Dave Stephenson, a historian, and a couple of his friends first laid eyes on the abandoned Victorian street in 1999 after hearing many fascinating stories over the years about Bristol’s secret underground world.
Now he has returned to the surface with photographic evidence of the remains of a forgotten era, and has since investigated the street – which runs beneath Lawrence Hill – stretching from Ducie Road to the Packhorse pub – making some interesting discoveries. Hell’s Angels discos, a coffin store for undertakers, a stable for delivery horses and an unofficial air raid shelter during World War Two were just some of the cellars’ uses over the years.
One tunnel apparently ran under a bank, but this was sealed up after an attempted break in, reports Bristol Live.
Dave explained that 200 years ago the well-known Herapath family owned the brewery connected to the Packhorse Inn, with the whole property stretching down to Duck Road and as far back as Lincoln Street.
In 1832, a horse-drawn railway went through Lawrence Hill, next to the pub, and there was a wooden bridge over the top.
The historian said: “When the Bristol and Gloucester Railway arrived on the scene William Herapath sold most of his estate to them for £3,000.
“By 1879 this wooden bridge needed replacing, so the authorities decided they would heighten the road.
“In the process the Packhorse Inn – and the neighbouring shops – disappeared as the new road was supported on a series of arched tunnels.
“Amazingly, the present Packhorse is built on top of the old one and still retains the very steep stairs down to the original.”
More than two decades later, Dave looks back fondly on his initial trip underground, recalling the exact location they took up a grille and put a ladder down the drop.
The tunnels are now deemed too dangerous to enter.
He found evidence of four tunnels, but only one remained open spanning right across the road.
Three had been bricked up halfway across, as had most of the old Victorian shops, mainly to deter thieves targeting the new businesses above.
Dave added: “The one underground shop still open had been stripped of everything, even down to the fire grate and other fittings.
“I spotted an old Victorian sash window frame, still intact but with most of the glass panels missing.”
The whole place was thick with dust and filled with builders’ rubble and random items including a horse trough and an old wheelchair.
The street lamps were all gone when Dave visited and a scrap dealer later told him they disappeared in the 1950s and would have been quite valuable, but the old paving stones remain.
These days the tunnels are strictly off-limits to explorers, so Dave has not been back.
However, a while ago he joined an arranged visit to the original rooms under the Packhorse Inn with a group of local cavers.
Dave said: “The cobwebs there were as thick as a baby’s arm and the fire grate remained, covered in years of dust.
“A giant RSJ beam engraved with the letters GWR (Great Western Railway) had been put in to strengthen the building.
“The road above was built for horses, carts and carriages. Even with all today’s traffic, which includes hundreds of buses and very heavy lorries, it still stands, but few people suspect what lies beneath.”