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GHOST TOWN! REVEALED: Brum's sinister plan to scare the life out of visitors: EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: NEIL ELKES

CREEPY cemetery catacombs, coffin makers and haunted houses are set to send shivers down the spine as tourism chefs draw up terrifying tours of BRR-mingham.

Visitors will see where bodies were stored ready for interment, the coffin workshop where the dead were sealed in their boxes - and the historic home where spirits linger.

A Dark Tour of Birmingham will begin as guests pass through the Archway of Tears, the old entrance to the Victorian workhouse where the destitute were once condemned.

Heritage bosses are delving into the city's underbelly to uncover the sinister, the tragic and the downright scary, with a view to creating a money-spinning tourist attraction.

Central to the plan, which would rival ghost walks and crime and punishment tours in London, Edinburgh and York, is the rescue and restoration of the city's derelict Archway of Tears.

It was here that pauper families fallen on hard times would be ripped apart - separated into women, men and children before entering the workhouse.

The arch stands on the City Hospital site in Dudley Road, which could be sold for redevelopment when the hospital closes in 2015.

Tragic Conservationists want to see it restored as a museum to highlight the tragic past.

Other dark destinations on the tour would include Warstone Lane and Key Hill Cemeteries, both already fixtures on a Jewellery Quarter Trail.

The Newman Brothers workshop in Fleet Street, where the coffin fittings for Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain and Princess Diana's funerals were made, would be another sinister stop.

Birmingham's heritage champion, Councillor Peter Douglas Osborn, wants to see the trail take in the Victorian workhouse, Witton Cemetery, Aston Hall and Park's ghosts and perhaps the Victorian Law Courts to provide a full flavour of the city's dark past.

"I have long advocated a dark tour of Birmingham," said Coun Douglas Osborn, who is also chairman of Birmingham's Planning Committee.

"There are many fascinating tales to tell and could be quite an attraction. The Jewellery Quarter has done a wonderful job with the cemeteries, but there are ghost stories and tragedies all over Birmingham which could be included.

"And a museum at the Archway of Tears would highlight just how far we have come as a society in the last 120 years."

DARK TOUR STOPS

WARSTONE LANE CEMETERY, HOCKLEY Grade II listed cemetery opened in 1848 boasts two tiers of catacombs, believed to have provided shelter to families during the Second World War, which were the source of noxious vapours and a hazard for gravediggers who were banned from smoking nearby. Famous printer John Baskerville and Harry Gem, the inventor of lawn tennis, are buried here.

KEY HILL CEMETERY, HOCKLEY Opened in 1836 this non-conformist graveyard is home to former mayor of Birmingham Joseph Chamberlain and Alfred Bird, of Bird's custard fame. It too boasts extensive catacombs.

NEWMAN BROTHERS COFFIN FACTORY Founded in 1894, the restoration of this factory as a heritage museum is on hold due to a funding shortage at Advantage West Midlands. As well as providing coffin fittings for many famous people, it also produced shrouds, even in the colours of Birmingham City or Aston Villa.

ARCHWAY OF TEARS This was the entrance to the Birmingham Workhouse which opened in 1852, with enough space to house more than 1,300 paupers. It was known for its spartan accommodation and hard labour. Its infirmary was set aside to handle a feared cholera outbreak.

ASTON HALL AND PARK Built by the Holte family in the 1635, the Hall has re-opened following restoration. Ghostly goings-on include noises from the attic believed to be the tortured soul of Mrs Holte, who was locked in the attic for having an affair. There is also reputed to be a lady ghost wandering the park.

WITTON CEMETERY Birmingham's first and largest public cemetery, founded in 1863, saw up to 20 burials a day at the height of the terrible 1920 flu epidemic.

YOUR TOP HAUNTS

Which locations do YOU think. should be included? Write to Haunted Brum, Sunday Mercury, Sixth Floor, Fort Dunlop, Fort Parkway, Birmingham B24 9FF or e-mail sundaymercury@sundaymercury.net

CAPTION(S):

SPOOKY: Key Hill Cemetery, Newman Brothers' factory, Aston Hall by candlelight and the Archway of Tears are on the tour.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 9, 2009
Words:705
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