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Guildhall Catacombs


Beneath the Guildhall Theatre in Derby are the catacombs, a labyrinth of tunnels that during the Victorian era were used to ferry prisoners between the Police Station at Lock-Up Yard and the Courts of Assizes, held at the Guildhall. These tunnels are said to be haunted by a small boy and a famous anti war campaigner who hid conscientious objectors and was accused of planning to kill the Prime Minister.

Arrested at Peartree Road in Derby, Alice Wheeldon (born 27 January 1866, Derby) was sentenced to ten years in jail for her part in planning to murder Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson, Leader of the Labour Party, in March 1917. Alice did not act alone and supposedly conspired with her two daughters, Hattie Wheeldon (described in the New York Times 4 March 1917 as a student, thinker, college graduate and iconoclast) and Winnie Mason.  Also in involved in the conspiracy was her son in-law Alfred Mason who was a chemistry lecturer at Hartley University College, Southampton. The plan was to use an air gun to shoot the Prime Minister with a dart laced with curare while he was playing golf. The prosecution described them as "a gang of desperate persons poisoned by revolutionary doctrines and possessed of complete and unreasonable contempt for their country". Hattie was found not guilty whilst Winnie and Alfred also received long custodial sentences of five and seven years respectfully.

Alice and her family were actually framed. According to John Jackson in History Today (2007): ‘It emerged from the release of MI5 records eighty years later that the main evidence against the accused had resulted from entrapment and false statements by an agent with a record of both crime and diagnosed criminal insanity employed by the secret service. Alice and her family were not guilty of conspiracy to hurt, let alone kill, anyone.’

The agent, William Rickard using the alias Alex Gordon had infiltrated the No-Conscription Fellowship (founded 1915) which Wheeldon was connected to and posed as a conscientious objector. He had then managed to gain access to their mail and used this to create a case against them.

Alice went on hunger strike at Aylesbury Prison, was released on order of Lloyd George in December 1918 and she died of Spanish Flu on 21 February 1919. Footsteps reported to have been heard many times in the tunnels have been attributed to her ghost. Note that as her main trial took place at the Old Bailey in London, her time in the Derby Police Station and catacombs could have been fairly limited. I don’t know of any logical reason to actually identify the footsteps as belonging Alice.

The apparition of a small boy dressed in rags has also been reported roaming through the catacombs. Some workmen seeing the lad mistook him as a trespasser.


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