomb scare, and ran out of food. His remains are still there to this day.

The jail cells themselves are really cramped, and less than six feet long. One could only really lie down in it if they lay diagonally. It really says a lot about the justice system in the old days. They weren't humane to societies miscreants. They just threw them in.


In many ways, I am relieved to have finally found what I set out for years ago. But on the other hand, not even the staff know the full history of the Music Hall, and there is no doubt that it's done giving up its secrets.

And in regards to any possible connection between this place and any other via the underground... watch this space. I may have some juicy leads.