[Sticky] Drakelow Tunnels - Directions and further site info
The site consists of 250,000 sq ft of tunnels deep in the Kinver hills.
Kingsford Country Park
CiA signposts will be out close to the site.
260 million years ago â€“ Permian
The Bridgnorth Sandstone Formation, is laid down, this is created in a very hot dry desert the dunes of which eventually form Kinver Edge.
250 million years ago - Triassic
The overlying conglomerates of the Kidderminster Formation (the â€˜Bunter Pebble Bedsâ€™), which are flash flood deposits, are laid down.
10,000-3000 years ago
Scatters of worked flints show that Mesolithic hunters lived on and around Kinver Edge which was then covered in dense forest. The tools of Neolithic and Bronze Age farmers have also been found nearby.
1150 - 300 BC â€“ the Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age
A promontory hillfort (one of three in the immediate area) was constructed at Solcum Aylesbury above the Drakelow site. This fort was protected by the massive ditches which are still visible today.
Late Iron Age and Roman Periods
Pottery and implements found in the vicinity show that the area was densely settled. The hillfort may still have been in use during and after the Roman period (as were nearby Kinver and Arley Wood hillforts).
866 and 964 AD â€“ Anglo-Saxon
Two Anglo-Saxon charters describe land in Wolverley and Cookley. The hillfort at Solcum is mentioned in the charters as a boundary marker.
1067 â€“ Post-Norman Conquest
William the Conqueror grants land at Cullacliffe to Worcester Abbey.
Drakelow In 1240 the site belonged to the Priory of Saint Mary at Worcester. Records from the 13th and 14th centuries detail people with names which suggest they live in caves, eg Edwin Cave (late 12th century),William of Hale or Hole (1280) or Agnes in the Hole mother of John in the Hole (1325) Richard in the Holie and Thomas Le Hollow (1327). â€œCave Clearingâ€ in mentioned in 1143.
Nearby Holly Austin Rock (like Holy Austin Rock in Kinver or the rock cut hermitages of Stourport, Bewdley and Bridgnorth) suggests that medieval monks are creating cave dwellings.
In 1377 there is a Reference to taking stone from â€œColkeles Creggâ€.
1649-50 â€“English Commonwealth.
Parliamentary Survey of Church Livings lists common land at Cookley Wood. â€œBurr Oaksâ€ are mentioned as is the right of locals to use the land.
Indenture for a â€œancient cottage or tenementâ€ at Cookley Wood probably refers to an already â€œancientâ€ cave dwelling.
Common Land at Blakeshall Common enclosed by Sebright and Knight families. Maps of this time show outlines of the cave house gardens. People whose livings relied on use of the Common Land will have struggled to survive.
Field maps show the site as â€œNorth Cookley Woodâ€ and â€œSouth Cookley Woodâ€
Site visited by naturalists recording wild flowers in Worcestershire.
Site purchased by William Hancock of Blakeshall Hall.
Brick obelisk erected on a knoll in honour of the 17th century preacher Richard Baxter. The â€œSwiss Villageâ€ built on the south side of the site.
Schoolhouse built on site later occasionally used as a church.
Blakeshall Estate purchased by the Grazebrook family.
The Drakelow part of the Blakeshall estate compulsorily purchased and the underground Rover factory built beneath the site. Factory remained partially in use until 1948. Most of the cave dwellers are evicted and will never return.
Part of the tunnel complex becomes a Regional Seat of Government, an emergency base for use in the event of war.
The surface buildings of the Swiss Village are partially demolished as are the most of the Second World War surface buildings (these were clustered in the south west of the site).
The Regional Seat of Government is much reduced in size and is restricted to the northern part of the site.
Ministry of Defence dispose of the Drakelow site to a private purchaser.
Drakelow Preservation Trust formed to prevent the destruction of the site
First & Only Airsoft run airsoft games in tunnel complex
Comrades in Arms run 'The Boryszyn Loop' WW2 event - a Russian v German scenario based in Poland
The Wartime Tunnels
Hidden in the slopes below Solcum Aylesbury hillfort are a remarkable network of Second World War tunnels. These tunnels are laid out in a grid pattern and extend over three miles in length. They are the largest surviving part of a wartime complex which was built in 1941 as a â€œshadow factoryâ€ for Birminghamâ€™s Rover works. The purpose of such â€œshadow factoriesâ€ was to provide secure manufacturing facilities for aero engines, this would be used in the event of cataclysmic enemy bombing of industrial targets or even in the event of invasion.
The tunnels were the focus and the manufacturing centre of a far larger complex of workshops, accommodation and administration buildings. Few surface remains of this larger complex remain, although the nearby Kingsford Pub is a large wartime building. The tunnels themselves were used as machine shops and storage by the Rover works. The main entrance to the site was in the south where ancillary buildings and ventilation shafts clustered around the tunnel mouths. This entrance area was built beneath the site of the cave houses and the old â€œSwiss Villageâ€ both of which were retained (possibly to confused aerial observation). Other tunnel entrances on the north side of the site gave entrance to Kingsford Lane but these appear to have been of secondary importance. Apart from the extreme southern edge of the site Drakelow remained largely untouched by its wartime use.
The tunnels were impressively large and many were wide enough to accommodate vehicles as well as the machinery used in manufacturing. Other areas housed offices and store facilities. Fortunately, the bombing of cities was never complete enough to disrupt manufacture and the underground complex was never really put into full production. Towards the end of the war the site was used more and more for storage although engines were still manufactured and stored here up until c 1955.
The tunnels had been built at vast expense but had (arguably) not been needed for their intended wartime role. By the 1950s however the Cold War presented government planners with a completely new use for the vast tunnel system and after 1958 the underground complex was converted to a Regional Seat of Government (RSG). This was part of Britainâ€™s elaborate civil defence system, which was intended to administer the country in the event of an attack (either conventional or nuclear).
The RSG would accommodate key local and national government personnel as well as members of the armed forces and limited medical staff. The full extent of the earlier tunnel system was not used and the RSG utilised the northern part of the tunnels. A communication mast on the summit of Solcum Aylesbury linked the RSG to the rest of the Civil Defence network.
By 1980 changes in civil defence policy dictated that the old RSG was too large and a new shelter was created in a small part of the northern tunnels. This period also saw the demolition of most of the surface buildings (which had been semi abandoned since the 1940s). It also saw extensive refurbishment of the RSG parts of which still survive. By the early 1990s the end of the Cold War had rendered the site redundant and the tunnels along with the rest of the site were disposed of to a private buyer.
Source: Drakelow Preservation Trust
Estimated costs were Â£285,000 and construction, which started in June, 1941 was expected to take one year.
The underground factory achieved full production in May, 1943 and the final cost was in excess of Â£1,000,000.
From 1955 to 1958 Drakelow was used as a transit store for redundant plant.
Between 1958 and 1980 it was a Regional Seat of Government and then a Regional Government Headquarters until 1993 when it was sold off.
'It is unfortunately apparent that with these major underground schemes the nature of the work and the lack of precise knowledge of what will be, always results in the original estimates of both cost and time being greatly exceeded.' Ministry of Aircraft Production
Nice pieces from the memoirs of Rover worker Albert Fowler:
One day a crowd of tunnel men came through my bay, it linked up, as did all the bays, with main tunnels 1, 2 and 3. They came from the unfinished section,4 and 5 tunnels. "What's up" I said to the leader. "We' em on strike - they've stopped our 'danger money!" My "Wait for me, I don't get any, either", didn't go down very well. There had been hundreds of Irishmen especially imported to work as labourers They arrived complete with Priest and an ex. R.U.C.Policeman. Apparently the Priest was the only one the Irish boys would listen to. They must have been a wild bunch according to my informant, who by the way sounded like a midlander. One day the food served up in the canteen wasn't to their liking. Later on after a drinking session, a mob of them herded all the staff into the canteen, piled up bracken round the outside walls and threatened to set fire to it. A posse of Police, always on call from surrounding areas was hastily summonsed to stop them.
The Vicar of a nearby village took great pride in his poultry, he exhibited them and won many prizes. The Irish 'nicked' them and cooked them up in the tunnels. Police guessed who were the culprits, but no evidence could be found. Probably within a few hours it was under tons of sand.
There was a constant stream of dumper trucks carrying sand from the face to fill in valley's and depressions in the surrounding landscape. Thousands of tons of concrete were used on tunnel roadways etc. None of the sand excavated was used in the mixing. Gibbons (The tunnel engineer) said it was 'dead' sand, whatever that means.
When the Irish went on a drunken rampage, which it seems they often did, the whole area was terrified - But wait. - After the in flux of a few hundred 'Brummies' a Policeman told me - his words were "We thought the Irish bad enough, until the Brummies came". It must have been like the Wild West of the last century.
Eventually the Rover Social Club got going. One tunnel bay was set aside for concerts and dancing, mostly during the mid-day or mid-night breaks. Billiard and Snooker handicaps. There was a lot of talent around. Handicapping was a chancy business I got lumbered with 'scratch'. He's the one that has to give points start to all the others. I won the Billiards and got some National Saving Certificates as the prize, plus a silver medal for the highest break at snooker. The bloke that beat me won that one. Who said proficiency at billiards was a sign of mis-spent youth? A professional named Lawrence gave an exhibition to the works. He was the first outsider admitted to the tunnels. I was chosen to play him in the Exhibition Game. The Billiard Room, a bay in a section that housed all the social activities, had three tables (full size) one was a special match table with tiered seating all round. A very popular place at mid-day break and inbetween shifts. Plenty of time to practice here with nothing much else to do after work in the evenings.
Preparing for the invasion of Europe, the Americans built a Hospital (The 52nd General it was called) about a mile away from the works. I was invited in my capacity as Chief of First Aid to see around the place. I never seemed to have the time and I often regret not going. The first batch, the 8th Air Force, occupied our old Rover Hostel. A fine lot of chaps, mostly college chaps. They used the recreational facilities we had at the Hostels where they were made very welcome, especially by the girls.
Romance blossomed, often to the annoyance of our own chaps. The dances at evenings gave us our first introduction to the 'Jitter-bug' craze, They were good at it. The Scottish Girls soon mastered it. Our partners weren't so plentiful now there were rivals. The second batch were a tough lot and many quarrels broke out. Fights for the ladies favours were common. On one particular week-end a near riot developed at the Hostel which necessitated calling in the American M. P's. Just before D.Day a young officer gave me a lift in a jeep after mid-day dinner at the Hostel, to the works gate. He told me he was a regular Officer, married and had a family in the U.S.A. He said he wasn't worried about the war or the outcome. "It is the sure knowledge that I shall be in Germany for 10 yrs after the finish that worries me." "Do you really think so?" I said. "What else - Germany will be destroyed, we will have to build it up again" - a Prophet indeed,
Two weeks before D.Day the Yanks disappeared - just like that - overnight and without a hint. The wailing from the girls could be heard above all else. They were confident that letters would be pouring in from their sweethearts but nothing came. We all knew better, or rather guessed that security demanded secrecy. How many romances were revived I wonder.
If my Wife could read this, she would be excused for thinking that my three years at Drakelow were more like a holiday, than three years work and worry.
I have left industry and the War situation to the end of this "Interlude", maybe it will be the parts remembered most. First the Hostels.
They changed hands many times. In the first place a huge camp was built to house miners and labourers on construction of the tunnels. Around 1937 I should think. As the job drew to its close (around 1942) they began to move off, many of the Huts being dismantled or demolished. Some were retained for Rover personnel and other directed workers.
When the new hostels were ready for us, these remained vacant until the 'Yanks' took over in early 1944. After 'D' Day, or to be more accurate, a few weeks before, the 'Yanks' disappeared. The next tenants were the German P.O.W. who worked in the fields by day. The Camp was guarded by troops, but was run internally by a German Sergant Major who drilled and marched them in and out of camp. There came a time (after the War) when even that beautiful national Service hostel became redundant. I was back home long before that. I believe they were used to accommodate displaced persons from liberated Europe and later still by Asians. Local folk from 1937 -1950 saw a few changes in people and nationalities. I must go back some day to see what is there now. What must all the thousands that came that way think about it? Some, I bet, just want to forget it. The Yanks and the P. O. W. to which it was but a stageing post. The contractors team. To them one job can't be much different to another. Lastly, the directed labour force to the factory. Some of them HATED it. They didn't want to know the jobs, foremen or anything.
"The Vicar of a nearby village took great pride in his poultry, he exhibited them and won many prizes. The Irish 'nicked' them and cooked them up in the tunnels. Police guessed who were the culprits, but no evidence could be found. Probably within a few hours it was under tons of sand."how times dont change
funny thing this, our shops been robbed 4 times in 6 weeks, a drive past the local irish traveler site, and i saw some of our gas bottles, of course we cant prove it, but id wrote Pikey gas on the bottles over the calor gas logo after the second robbery.
police would not take this as "proof" though , one even pointed out that if i had written PIKEY on a bottle, i was making a racally motivated statement
sorry wrong place for this can you move it off topic plz chommers
"Take that you rotton helping of strawberry flan!"
Joseph Porta to "strawberrys and cream", in the sven hassel book ,ogpu prison
The Memories of Bill Mantle,
After being told by a friend that men from Ludlow were wanted to go to work at a place near Kidderminster, excavating tunnels to make an underground factory making aircraft engines, I decided to give up my job travelling around Ludlow in a van taking orders for groceries and do something to help the war effort. The single decker bus that took us there was commandeered from Kent - it had 'East KENT' written on the side. The driver who was a very large bloke also came from East Kent. The bus picked us up at 6am from Ludlow and then other people at Clee Hill, Cleobury Mortimer and Bewdley.
I began work in January 1942 and left in June that year. I was born in May 1924 so was 17 when I started. On my first day, I reported to Mr Bond, the Works foreman - he was a sturdy man who wore wellington boots, a donkey jacket and trilby hat. He had very strong glasses - I called them 'milk bottle bottom' specks - and he was a very hard man, he had to be to manage the men who were also a rough lot. After a few days work outside, Mr Bond asked me if I would like to work with Mr Thurston, an engineer. I said yes - the name of the firm I would be working for was John Cochrane & Sons, Contractors. My job would be carrying the level and theodolite staff and helping with anything he had to do. I reported to him and he called me Bill and I went for my first time underground, about a hundred yards in. Blasting took place and I nearly thought about going no further but pressed on and reached the workmen tunnelling. The noise you had to get used to, pneumatic drills, trimming (shaping the tunnels) and drilling holes for the explosives. Nobody wore protective ear muffs or head-gear.
A gang of men shovelled the sandstone onto a conveyor belt taking it outside. I met many Irish men, a happy lot and it was said they received a half penny for each shovel they put on the belt. The work was hard but not especially dirty (sandstone). I think I was working in 'A' tunnel. My first pay packet included 2 or 3 pence an hour extra danger money. I felt like a rich man after the pittance I received from my previous employment. Most of the time I worked 7 days a week, leaving home at 6am and returning by 6pm or thereabouts. The tunnel we were excavating was shaped like the one you see on the railways (with an arch). I set up the level and theodolite, wooden batons supported pieces of yellow wire drawn across the tunnel for the Horizontal and one down from the roof for the Vertical which had a lump of stone hanging on the end. Miners working at the face could look along these wires and get a cross to keep going level and straight - rather a crude way by today's methods.
The air was not very good and what a relief when you came back outside. I did not see any toilets down under and men relieved themselves where they could. There was no security or secrecy about the tunnels - everyone knew what they were for and we were not told to be careful about who we talked to. There was no canteen. I took sandwiches and tea in a bottle. I was on rations so there wasn't much. My brother Jeff also worked doing the same job. He went to look for a theodolite in one of the tunnels and, it being dark, bent down to pick it up but touched a live electric wire. He was thrown back against the side of the tunnel. Somebody came and told me he had been taken to Kidderminster Hospital. I was told he was OK but had to stop in for the night. When I got home that evening and told mum she went crazy. I fetched him home the next day and the day after he started work again.
After a few months, my engineer Mr Thurston asked me if I would like to go to Rawnsley, near Hednesford, Cannock Chase with him to start drilling for outcrop coal which I accepted. I went into lodgings for a short while then into the Army, Normandy landing, then Germany and demobbed at the end of 1947. Looking back it was a great experience.