Hidden Treasure

Hidden away near Nottingham city centre and an essential visit for anyone who likes urban curios is the spectacular and truly anachronistic Park Tunnel, a Grade II listed building (‘nationally important and of special interest’).

The Park Tunnel, cut through the local Sherwood Sandstone outcrop, was opened in 1855 to provide direct access between the Park and Derby Road, but was made redundant before its completion by the construction of more convenient roads elsewhere in the Park. It was designed to be large enough to allow coach-and-fours (carriages pulled by four horses with one driver) to pass each other inside.

The architect employed to design and build the tunnel (and to develop the Park as a residential area for the wealthier members of society) was Thomas Chambers (T C) Hine, who was also responsible for the Adams Building and the Nottingham Great Northern Railway Station amongst many other buildings, as well as the restoration of Nottingham Castle after it was burnt down in 1831. He is buried in the Rock Cemetery.

An article entitled ‘Completion of the Park Tunnel’, published in the Nottinghamshire Guardian on 17 May 1855, lends some amusing period detail to the subject. It describes how, ‘through the liberality of His Grace the Duke of Newcastle’, the workers were ‘treated to a sumptuous entertainment, in the shape of a substantial supper…and to which they did ample justice.’ The article notes that the clerk to T C Hine ‘complimented the workmen on their general good behaviour’ (not the most overwhelming plaudit I’ve ever heard) and ‘gave the health of His Grace the Duke of Newcastle’. This latter was (perhaps unsurprisingly, for the workmen must have known upon which side their bread was buttered) ‘responded to in the most enthusiastic manner’. The article further reports that ‘Harmony and good feeling characterized the proceedings of the evening, and at 11 o’clock the company broke up, highly delighted with the entertainment.’ I can’t help feeling that a number of those present probably breathed a huge sigh of relief at 11pm, being somewhat fatigued due to the amount of cap-doffing and forelock-tugging necessitated by the occasion.

The Park Tunnel is a public right of way and thus the inquisitive visitor does not have to run the gauntlet of overzealous security guards. The tunnel can be entered from three points: from Tunnel Road inside the Park itself, from a set of stairs located near the Ropewalk end of Upper College Street and via an innocuous-looking car park entrance which is accessed from a footpath to the right of St Joseph’s School on Derby Road (a small set of stairs leads from the bottom of the car park ramp to the tunnel).

Every time I visit the tunnel, I am struck by its sheer incongruity and its impressive scale and character. I assume, though, that it must be a bit of a thorn in the side to many of the still-a-fair-bit-wealthier-than-the-rest-of-us Park residents. It doesn’t really perform any useful function (other than being a great shortcut for the admirable minority who use their legs rather than their Porsche), it attracts curious non-residents and local history buffs to an exclusive estate, there are maintenance issues and, as with anywhere off the beaten track, there are sporadic problems with homeless people and other undesirables.

Given the many marvellous local buildings and features that have been consigned to the dustbin of history, even in recent times (thank you, Nottingham Contemporary), it is remarkable that the Park Tunnel is still intact and accessible. It is a fascinating feature of Nottingham’s urban landscape and a visit is highly recommended.