Knights Templar of Hertford still meet in underground chambers connected by a secret network of tunnels. Or so it is claimed.
Two brothers described their existence in an exclusive interview for the Hertfordshire Mercury, published on 8th October 2004.
Hertford became the centre of media attention. Reporters and film crews from around the world descended on the small county town to film and comment on this network of underground tunnels.
They were met by rebuffs from town officials, historians and community groups and the tunnels were never photographed or indeed explored.
The second edition of ‘The Tunnels of Hertford’ (purchase details at end) reveals the real secret of Hertford’s tunnels.
This page offers a brief chapter review.
The Tunnels of Hertford – Introduction
Most people were first aware of the existence of tunnels under the streets of Hertford in an article written by Raymond Brown in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 8th October 2004.
At a secret location in the town, Tim Acheson declared:
“We are now prepared to reveal a secret we feel the people of Hertford should be made aware of. There is an extensive labyrinth right under their feet.”
“We are talking here about a largely unknown, indeed mostly secret, ancient underground network that stretches beneath the town’s main street and extends to Fore Street, Market Square, Parliament Square, Hertford Castle, Church Street, Bluecoats, Priory Street and in fact many, many other places.”
Ben had also said: “All the sections of the secret Templar labyrinth were once linked. Here are the parts that I can tell you about. Fore Street was once the hub of the only part of the network that you know about. No 42 Fore Street was once linked to numerous chambers beneath Fore Street. It is still linked, via a passage recently blocked by the previous owners of 42 Fore Street, reaching to Bailey Hall and beyond.”
Tim Acheson and his twin brother Ben believe that a branch of this secret society is still active in Hertford and that their predecessors built and maintained the tunnels beneath Hertford.
All that remains now is an earthern mound, the gatehouse rebuilt by Henry VIII and sections of the outer wall.
The origins of Bayley Hall (or Bailey Hall) are not so clear. It appears in Spede’s map of 1611 and is referred to as the Manor House.
By the late 1980’s the building was in a sorry state and parts near collapse. New plans were drawn up and the building was completely renovated to open again in 1990 to great public acclaim of the architectural quality.
The two figures on the entrance gates represent a murderer and his victim. One looks towards the site of the old gallows; the other to the churchyard where he is buried.
Many of Hertford’s most important buildings are sited on either side of the road; The Salisbury Arms Hotel, Shire Hall, the Corn Exchange formerly the town gaol, the Ram Inn and Pizza Express (once the Dimsdale Arms) are both sites of regular livestock markets.
Tunnels at Hertford Castle
Stories of secret underground passages do have some past echoes. This is from the final paragraph of Lewis Turnor’s History of the Ancient Town and Borough of Hertford dated 1830: ‘The vaults and subterranean passages, under the castle, still remain, and have given rise to a great deal of idle tradition’.
From H C Andrews The Chronicles of Hertford Castle (1947). ‘Tradition tells of an underground passage from the Castle to Queens Hill (by the side of All Saints Church on the opposite side of Gascoyne Way). Possible but unlikely that the Castle had some secret exit and no trace of it has ever been found’.
If tunnels ever existed under Hertford Castle there is no modern evidence for them, nor would they lead anywhere.
The Castle Dungeons
Hertford Castle came under increased media scrutiny in 2007 fuelled by interest in the Knights Templar, The Illuminati and the quest for the Holy Grail following publication of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
Hertford Town Council which has its administration offices in the Castle.
In 1995 Margaret Hart of Harts Haberdashery organised the first Medieval Night, a late shopping night in November to kick start Christmas shopping.
One of the attractions was a tour of Hertford Castle which culminated with a tour down to the ‘dungeons’. These were actually the storerooms as they were in 1801 and possibly since Henry VIII rebuilt the gatehouse. They looked authentic because the lights were dimmed and members of the Hertford Drama and Operatic Society dressed as prisoners amidst straw and skeletons and moaned and groaned and begged for mercy and food.
There are no dungeons. One of the strong rooms contains nothing more than a collection of diversion and other traffic signs for use on Medieval Night, Fun Day and other Civic Events. I know, as I have used them since 2002.
The Subterranean passage at Bayley Hall
What is not in doubt is the underground passage at Bayley Hall described in the opening to this essay.
This is the extract from Hertfordshire Archives at County Hall.
plasterwork No. D/EGr/57 showing Sundial, No. D/EGr/13 plasterwork, No. D/EGr/59, D/EGr/61, D/EGr/69 and D/EGr/54 Bayley Hall, Hertford 1820, Bayley Hall 1898 Subterranean passages in Cellar, Salisbury Arms? Plan 1898 showing the Bayley Hall Picture of Date range: 1898 – 1915.
Source: Access to Archives (A2A): not kept at The National Archives Conveyancing papers DE/L/Q12 Bayley Hall, Hertford. Hale’s Grammar School. [Hertfordshire Archives, A miscellaneous collection…] Date range: 1898 – 1901.
The much quoted and published map of Bayley Hall includes an underground passage leading not to the Castle but under Bell Lane. This continues up to what is now an estate agent.
However Bell Lane does connect these Elizabethan properties to Shire Hall and runs along the east side of the Salisbury Arms (then the Bell) which is of late fifteenth century origin. In common with many inns the Hotel has a cellar which is noted in the listing above: ‘Cellar with concrete floor and largely twentieth century brick lining; medieval stonework reported in earlier list description not seen’.
It is not therefore too much of a stretch of the imagination to conceive of a tunnel connecting the three buildings.
The Fore Street tunnels
There is a fourth side to the equation – Shire Hall. There are no reports of underground passages.
In his book Lewis Turnor is able to state that in 1830 the town centre is well lit, paved and supplied with water from works at Hartham and gas from a site just north east of the town. To achieve this would have entailed major engineering work.
Fore Street has been dug up so many times even in the last decade as local traders know only too well. In such excavations any tunnels only as deep as the basement of local shops would have suffered some serious damage or at least been exposed by new drains, power cables, road markings, paving and the host of modern street furniture and accessories that Hertfordshire Highways have inflicted on it.
Knights Templar in Hertford
I have read all the local history books, spent more than a few hours with tired eyes scouring the Internet and all I can offer as regards the Knights Templar in Hertford is this paragraph from H C Andrews ‘The Chronicles of Hertford Castle’.
‘In January, 1308, the whole of the Knights Templars in England were arrested by the King’s orders, so in February a sorry group of six of the brethren arrived from their Preceptory at Temple Dinsley near Hitchin as prisoners at Hertford Castle; and during their incarceration there, from 14 February to 12 June, Temple Dinsley manor was charged with the cost of their maintenance. Two of them were perhaps the Richard Peltevyn and Henry de Paul who were afterwards sent to the Tower of London.’
That is it. That is all that connects Hertford to the Knights Templar. There is no mention anywhere if they were imprisoned in the dungeons or in one of the state rooms.
Whatever the number J D Wetherspoons named their new public house which stands at the entrance to Hertford Castle grounds – ‘The Six Templars’.
Freemasons in Hertford
Of the Freemasons there is more substantial evidence.
To my certain knowledge lodges still meet at the Salisbury. I once entered both meeting rooms on the first floor of the Salisbury Arms Hotel on a misunderstanding that the Hertford Fun Day committee had booked one of them.
I interrupted many a member tying on his apron and was greeted by a chorus of ‘Good Evening John’ by the majority of the members in both rooms. I was not then, nor am now a member of any Freemason Lodge. They do meet regularly and there is very little secrecy about it.
I always thought I knew most about our county town until standing outside the Corn Exchange in 2008 talking to another resident about the Tesco exhibition that was being held there. She expressed her own surprise at not having seen it before but directed my gaze to the opposite side of Fore Street above Sheffield Chemist. They have been trading there since 1804 but the shop front is of 1820-30 style.
On the chimney stack that is shared by Sheffield Chemists and the Nationwide is the figure of a stone owl. This is the masonic symbol of wisdom.
The owl can only be seen within a limited angle of vision. It appears to face the Corn Exchange and can best be viewed from the doorway of this building and a few yards in either direction east and west. Otherwise it is hidden once you reach the traffic island in the middle of the road or continue further east or west along Fore Street. Odd!
During the Second World War the statue of Ceres, Goddess of the Harvest was removed from the roof of the Corn Exchange to prevent any possible bomb damage.
Tim Acheson appears to give the centre of the labyrinth of tunnels and passages under Fore Street as No 42 Fore Street which is now Lussmans restaurant. This is an interesting early nineteenth century building built in the Egyptian Revival style fashionable about the time of Nelson’s Egyptian campaign during the Napoleonic Wars.
It seems more likely that the centre of any secret organisation established at that time would be No 64 Fore Street, ie Sheffield Chemist given that the frontage is dated about the same time as the establishment of Hertford Lodge No.403 and that the symbol of wisdom the owl, sits above it looking over at the centre of Hertford’s booming trade in malting and brewing, the Corn Exchange.
The Myth Exposed
If you were to type Knights Templar, tunnels, Hertford in your favourite search engine all results will lead you back to Raymond Brown’s article in the Hertfordshire Mercury of October 8th 2004.
If I were to sit down with all the knowledge I have gained from researching this article I could construct the same theory that was proposed to Raymond Brown. Consider the ingredients – members of the Knights Templar imprisoned in Hertford Castle, buried treasure, tunnels, secret passages, secret societies and mix them all up.
You have the makings of a good story that would have intrigued Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and a nation brought up on tales of smugglers caves, castle sieges, King Arthur, his Round Table and the quest for the Holy Grail.
Raymond Brown was a good friend of mine. He left the Hertfordshire Mercury in 2007 to work on the Cambridge Evening News and lives outside the area so I don’t see him now. He helped start and run the Stanstead Abbotts River Festival and campaigned for more Government funding for our local rivers. He brought children over from Chernobyl and gave them a holiday on the river on his own house boat.
He was however a controversial journalist. The problem with Raymond was that he liked a good story even if sometimes he couldn’t always substantiate any necessary underlying facts. After the passing of time I am not so sure that even he believed the Achesons’ account; but it was exciting and interesting and different and it got them, Hertford, the Mercury and himself world attention.
He once rang a local councillor for their views on the Templars and the Holy Grail and was told it was a lot of nonsense. His reply was something along the lines of: ‘There is no monster in Loch Ness, but it hasn’t done their tourist trade any harm’.
I believe that Tim and Ben Acheson have constructed a damn good hoax and Hertford and the world have fallen for it. It came at a good time, the publication of the Da Vinci Code and just in time for the 700 year anniversary of the Pope’s elimination of the order.
They achieved world wide publicity and it could have done no harm for their own publication The Insider, which must have garnered millions of hits from around the globe.
Various journalists have asked to meet the twins but they have never appeared together; sometimes not even one of them will turn up for an arranged meeting. Until such time as they are prepared to take an independent film crew into the tunnels of Hertford or produce identifiable photographs of the passageways beneath Hertford’s streets then it is difficult to believe in secret societies meeting in tunnels and chambers beneath this historic market town; or if these are the last resting place of the Holy Grail.
The secret of the tunnels exposed
(The issues in this chapter are discussed more fully in my eBook The Tunnels of Hertford – second edition published 2014 with extra material, photos and two additional chapters.)
I thought that by 2013 I had exhausted all there was to know about tunnels and the Knights Templar in Hertford. Then by chance I bought a few books at a sale in Hertford Museum which opened up new avenues of thought and maybe the final solution.
© 2016 John Barber
This page can only offer a brief resume of the full version of The Tunnels of Hertford
The second edition in eBook format comes with recent research and more photographs together with the final solution. The eBook also contains a full bibliography of all the sources mentioned.
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More articles on Hertford:
Hertford the county town, Folly Island, Hidden Hertford, Old Barge Pub, Brewing in Hertford, Easter, Fore Street, Eccentric Clergy, Hertford Library, Hertford 1861, Tunnels of Hertford, Sarah Stout, Closed pubs