Those unfamiliar with Trinity Theatre may not realise how steeped in history it is. Legends abound regarding the old smugglers’ tunnels which snake from Tunbridge Wells to Romney Marsh to the Southeast and Newhaven, East Sussex to the Southwest.
Long-since bricked up beneath the dressing room WC lies a crude access vent to one of these tunnels which adjoins a principal (still partially accessible) route from beneath Holmewood House School in Langton.
By the 1850’s most of these hidden ways were well-known to the Customs men and were either regularly patrolled or had been dynamited. Those with enough pluck, however, might still earn a modest return.
Jack Gilchrist was not a man of stern nerve so quite how he ended up in this nefarious trade remains a mystery. Smuggler he was, nonetheless, making the most of his position as Verger of Holy Trinity to sneak contraband from the tunnels beneath.
It is 56 miles to Newhaven, 38 to Romney Marsh. A modest gas lamp rarely went the distance. And our Jack had a mortal terror of the dark. Nevertheless, as if often the case, profit trumped fear, and for a good ten years Jack plied his underworld trade.
In a bid to assuage his fears, Jack always bore with him his old violin. Should the light fail, he would play for the remainder of his trek until light could be restored to him at his destination. All we know about the night of his demise is that the tunnel collapsed somewhere near Tenterden and by unhappy coincidence a fire broke out at Trinity, smoke back-filled the tunnel and our Jack succumbed.
Folk-lovers will know the song ‘Fiddlin’ in the Dark’ (crudely immortalised by Belly and the Bustlings in 1977) and its hero Jack. That is our Jack Gilchrist.
It is said that on concert nights at Trinity, Jack is to be spotted, lantern held aloft, searching the wings, the backstage dressing rooms and those spots where the pews once stood. Trying to find his way home? Bidding for music’s comforting embrace in the everlasting darkness, perhaps? For a chance to catch a glimpse of this hapless spectre, come along on the 12th November and perhaps raise a glass in the bar to Jack, or sing along with us to gentle his lonely plight.