On the 3rd November 2018 I was invited to take part in an investigation at the Victoria Tunnels by Chris and Annette Fox of Dead Zone Paranormal Adventures. This was my first investigation outing in four years…
Preparation for the investigation was a little odd – nothing odd in the paranormal sense, just simply odd trying to find the odds n sods I always used to take on investigations. The nice aluminium cases were still where I left them, but four years seemed to have nicked most of their contents, including my old camcorders and torches. During the last investigation I did with Otherworld North East we had CCTV and the lights on, so its likely I just put the equipment elsewhere for safekeeping. Nowt to do with age and forgetfulness at all…
Chris had warned everyone that we’d all need warm clothing (and clothing that we didn’t mind getting muddy), a hard hat and a torch – so I ended up armed with my work hard hat, digi-SLR and torch I use for building recording projects – so essentially a busman’s holiday.
There’s no doubt that the Victoria Tunnel is one of Newcastle’s hidden historic gems. Built in between 1839 and 1842, the tunnel is a brick vaulted construction with regularly spaced reinforced concrete blast walls. Originally, the Tunnel was built as an underground wagonway, transporting coal from Spital Tongues (Leazes Main Colliery) down to the Tyne staithes. When Leazes Main Colliery closed in 1860 the tunnel was shut down after only 18 years of active use, with the section at the Tyne demolished when the Glass House Bridge was built in 1878.
With the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, the Newcastle city engineer drew up plans to convert the abandoned Victorian Tunnel into an air-raid shelter to protect up to 9000 residents. At the cost of £37k, the tunnels were converted with the additions of seven new entrances, new concrete floors and the addition of blast walls to minimise the affect of bomb debris. Wooden benches, bunks and chemical toilets were also added. In 1945 the War ended and the tunnel was abandoned again, with all of the entrances barring the one at Ouse Street blocked up.
In 1954, the Victoria Tunnel came under scrutiny again as a potential to be converted into a nuclear shelter but those plans did not come to fruition. In 1976, the tunnel section between Queen Victoria Road and Ellison Place was converted into a sewer: in 2006, Newcastle City Council restored the Ouse section of the tunnel with Heritage Lottery Funding, and passed it into the stewardship of the Ouseburn Trust.
The physical form of the Ouse Tunnel, 700m of dark underground spookiness with a history rooted in the early 19th century and the nightly terrors of the Blitz has an ‘obvious’ paranormal ‘potential’ for those who see such activity as being caused by restless spirits. However, history has a habit of becoming warped when it comes to researching locations for paranormal tours and in the case of the Victoria Tunnel this revolves around the story of little Irene Page who in 1941 fell into a bottleneck bomb crater in Tarset Street: local boy scout Ernest Smith was lowered on a rope to rescue her but passed out. Two firemen also descended into the crater, but all four died of carbon monoxide poisoning. This tragedy appears have developed into little Irene falling down the crater into the Victoria Tunnel and as such her spirit and those of her attempted rescuers haunt the site. However, this was simply not the case and appears to be an example of the paranormal research world clutching at the tragedy instead of straws.
In March 2007 the Evening Chronicle interviewed Phil Thirkell of the Ouseburn Trust Heritage Group before the Tunnel re-opened officially to the public and the subject of ghosts came up. In the interview Mr Thirkell suggested that there were no known ghosts in the tunnel, “But if there was one it would be a man called William Coulson, who is the only person to have known to have died in the tunnel. He was killed in an accident in 1852. He was inspecting the tunnel with two other men and they had given instructions to the colliery not to send any waggons down. Unfortunately, this instruction wasn’t followed and some waggons were sent down and Mr Coulson got killed.”
During the investigation in the narrow tunnels it was easy to imagine how such a thing could happen, with no room to maneuver as large coal waggons bore down on a person. The Dead Zone event was incredibly atmospheric, which as expected led to heightened imagination. The acoustics were also extremely odd: the attending team of twelve divided into two groups and spent the investigation time at opposite ends of the 700m tunnel. However, even with the concrete blast walls in place, occasional echoing footfalls from the opposing group could be heard, along with the occasional word, laugh or other human sound… at least I assumed it was from them! The humidity and airflow was also peculiar, with the airflow down the tunnel moving one way and then the other. Occasionally, the temperature would spike by 3° in a single moment, and then drop suddenly, accompanying these light gusts. In moments of silence, water could be heard dripping from the vaulted ceiling, and perhaps the freakiest find of the night was a muddy plastic doll presumably left behind by a paranormal group who had previously investigated the Tunnel (I assume the doll was used as a trigger object to entice ‘Irene’). Now, I don’t know about you, but there’s something unsettling about muddy dolls in dark tunnels – perhaps I’ve just seen too many horror flicks!
While in my mind the experiences of the guests on the event were induced by the conditions, known history of the place, imagination and even the adrenalin effect of the fight or flight fear of the dark and unseen response, the event was not without incident, with one in particular puzzling me. At 10.37pm, myself and the group I was with witnessed a dense vapour by us in the tunnels, which then proceeded to head away at speed down the corridor away from the group: in a direction that appeared to be moving against the predominant windflow at the time. Visually, the vapour looked like swirling smoke, which tinged blue and green under torchlight.
However, by the time I got my camera focused and fired, the vapour/smoke cloud was already heading down the corridor, and whilst it looked like a dense swirling cloud to the naked eye on the photo frame it looks like a flare of light, the effect presumably being the camera flash flaring on the vapour. Once the vapour disappeared down the corridor it did not return, and attempts to recreate the cloud using breath failed to produce even a similar effect. At this moment in time I can’t find an explanation for this phenomenon, but give me time…
Overall, I’d like to thank the Foxes and Dead Zone Paranormal Adventures for a thoroughly enjoyable evening in a fascinating venue. Its certainly a location I’d like to go to again.