The Fifteen Steps


blog-15-stepsRoy Marriott relates the tale of a wartime adventure undertaken with a freind in the grounds of Temple Newsam Mansion, East Leeds. They thought they were on the trail of spies but if they had taken a sixteenth step it is unlikely they would be here today to tell us this tale. 

Ronald (Roy) Marriott & Burt Fawcett

The Fifteen Steps

(A True Adventure From 1943)

About half a mile from Morton Manor (Temple Newsam) is ‘ The Lost World of the Incas’, at least that’s what my pal Burt, and I called it. In actual fact it is an assortment of cinder rocks, piled in odd arrangements and scattered over an area of about one hundred square yards. Here and there were small groups of bushes and shrubs. In the center of our ‘Lost World’ was a grassy hillock, which had half buried rocks and odd slits covering most of this section. To add to the illusion there was a dry streambed that stretched and twisted from one end to the other. It was towards our haven that we made our way one warm and idyllic Saturday morning during the July school holidays of 1943. I was approaching the age of ten and my friend Burt was eleven almost twelve.

            The day seemed magical. The immense orange sun just resting momentarily 

on the horizon before making its majestic climb into the cloudless blue sky, appeared to gild the leaves of the nearby trees. Spears of golden light penetrated the denser areas where the trees thickened into woodland.

            A group of gypsies, busying themselves with early morning chores as we passed, reminded my of a poem we had to learn at school: ‘The gypsies lit their fires by the chalk pit gates anew, and the hobbled horses supped in early morning dew.’ Mind you. I never could remember the poet’s name.

            Once we had left the huddled figures of the gypsies we crossed a couple of fields and turned into the track that led virtually to our destination. We had often wondered about a rather large slit in the side of the center mound. For some unknown reason we decided to take a closer look. After removing the rubble and loose grass sods we realized that it wasn’t a slit but the upper edge of an archway of some sort. It took quite a while to remove enough of the loose earth to allow us to crawl through and drop onto what we discovered to be a stone floor.

            The light hardly managed to penetrate the dim interior. We decided to get our eyes used to the light before venturing further. We reckoned it must be a man made cave of some kind or even a tunnel built in case of an invasion, where secret messages could be taken from one place to another. Our imaginations seemed to be running away with us, but where did it go? We were both eager to find out as much as we could about the mystery.

            The width of the entrance was twenty-four footsteps; toe to heel and the walls were slightly concave. Eventually the time came for further investigation. We carefully inched forward into the darker depths of the tunnel, another interesting fact we found, was that there was a curving of the tunnel. As we crept forward we were looking back every few steps and after a while we noticed that the faint glimmer from the opening was disappearing sideways.

            Suddenly we stumbled and we both caught our breath, it was only a step across the floor of the tunnel but in the velvet darkness it felt as though we had fallen over the edge of a cliff. Burt and I held on to each other, deciding there and then to proceed only a little further. With our heels to the step we counted out the steps, slowly advancing into the void – thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…We both suddenly stopped, there was a sound and it seemed to be below us but so far away – and there was also a change in the air, a definite chillier feel to it. Burt, being older than me, told me to back up, ‘We’ll get back to the step, turn round and go back out of the tunnel,’ which is exactly what we did.

            Once out into the warmth of the daylight a plan of action was worked out. We decide to return at a later date with matches, candles and a drop of paraffin (my dad used this last item in a lamp in the outside toilet). We thought if necessary we could soak some dried twiggy branches in paraffin it would illuminate a larger area should we need to.

            For some reason or other we did not go back to our ‘Lost World’ for several weeks. In fact there was very little of the holiday left by the time we embarked on our ‘Journey into the Unknown’ as we had named our trip. We talked about what we might find at the end of the passage or tunnel or whatever it turned out to be. We though it might even be a secret agent’s escape route.

            The journey seemed to take twice as long as usual, but once there, no time was lost in sorting out the items, gathering some dry branches and dropping them through the enlarged entrance. Our first task was to get some light, so we lit some candles and placed them about on the floor. Then we lit two more candles and proceeded down the tunnel for several yards and repeated the process, realizing that the floor had a slight gradient. We hadn’t realised just how far we had covered on our first initial venture but after the fourth set of candles had been lit, just a few steps further brought us to the step, some eight inches deep. We placed these two candles on the step, lit our last two and made our way slowly forward.

            The light from the candles seemed to bounce back at us – there was a deeper impenetrable blackness immediately in front of us – and that sound again. ‘Don’t move!’ screamed Burt. I realized why a moment later when the truth dawned. We had come to the very edge of the passageway, where for some reason it had collapsed. We could feel a draught of cold air and the sound we had heard before was below us, running water, an underground waterway probably. We carefully gathered the branches together and splashed paraffin all over. Holding the bundle over the abyss we held the flame to one end and dropped it into the void.

The flames, fierce at first, died out well before we heard the faint splash as the bundle reached the water. It must have been hundreds of feet down. We both felt quite shaken as we gathered up the matches and the other remaining bits we had placed on the floor while we had looked over the edge. We counted the steps we had taken back to the eight-inch step across the tunnel floor. We counted just fifteen.

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