Ground-penetrating radar is to be used to find out whether a subterranean system of caves and tunnels exists beneath Newark Market Place.
If they are found they could become a world heritage site with significant benefits for tourism, says an archaeologist and local historian who is working on the project.
Anne Coyne, of Farndon Archaeological Research Investigations, said: “Generations of people from Newark have perpetuated the myth of tunnels and passageways running under the town, but there has never been physical evidence of it.”
It is said that tunnels were created to protect townsfolk and aid movement of arms and supplies during the three Civil War sieges of Newark.
Initial research and radar-plotting of cellars and passageways will be carried out by Trent and Peak Archaeology, who have been doing similar work with the Notting-ham cave system. The project will start on April 2.
Anne, who is working with fellow local historian Mr Jim Wishart, said her research had turned up references to tunnels including some in former Advertiser editor Cornelius Brown’s History Of Newark.
She has found a manuscript from 1820 that refers to a vault beneath a market cross in the Market Place that was used as a jail and could have been part of a larger tunnel system.
“To locate this space and any wider network would be fantastic,” she said.
“They could have been built for reasons of security or as storage for treasures. An alternative is that religious leaders ordered them to be built.
“If they do exist, and I really hope that they do, we are potentially talking about a world heritage site. To my knowledge no town has such a system underneath it.
“Newark already has a largely unrivalled connection to the Civil War.”
Anne said a number of buildings had cellars that extended into the Market Place, including those now occupied by Star-bucks, Toni and Guy and Greggs, which was the former town governor’s house.
G. H. Porter Provisions on the corner of Bridge Street and the Market Place is one centuries-old shop with doors in its cellar that are blocked off.
Newark and Sherwood District Council is taking the lead on the research project, which also involves the town council and business club.
The district’s business manager for carparking and markets, Mr Ian Harrison, said: “For many years Newark people have talked of the mythical tunnels and passages that exist under the centre of Newark.
“It has been said that tunnels exist from the castle to the parish church, from the Chauntry to the church and castle, and from the Governor’s House on Stodman Street to the church.
The council is investigating what is beneath the Market Place so removable