History of the Shut
This Shut was originally called "Twenty Steps Shut", but lost its name and some of its steps.
How did it lose the steps?
Why name it after a bank?
Who helped Amy create the story
Jack was a great fiddler and a man for the ballads and shanties. In the summer he worked on the boats on the rivers. But his daughter lived in Shrewsbury and these days, now he was a bit older, in the winter he preferred to stay indoors and would come and spend the cold months with his daughter, getting by with the little bit he'd managed to keep from the summer work.
In the day he would play with his grandchildren, while most evenings he could usually be found in one pub or another playing his fiddle and singing songs to entertain the drinkers and enjoying the odd pint and plate of food that came his way in return.
One evening he was on his way home with his fiddle under his arm when he realized that someone was walking along beside him and that someone started to pull at his elbow.
He looked down and saw a short man, bright-eyed, smartly dressed, but all in green.
The little man made a wide sweeping gesture with his arm and a group of steps shimmered and began to sink, so that instead of leading up the shut they led down into a deep tunnel. The little man took hold of Jack's elbow and began to drag him inside.
Jack wasn't daft and he had a fair idea of what was happening. He reached into his pocket and his fingers folded around an old horseshoe nail that he kept there for luck. He always liked to keep a little cold iron about him for luck - while harmless to us mortals, it is poison to the fair folk and sometimes a little bit of protection from them doesn't come amiss.
As they walked through the gap, he bent down, pretending to tie his shoelace and stuck the nail between the cobbles at the edge of the gap. He stood up and followed the little man into the tunnel. The further they walked, the louder the sound of laughter and singing ahead. It wasn't long before the two of them emerged out of the tunnel into an enormous cavern filled with decorations, lights, and hundreds of people, all smaller than he was, but all beautiful.
Then Jack's jaw dropped open - all around the edges of the hall were huge chests, full to the brim with gold coins - there must have been enough there to make every person in Shrewsbury rich for the rest of their lives! Then he was spotted and they crowded around him, hoisted him up into the air shouting,
"Jack, Jack - play us a tune!"
He was put up onto a stage and asked to play. He put his fiddle to his chin and struck up a tune. All the people began to dance, whirling around and around in a blur of colour. He played and played and played, until at last, his arm began to tire, his mouth grew dry and his stomach began to grumble and he put down his bow.
There was a groan and a shout for him to play on, but he explained about his blistered fingers, his thirst and hunger and the little man who had first brought him there clapped his hands.
"Let the feast begin!"
Immediately the hall was filled with long trestle tables, groaning with the weight of food beneath them. The little man took Jack's elbow and led him to sit at the table. As he sat him down he said,
"Jack, feel free to eat and drink as much as you like, but whatever you do, you must not touch the money in those chests, you will get your reward later."
Jack pushed the food around on his plate and pretended to drink from his glass, but nagging at his brain were the old stories about fairy food, once you had tasted it, you would be under the fairies' power and would never be allowed to leave.
The thought of that gold was more tempting however. At last, Jack snuck away from the feast and made his way over to the edge of the hall. He stood staring at the money in one of the chests. At last he could bear it no longer. There was so much gold that surely they wouldn't miss just a handful. He reached inside and grasped a handful of coins.
At once the hall was plunged into darkness. Jack turned slowly around to find hundreds of unblinking green eyes glaring in his direction. Jack started to run towards the tunnel, hotly pursued by thousands of pattering feet. Trying to buy himself time, he threw the coins away one by one over his shoulder towards the fair folk.
At last he came to the top of the tunnel and clambered out of the hole that was still there and back into Twenty Steps Shut, just as the host of angry fairies reached him. But they stopped at the entrance, unable to go any further and glared at Jack and the nail that was preventing them from chasing after him.
Just then Jack realised that he had been underground all night and it was beginning to get light. From someone's garden he heard a cock crow. The shouts of anger turned to fear - Jack reached down and pulled the nail from the hole and the hole immediately shut.
Jack thoughtfully began to make his way home, but then he changed his mind and went round and woke up some of his friends to tell them the story.
At first they were convinced that Jack had had one too many in the pub, but then Jack felt something cold and hard in his pocket. He drew it out and there was one glittering golden coin.
The group of them set off towards the passage, intending to raid the fairy hoard during the safe hours of daylight. However the steps which had opened had disappeared! A smooth bank led upwards to the next set of steps and they knew that if the fairies had done that there was no way that they would be allowed to enter and that the fairies had prepared against their return. But Jack kept that coin all his life and to tell the truth, that story and that one coin probably kept food in his belly for many more years than the fairy store ever would have done!
However, sometimes, if you're walking up that passage on your own at night and the moon is at just the right angle to fall down between the walls of the passage, just occasionally you can see the lost steps glimmering in the moonlight and the strains of music coming from below.
(But why's it called "Bank Passage"? Well they couldn't call it Twenty Steps Passage any more could they. Besides it's a funny thing, but places, common bits of land and buildings seem to develop personalities just like people. You can tell happy houses, and you can tell houses where something bad has happened. There are some places that feel special, that are sacred no matter which religion you come from and I guess that there are places that want to be banks. For maybe 100s of years that piece of ground had been home to a bank of the little people and then when humans decided to build a bank here, they were naturally drawn to that bit of land and there it stood until 1910.)
copyright Amy Douglas 2001