Explore the author's map to discover strange stories from Mitcham and the surrounding areas.
Part 1 - Mitcham:
The Phantom Cyclist
of Mitcham Common
(update to Strange Mitcham)
A Dark Figure on Mitcham Common
Tales from the
'Calico Jack': The
Playful Ghost of
Lacks the Drapers
The Faces on the Walls:
The Haunted Cottages
in Tramway Path
The 'Haunting' of
Soldier of Graham
The Legend of
Remember the Grotto
The Phantom of
An Apparition at
Woof & Sabine
Haunted Rooms at
The Phantom Cat
Mitcham's (not so)
The Kingston Zodiac
The 'Ghost Tree'
Medicinal Plants and
A Magical Tree
The Wrath of God
A Ghostly Experience
in Morden Road
Mitcham Clock Tower:
When Time Ran
The Rosier Family
The 'Ball of Fire'
UFO over Mitcham
UFO over Tooting
Bec Common, 1990
Part 2 - South of
The Ghosts of
Church & Churchyard
The Figure in the
A Spectral Cavalier
'Haunted Mitcham' Facebook group:
Facebook group set up
by Geoff Mynn in
Thanks to the
and Merton Council
there are some very
maps of Mitcham
Download for free
via this link.
The Mitcham Ghost
A few minutes' walk south-east from Carew Manor, Croydon Road is met by Plough Lane. Nestled within a small triangular island created by the road system here stands an old inn named The Plough. When I last visited the inn in 2010, the sign hanging outside portrayed the appropriate constellation of stars but an older sign once depicted a man who had fallen into a cave while ploughing a field, and this referred to the legendary discovery of a network of caves and tunnels hidden beneath Beddington's streets.
Above: The Plough Inn. (James Clark, 2010)
One entrance to this underground system used to be visible just to the west of the inn where, wrote Walford in 1884, Beddington Cave stood exposed 'in the face of a high perpendicular bank, formed by cutting through the sandy slope when the lane was made'.
The Cave's Extent is 'Unknown'
Walford stated that the cave's 'extent is unknown [...] There is a gradual descent from the mouth, and water is said to exist in a remote part of the cave; but it is not on record that the subterranean pool has ever been seen, or that the extremity of the long passage has ever been reached.'
The system seems to be partly natural and partly man-made. When the London Speliological Society examined the tunnels in 1940, they concluded that they had probably been the result of sand mining. The group's investigations led them to the nearby Queen Elizabeth's Walk, where a manhole cover concealed an entrance to the caves, but they could not obtain permission to enter and explore more fully. The Chelsea Speliological Society also examined the system but not until 1968, by which time little trace of the mines remained.
'We used to go "down the hole"...'
Until quite recently, access to the caves was possible if you were small enough. Local resident Sue Chester recalls how she used to visit them:
'As for the tunnels, we stumbled across them by accident. When we were teenagers [mid-1960s to the early 1970s], we went exploring and found the entrance [...] If you go to the Plough public house and look across the road to where the back gardens of the houses come down to meet the road, there amongst the brambles, is the entrance to one of the many tunnels. As teenagers, we used to go "down the hole", as that is what it was, just a hole, no bigger than a fox's hole. When we got inside, it would open up into a bigger tunnel. Going further in, we found a large "hall" which was big enough to have a small banquet. We used to play down there [...]
'Suddenly, they were bricked up. We later learnt that the council had done this for safety reasons.'
David Bushell also remembers when it was possible to play in the caves:
'Just after the war as youngsters - 11 to 12 years old - we used to play in the sandstone caves by the Plough. We would drop down a hole about the size of a manhole and enter a tunnel heading in the direction of Beddington Park.
'After a few yards the end of the tunnel was bricked up but to the left was another tunnel sloping steeply downwards to another tunnel forming a T-junction. This tunnel was also bricked up on the right (again in the direction of Beddington Park), but to the left was quite a large cavern which would have reached under the road or perhaps the Plough. The cavern gradually tapered off to nothing. On the right of the cavern was yet another opening that appeared to go nowhere.
'It was believed that the bricked-up tunnels led to the church in Beddington Park.
'I can remember on one occasion around November time, having a firework battle with a rival group of kids. There was so much smoke generated that we had to feel our way out of the caves!
'Highly dangerous, but we had just been through the war with all the bombing and doodlebugs (V1s) and so it didn't seem so bad!'
Tales Both Possible and Unlikely
The existence of the cave system has given rise to many stories about how far it extends and the uses to which it has been put.
It is known that, during the 19th century, Beddington Cave was included in the lease of the neighbouring inn and that the publican used it as a cool dark cellar for storing casks of liquor.
Walford recorded the 'vague, but not improbable, statement that it was once the secret resort of robbers and the repository of their plunder.' This may well be true, although rumours like this may have originated with glimpses of the stored casks mentioned above.
During the 1920s, an elderly parishioner named Mr Roffey told the Rev. Thomas Bentham of tales he had heard as a boy, of donkey trains carrying smuggled goods through the night across the downs into Beddington. These smugglers were also said to hide their merchandise in the caves.
As well as the natural system, there are tales of man-made extensions to the caves. In the same decade that Mr Roffey offered his recollections, a barn and cottage close to The Plough were knocked down. The demolition work uncovered a large, brick-vaulted chamber a short distance beneath the foundations, but unfortunately the builders filled the chamber in without investigating further.
The 'Elemental Croydon' chapter of Val Hope's Strange Croydon mentions a story published in 1862 that described an earlier discovery in the area. A gentleman by the name of Mr Plowman is supposed to have discovered a subterranean passage while building a well for a nearby gamekeeper's cottage. The intrepid Mr Plowman decided to explore the tunnel and followed it along for some distance until at last he found his way forward blocked by water. (Given that this is a story about a man digging up the ground I was initially somewhat suspicious of the name Mr Plowman here. However, I am very grateful to Colin Geary for noting that the aforementioned Rev. Bentham refers in his book to a 'Phoebe Plowman, an old lady living in Beddington Lane', possibly a relative of the man in the story. Perhaps I was wrong to be so cynical!)
Another passage is supposed to connect Carew Manor with the cave entrance beside The Plough. Bentham thought this feasible since the sandy nature of the soil between the two sites would make such a passage relatively easy to construct, although he did remark that it would be 'rather dangerous to traverse'.
Bentham also tells us of a tunnel said to run from the manor to Beddington Lodge. (The Lodge was demolished in 1935.) He wondered if this tunnel might have been connected with a longer one, which traditionally connects Beddington with the Archbishop's Palace in Croydon.
Further tales speak of a tunnel linking the manor with Nonsuch Palace near Cheam, and it is sometimes claimed that the underground network was constructed during Elizabethan times as an escape route for the Queen and her courtiers.
However, Ronald Michell, author of The Parish of Beddington in the Year 1837, is inclined to disregard such stories, observing that old buildings always seem to attract rumours of secret tunnels. (For another local example, see 'A Secret Tunnel Under Cranmer Green?' in Strange Mitcham.) Michell believes the explanation often lies with people misidentifying brick-lined sewers which, when dry, look very much like tunnels.
Of all the claims made, surely the most unlikely is the idea that one of the tunnels starts from Beddington Cave near The Plough, and leads underground all the way to Brighton on the south coast, a distance of roughly 50 miles [80 kilometres]! Supposedly, smugglers travelled along this to keep their booty safe from prying eyes.
When dealing with tales such as those above, it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, but what conclusions can be drawn here?
The caves certainly exist and the system is probably extensive. It is known that the nearby inn once used them for the storage of liquor, and it is possible that robbers and smugglers also used the caves as storehouses. The tales of tunnels connecting various buildings are less certain, and the idea of a subterranean route stretching to Brighton is hard to believe.
But unlikely does not necessarily mean untrue, and with access to the caves now cut off, the truth is for the moment hidden.
[Sources: Bentham, Rev. T. (M.A.), (1923) A History of Beddington; personal communication with David Bushell, 2013; personal communication with Sue Chester, 2000-2001; Hope, Valerie, Strange Croydon website; personal communication with Colin Geary, 2008; Michell, R. (1991) The Parish of Beddington in the Year 1837, revised edition, Beddington, Carshalton & Wallington Archaeological Society; Walford, E. (1884) Greater London: A Narrative of its History, its People, and its Places, Volume II, London, Paris and New York, Cassell & Co. Ltd.]