Uncovered: hidden tunnel where the infamous Judge Jeffreys walked more than 400 years ago

Uncovered: hidden tunnel where the infamous Judge Jeffreys walked more than 400 years ago

Judge Jeffreys

First published in News by

How often do we really think about what is underneath our feet?

Down below a Dorchester shopping street lies a previously undiscovered link to the town’s dark and fascinating past.

I daresay on a visit to Antelope Walk in the county town many of us would have been more taken by the interesting array of independent shops and quaint little cafes.

It may take you by surprise to realise that the pretty little street was the scene of one of the most brutal exercises of justice on record.

I am talking about the Bloody Assizes of September 1685, where the renowned Judge Jeffreys – a name to strike fear into the hearts of many of his contemporaries – sentenced dozens of men to death and many more to transportation following the Monmouth Rebellion.

The Oak Room tea room is at first glance a charming little cafe, but in a previous life it actually served as a courtroom where the ruthless judge sat and sentenced so many souls to their tragic fate.

Now Antelope Walk caretaker Terry McGrath, tipped off by his predecessor Bob Clewett, has discovered the tunnel that ran from Judge Jeffreys’ lodgings in High West Street to court.

The tunnel was designed to be wide enough for three judges to walk side by side so Judge Jeffreys and his colleagues could pass about undetected as they carried out their brutal work more than 300 years ago.

Terry, who has a keen interest in archaeology, said: “This is the legendary tunnel where three judges could walk shoulder to shoulder. It just goes to show there is so much history here.”

The network of tunnels is also believed to connect to the town’s famous Old Crown Court and Cells, which are due to be redeveloped as a major tourist attraction.

Town councillor David Taylor said it was amazing to realise how much history was just underneath shoppers’ feet, and said it added to the unique offering the shops and businesses in Antelope Walk were able to provide.

The walk dates back to Roman times and the courtyard was the location for the old Roman mint.

Cllr Taylor said: “Antelope Walk is a key part of the history and heritage of Dorchester, going back to the Roman period and before.”

He added that he would like to see the tunnels opened up to give public access and celebrate another intriguing piece of Dorchester’s rich and sometimes dark history.

Cllr Taylor said: “I would love to see the whole thing opened up, it could be like the famous tunnels of Exeter that are a huge tourist attraction. It could benefit the whole of Dorchester and be another exciting experience that this county town offers.”

He said it also showed the importance of paying respect to the archaeology beneath the town when developing sites in other part of the town centre.

Cllr Taylor said: “It’s all about having empathy for the historical strata that has been left behind.

“Dorchester is famous for the fact that no stone is upturned without something of historical importance being connected with it.”

Dorchester town crier Alistair Chisholm said that the name Judge Jeffreys can still evoke fear and fascination in the heart of county town residents and is recognised throughout the world.

He said: “It’s surprisng how far afield you can mention Judge Jeffreys and the Bloody Assizes and people will say ‘yes, I’ve heard of that’. They might not know much about it, but they have heard about it.”

George Jeffreys, First Baron of Wem and Lord Chief Justice, became famous for the ruthless streak he displayed during the Bloody Assizes that followed the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685.

The Duke of Monmouth was executed after a failed attempt to overthrow the king and a series of trials were held across Winchester, Salisbury, Dorchester, Taunton and Wells to send a message to supporters of the rebels.

In Dorchester a total of 302 cases were heard with the 74 of the accused executed, 175 transported, nine fined or whipped and 54 discharged.

Some contemporaneous accounts attribute Judge Jeffreys’ bloodthirsty and merciless approach to the fact he was suffering from gall or kidney stones at the time.

Mr Chisholm said: “Whether his kidney stones made him angrier we don’t know, but by all accounts he was very bad-tempered.

“He would boast that he had hanged the most people since William the Conqueror.”

Following the Bloody Assizes, Judge Jeffreys was made Lord Chancellor in recognition of his ‘many eminent and faithful services to the crown’.

However, after the Glorious Revolution in 1688 when King James II fled to France, Jeffreys also attempted to escape but was captured in a pub after he was recognised by a survivor of the judicial system.

He was taken to the Tower of London where he died on April 16, 1689 from kidney disease at the age of 44.

The ghost of Judge Jeffreys is now said to haunt the Antelope courtyard.

Comments (9)

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10:12am Sun 10 Aug 14

pete woodley says...

Compared to Wiggs,what a judge !.
Compared to Wiggs,what a judge !. pete woodley
  • Score: -35

10:24am Sun 10 Aug 14

Hessenford says...

pete woodley wrote:
Compared to Wiggs,what a judge !.
That's the sort of judge we need in our courts today, not the demented senile old duffers we have now.
[quote][p][bold]pete woodley[/bold] wrote: Compared to Wiggs,what a judge !.[/p][/quote]That's the sort of judge we need in our courts today, not the demented senile old duffers we have now. Hessenford
  • Score: -29

11:04am Sun 10 Aug 14

Azphreal says...

Isnt there a tunnel network that runs from Kings park to what is now the O2?
Isnt there a tunnel network that runs from Kings park to what is now the O2? Azphreal
  • Score: 5

3:13pm Sun 10 Aug 14

martinsim34 says...

we got some on poole quay they blocked them for the quay and the pubs they r linked to,they were used by smugglers
nelson
all the old public houses have them just gotta find them
we got some on poole quay they blocked them for the quay and the pubs they r linked to,they were used by smugglers nelson all the old public houses have them just gotta find them martinsim34
  • Score: 0

4:49pm Sun 10 Aug 14

FerryFan says...

Azphreal wrote:
Isnt there a tunnel network that runs from Kings park to what is now the O2?
Yes, it was for circus animals, there are old cages beneath the Academy. Used to be lions and elephants.
[quote][p][bold]Azphreal[/bold] wrote: Isnt there a tunnel network that runs from Kings park to what is now the O2?[/p][/quote]Yes, it was for circus animals, there are old cages beneath the Academy. Used to be lions and elephants. FerryFan
  • Score: 1

6:00pm Sun 10 Aug 14

cromwell9 says...

Lets bring back Judge Jeffreys,
With all the murders etc in the UK now .He would have a field day..
Lets bring back Judge Jeffreys, With all the murders etc in the UK now .He would have a field day.. cromwell9
  • Score: 9

7:39am Mon 11 Aug 14

FerryFan says...

Thumbsdowner on my comment - suppose you think I am having a joke or you disbelieve what I said. Can see no other reason for it unless you are thumbing down for the sake of it. I suggest you learn the history of the O2 Academy right back to it's origins as a theatre and there were indeed performing animals there, lions and elephants, underneath the club as it is now there are tunnels and cages. Tunnels led to Kings Park where the animals were led to the hall.

Google Bournemouth Opera House/Academy with the words circus, you will find some interesting information about that building. And if you go past it, look at the stone devil above the entrance on the roof, you'd be interested to know the origins of that!!
Thumbsdowner on my comment - suppose you think I am having a joke or you disbelieve what I said. Can see no other reason for it unless you are thumbing down for the sake of it. I suggest you learn the history of the O2 Academy right back to it's origins as a theatre and there were indeed performing animals there, lions and elephants, underneath the club as it is now there are tunnels and cages. Tunnels led to Kings Park where the animals were led to the hall. Google Bournemouth Opera House/Academy with the words circus, you will find some interesting information about that building. And if you go past it, look at the stone devil above the entrance on the roof, you'd be interested to know the origins of that!! FerryFan
  • Score: 1

6:54pm Mon 11 Aug 14

i have heard it all now says...

He would sort out the Traveller problem
He would sort out the Traveller problem i have heard it all now
  • Score: 3

9:50pm Mon 11 Aug 14

pete woodley says...

FerryFan wrote:
Thumbsdowner on my comment - suppose you think I am having a joke or you disbelieve what I said. Can see no other reason for it unless you are thumbing down for the sake of it. I suggest you learn the history of the O2 Academy right back to it's origins as a theatre and there were indeed performing animals there, lions and elephants, underneath the club as it is now there are tunnels and cages. Tunnels led to Kings Park where the animals were led to the hall.

Google Bournemouth Opera House/Academy with the words circus, you will find some interesting information about that building. And if you go past it, look at the stone devil above the entrance on the roof, you'd be interested to know the origins of that!!
just how long would this tunnel be,and how many air in/outlets are there,?the tunnel would have to be very big to take elephants,and what about all the building work at the back of the "Hippodrome"since,So
vereign car park etc.Surely foundations were built.
[quote][p][bold]FerryFan[/bold] wrote: Thumbsdowner on my comment - suppose you think I am having a joke or you disbelieve what I said. Can see no other reason for it unless you are thumbing down for the sake of it. I suggest you learn the history of the O2 Academy right back to it's origins as a theatre and there were indeed performing animals there, lions and elephants, underneath the club as it is now there are tunnels and cages. Tunnels led to Kings Park where the animals were led to the hall. Google Bournemouth Opera House/Academy with the words circus, you will find some interesting information about that building. And if you go past it, look at the stone devil above the entrance on the roof, you'd be interested to know the origins of that!![/p][/quote]just how long would this tunnel be,and how many air in/outlets are there,?the tunnel would have to be very big to take elephants,and what about all the building work at the back of the "Hippodrome"since,So vereign car park etc.Surely foundations were built. pete woodley
  • Score: 1

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