A mysterious ancient tunnel system discovered on a golf course could be a secret passageway into the former home of King Henry VIII.
The extraordinary boyhood tale of an 82-year-old has shed light on the possible destination of tunnels discovered on Wimbledon Park Golf Course, as the Old Rectory, a former property of the famous Tudor king, went on sale for £26m last month.
Kenneth Tranter, from Lower Morden, was just 14 when he and two of his friends stumbled upon the entrance to a large tunnel hidden behind a bush on the golf course in 1944.
Armed with a torch, Mr Tranter left his friends behind to explore the rat-infested passage, only to pop out into the conservatory of what he believed was the Old Rectory in Church Road – Wimbledon’s oldest house, which dates back to the 1500s and was once owned by Henry VIII.
He said: “There was a rocking horse and bits and pieces in it. “I might have heard voices so I thought I would scarper.
“I was a daredevil but I dared not take anything just in case I was caught. “I just wanted to explore.”
The medieval mansion is set behind St Mary’s Church, overlooking the All England Tennis Club. Mr Tranter also spoke of his exploration of a second tunnel which he said led him to an orchard near Arthur Road.
He said: “I came up in this great big orchard.
“I put a couple of apples in my pocket but the gamekeepers caught me.
“I said sorry governor, I’m scrumping, and left.”
In February Wimbledon Park golf course staff discovered a tunnel system matching Mr Tranter’s description while carrying out irrigation work.
Patrick Shanahan, general manager at the course, said: “We uncovered the broken down entrance to a tunnel in a mound in the side of a slope.
“There was a little bit of exploration done where the guys who were working had a look in but it was pitch black.
“They went in about 1,000m and discovered there were three branching tunnels going elsewhere.
“We believe they go under the church, up to the village and under the common, but we don’t really know their history or their purpose.”
The course has fixed a gate to close off access to the passageways.
Norman Plastow, chairman of the Wimbledon Society, said: “There’s been lots of stories of tunnels there and this could well be the rectory because other sites weren’t previously explored – it’s all perfectly possible.
“I think there would be merit for further exploration.”