Wealdway – The Last Bit

From Polegate to Eastbourne Pier

Distance: 24.4 km

Steps: 37,437

Today, Jezabel has been Dug to my Dig, Walking Dude #2. She kindly chauffeured us to Polegate, where I left off last time and we strode out for Folkington church at 11:30am.

Here we met countless cyclists on a 52 mile sponsored event for British Heart Foundation. Folkington was 26 miles into their route and they all seemed pretty exhausted at this, their halfway point.

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We followed the Wealdway from Folkington, a stony trail at this point, south for 3 km to Jevington. The Eight Bells is the only pub (or shop) on this section of the Wealdway, so we stopped and sat outside, under a huge umbrella in the rain for a quick and early lunch.

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The rain passed over without ever being more than a light shower and we set out East from Jevington for 2 km ever upwards to the top of the downs above Willingdon. At an elevation of 193 metres, we turned a sharp right onto a chalky path and headed south in the direction of Beachy Head.

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Here the Wealdway and the South Downs Way use the same path. We passed two triangulation pillars beside the trail. Ideal for giving a definitive statement of “I am exactly here” on the map.

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We paused for a water stop on a bench beside a round concrete pond with dire warnings about poisonous blue-green algae. I stuck with the water in my bottle and left the pond stuff well alone. Only a brief halt, and we were were on our way for the final 2km down towards Eastbourne.

The final Wealdway sign at the foot of Beachy Head Downs led onto Eastbourne’s tarmac and pavements. We strolled along the prom to the pier.

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Where I had a celebratory pint to mark the completion of the Wealdway route.

Wainright’s next?

 

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Westminster

On Monday, Sneezie and I acted like tourists and explored Westminster Palace (the Houses of Parliament). We locals usually kind of just pass it by without giving it a thought but the tour is proper interesting.

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The Elizabeth Tower (what we often refer to as Big Ben) is currently being renovated, so is covered in scaffolding. There are armed police in abundance. Even at this time, with all of the MPs on holiday, security is clearly a high priority. We started our tour in Westminster Hall, which is vast, 1,000 years old and has a massive gothic ‘hammerhead’ roof. The hall is used for state occasions and can accommodate up to 3,000 people.

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The chambers of the Lords and the Commons were both empty of MPs so we were free to have a wander. The audio tour handset thingies are very informative. A tour well worth taking.

Off site, a highlight of the day was the 3 metre diameter air vent in the photo below.

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This is just outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Broad Sanctuary (top end of Victoria Street). Hidden in plain sight, Londoners pass this by every day or maybe sit on it to eat a packed lunch. It has become an unrecognised bit of street furniture. This structure is in fact the pinnacle of the ventilation system for the secret tunnel network which links Westminster to Mile End and Paddington, as explored by Duncan Campbell in 1982. It may also have something to do with Pindar, I’ll have to find out.

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We rounded off our visit with a late lunch in the Sherlock Holmes pub, located opposite The Grand, which will be Jack’s new place of work from September onwards.

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The ‘Secret’ Nuclear Bunker

The nuclear bunker at Kelvedon Hatch is no longer a secret but it was once.

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Today, it is well signposted from the A12 near Brentwood but when it was commissioned in 1952, only a small elite knew about it and everyone was sworn to secrecy. It  began its life as a central ROTOR station, where reports of incoming aircraft (and potentially ICBMs) were coordinated to keep the government and the RAF advised with detailed information if USSR aircraft entered our airspace.

The first thing you notice is that, whatever you expected, it looks nothing like a bunker. It looks just like a bungalow/cottage deep in the woods. Granted, there are a couple of missile thingies outside but they are recent museum pieces and would not have been there back in the day. There’s a plaque on the wall explaining what you are looking at.

The cottage door stands open (it is free to enter but £7.50 to leave) and here the similarity to a cottage abruptly ends. Go down half a dozen concrete steps and you enter the 100 metre long entrance tunnel. About two metres wide and the same tall, this was constructed partly to reduce the effect of blast but mainly to make the bunker defensible against unwanted guests (i.e. the public).

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At the far end of the tunnel there are heavy steel blast doors, two enormous generators and a BBC broadcast studio, from where, by wireless, the Prime Minister of the day would be able to address those few who remained following a nuclear attack.

 

The decision to build the bunker was made in 1952 and it was not decommissioned until 1994. The initial construction project took just seven months to complete and cost £1.5 million. The government requisitioned a patch of land, a hill 330 feet above sea level, dug a big hole, half filled it with shock-absorbing gravel, built a three storey blast proof building in the hole, filled it back in and put a 150 feet tall radio mast on the top. Simple.

 

The cleverly designed building is totally self-contained. This would have been the centre of UK government. It is big enough to house 600 people and to keep them alive and well for three months, with the doors shut tight. Quite what the authorities thought they would do at the end of the three months remains a mystery.

Some sad facts I have discovered here and along the way.

In the aftermath of a nuclear attack:

  • 90% of the UK population would die
  • There would be no hospitals
  • We’d run out of morphine by Day 3
  • There would be no ambulance, police or fire services
  • London would be devastated out to a radius of about 15 km
  • Only people of child-bearing age would be given food or medical care
  • Those with radiation sickness would be ‘put out of their misery’

Sorry to be so grim. Thank goodness it never happened.

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The first thing you come to is the telephone exchange, where operators would have dealt with calls and teleprinter data on as many as 2,500 lines. The antiquated equipment was retained as it was expected to be more resistant to potential damage caused by the electro magnetic pulse when a nuclear bomb detonated.

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Nearby is the ‘Scientists Room’, where all kinds of scientific analysis was carried out.

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Still on the lowest level is a plant room and workshop where giant refrigeration and ventilation equipment is located. We then entered the ‘Plot Room’ where the locations of aircraft and the severity of explosions would have been recorded in wax crayon on floor-to-ceiling glass screens.

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Up one level to the central control room on the middle floor. All ministries and major government departments were represented here so that whatever actions were to be taken could be coordinated.

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The top floor housed the medical centre, dormitories and the canteen.

 

Until recently, there was only ever one entrance/exit. The 100 metre long tunnel. Concerns of Health & Safety have prompted the owner to excavate a second exit route, which leads out from the canteen.

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It is a fascinating and thought provoking place. The scale of the undertaking has to be seen to be appreciated. My blog has only scratched the surface of the whole story of the place. It seems that in 1992 the government decided the bunker was no longer needed, handed it back to the landowner and simply locked up and left. Almost  all of the equipment is still there. A snapshot in time. Well worth a visit.

P.S. I managed to obtain my own copy of ‘Protect & Survive’

 

P.P.S. Piles of geiger counters

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See also (a much better report than mine!):

https://alondoninheritance.com/under-london/secret-nuclear-bunker/

Marks & Spencer, Camden Town

I don’t really do store reviews. This blog post is about the wartime deep shelter in Camden Town. I have visited this one before but I was barking up the wrong tree.

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When I last went to search for the Camden Town deep shelter, I incorrectly identified the southern shaft as being within the Marks & Spencer loading bay. But last night Simon and I made friends with the security guard and the store manager there and we got in to have a proper look around inside. It’s not there but is located about 100 metres north, at the other end of their car park. It was dark and the car park was locked by the time we sussed it out, so the image below is courtesy of the Londonist website.

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A big ‘thank you’ to the manager of Marks & Spencer’s Camden Town store for his assistance yesterday. He also mentioned another deep shelter that he knew of connected to their Walworth Road store. This is news to me and must be additional to the Northern Line series of deep shelters. I will be investigating further.

Norwich Aviation Museum

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Definitely worth a visit. Up close and personal with a Vulcan, a Nimrod and an English Electric Lightning (amongst others).

The aircraft are easy to spot from the main road but the entrance is hard to find

The museum seems to be operated entirely by enthusiastic volunteers, and a very good job they do too.

There’s a Lightning, a Vulcan, the remains of a Harrier, a couple of Jaguars, a Nimrod that you can go inside (guided tour), Andy Green’s Phantom and many more.

There’s also a whole museum of interesting models, salvage and memorabilia. The aircraft above are all outside on the field. It’s particularly nice that they are not too precious about their exhibits so some of the aircraft you can strap yourself into the pilot’s seat and get a feel for the controls (engines off of course).

The Harrier is incomplete, having had a rough landing and subsequently some components have been robbed from it.

There’s a rare two seater cockpit from Andy Green’s Jaguar (he of Bloodhound SSC fame). This would have been a training aircraft.

This is a Dassault Mystere. A French fighter/bomber which would have been in use between 1956 and 1981. First time I’ve ever seen one of these 😲

The Hawker Hunter was a staple of the RAF in the 1960s.

A complete, regular single-seat Jaguar.

The highlight of the day was sitting in the pilot’s seat of the Vulcan.

This delta wing bomber could be configured to deliver 10 x 1,000 lb conventional bombs or two nuclear devices. It played an important role in the Falklands War. Crew accommodation (5 men) was extremely cramped.

And here’s me with a Gnome jet engine similar in design to the T58 we planned to put in the Polo!

Wealdway Day 6 – Hellingly to Polegate

Distance walked: 37.2 km

Steps: 55,088

I was up early from my comfy Travelodge bed and I hit the trail before 08:30am. It was tempting to simply bee line to the nearest bit of Wealdway and just get walking but I’d only be cheating myself. So I back-tracked the mile or so to Hellingly church and set off from there.

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On the way to Hellingly my opinion of Sussex farmers was confirmed. The path I had planned to take had been entirely obliterated by a field of wheat. So I was forced to trudge slowly along the overgrown verge beside the busy A267

The first place I discovered, just south of Hellingly, right beside the Wealdway path, was Horselunges Manor, a timber framed Elizabethan manor house, surrounded by formal gardens and enclosed by a high wall and a moat (Yes, a moat! How posh is that?) It even has a working drawbridge. The house was owned by Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager, until his death in 1995. I don’t know who lives there now but I do know she has two large dogs because she returned home whilst I was admiring the moat.

Just 500 metres further on, the Wealdway path passes through the derelict Horsebridge Mill. This place cries out for a creative photographer (not me) to spend some time here. I took some photos to whet your appetite.

Beyond Horsebridge, the trail twists and turns as it passes through a modern housing estate. I only found my way through by checking local knowledge in the form of two old ladies and a postman. But eventually the walker emerges at the A22, through a small, overgrown gap in a scratchy hedge. Crossing the busy A22 safely, at this time of the morning, takes courage, skill, determination and patience, but it can be done.

The next four kms is challenging. The waymarking is poor to non-existent, signage is damaged or rotten and the path has seen no maintenance for years. The brambles and stingers have reclaimed their territory. I got lost several times, saved only by map and compass, walking on a bearing. This section was very time-consuming.

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After a tortuous ramble, I reached Michelham Priory where two ladies were exercising their horses under the watchful eyes of ‘Inky’, a fearless black guard dog.

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Inky, black as your hat, was pretending to be fierce, and making quite a convincing job of it but a few kind words and he was soon my friend. He let me go on, to Bede’s amazingly well-equipped sports ground.

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Another blooming unmanned railway crossing. This one with tracks in both directions. I’d really prefer a bridge. From the top of the second stile I can see the Long Man of Wilmington.

Throughout the day, the Long Man of Wilmington was often visible in the distance. The Wealdway passes him very close by, so at 7:00pm I was standing at his feet. The neolithic men of Wilmington village made him by cutting turf from the hillside to reveal the white chalk just below the surface.

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Towards the end of the day, I had to cross the road leading up to  Folkington Reservoir. My curiosity got the better of me. There was nobody about, so I jumped the gate and went up to have a look. The reservoir is set in a 5.7 hectare site with SSSE status. The view from the top was amazing.

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I got the train home from Polegate. There’s only about 20 km left now, from Folkington Church to Eastbourne Pier. Would make a nice family day out walking.

Wealdway Day 5 – Buxted to Hellingly

Distance: 31.2 km

Steps: 47,545

Right, did you know that they talk different in Sussex to what we do nearer London. In the pub lunchtime the govenor asked me where I was headed. I told him ‘Hellingly’ said ‘helling-lee’. He was on me like a sprung trap. Apparently, in Sussex, they are so much posher than the rest of us that they have to say it ‘Helling-Lie’ (as in: to tell a fib). Same rule for other town names. So in a way, I had wasted the first half of the day, heading for the wrong place.

My train got me to Buxted for 10:15am. I strode out down the hill and entered the grounds of Buxted House. Wow, what a gaff! This is the place where Lloyd was DJing and was all set up ready to start before he realised he’d left his CDs at the Yard. I well remember doing the International Rescue routine in the old Camper.

Also in the grounds of Buxted House is this rather spondicious pill box. Apparently its a ‘Thin walled Type 24’. I’ve never seen one just like it.

I took this pretty picture of the Hempstead Mill sluice gate. It must have held back an incredible amount of water back in the day.

Just beyond Hempstead Farm there was a variation notice from the local authoritity re -routing the Wealdway.

My route now included in an unmanned, unexpectected, railway level crossing. One of my least favourite features of the British countryside. Scary things.

At Tickerage Farm I pondered over this contraption. It is installed close to a large pond and seems to be entirely ‘stand alone’. It beats me, I can’t work it out. Does anyone have any ideas?

Sussex farmers seem to have more of a cavalier attitude towards footpaths than do their Kentish counterparts. Almost all footpaths that I’ve used today over arable land have been ploughed under. Mostly this means having to detour around field boundaries or sometimes forging through crops, walking on a bearing, but I really don’t like doing that.

Just before lunch I lost the path in such a field. I emerged onto Beechy Road and ended up walking 4km on tarmac to reach East Hoathly for lunch.

The ground is so dry now. It cannot have seen much rain in the last few weeks.

At Gun Hill I discovered these two scissor lift MEWPs. One at least is operational. Can’t see what you’d do with them on a farm. Back in the 80’s I used to manage a company renting them out to contractors.

On the skyline at Westenden I saw this group of trees. Clearly cultivated, they’re too tidy and regimented for nature, they don’t look indigenous. I kind of think that they might be antipodean in origin but that’s only a hunch. I never got close enough to properly ID them.

But he never was. Not even in 1987 when my concrete block wall was piled on top of his brand new VW Golf (I guess you had to be there).

In the woods near Westenden Farm I spotted this bear masquerading as a tree.

I’d be interested to know how these two iron balls, each about half a metre diameter, got to be lying on the lawn at Lealands.

As I reached Hellingly I spied this traditional gypsy caravan lurking behind a hedge. Nobody about.

My final destination en route was Hellingly church. I arrived just after 8:00pm (bah, missed Evensong). Just a mile to the accommodation, the Travelodge at Boship roundabout. I’ll be glad to get these boots off 😜

Down Street Underground Station

Down Street tube station sits astride the Piccadilly line midway between Green Park station and Hyde Park Corner station. No trains stop there anymore, they just rumble past at full speed.

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The Leslie Green designed station was opened in 1907, three months after the Piccadilly line saw its first traffic, but Down Street station closed permanently in 1932. Today, guided by Matt from the London Transport Museum, I descended into the depths of the station to learn a bit about its history. Obviously, to ensure I had a proper understanding of abandoned tube stations, I commenced my research by watching Creep (2004). Nothing like that really happened. Maybe I should have checked Cloverfield (2008) for a more realistic introduction.

We entered through the door marked ‘Keep clear – emergency escape route’

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and immediately began to descend the 122 step spiral stairway. Part way down we paused to acknowledge a fire door through which we would later emerge.

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In 1938, with Britain on the brink of war, the Railway Executive Committee (REC) was formed to coordinate the then four main railway companies in the event of war. They needed somewhere safe, close to Westminster, to meet and they chose the relatively bomb-proof, abandoned, Down Street Station.

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My tour reached platform level at the bottom of the spiral stairway, 22 metres down from street level. This must be the dustiest place I’ve ever been. Black dust. I thought ‘brake dust’ from the trains but apparently, mostly it’s 100 years of human skin cells, never been swept up. Eeugh! We rounded a 90 degree bend and a tunnel opened up before us.

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There’s a passage off to the left which leads to the bathrooms. Delightful.

Stairs go upward in complete darkness then we emerged from that fire door we saw on the way in. Back down the spiral stairs, through what was once a typing pool, then through the area where the REC executives would have had their meetings. This would also have been the venue for more than forty meetings attended by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill slept on site here when the blitz was at its height, on a camp bed, in the conference room. All the while we can hear trains rushing past at full tilt. Down a dozen more steps and we’re on the platform. There is still thick black dust everywhere.

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Efforts made to soundproof the various rooms we visited seem pretty ineffective to me. All conversation had to cease (and lights out) whenever a train approached, which was every couple of minutes. We visited dormitories, an operations control room, a copier room with three hand-cranked Gestetner duplicators (photo of some dude off his face, been breathing the fumes), the shell of a kitchen that once served 40,000 meals a year and a telecommunications room (then and now pictures below).

All the while, trains were noisily rushing by at full speed on either side of us but nothing stopped.

This has not always been the case. At the end of their working day, REC executives could hail any passing train, just like we might hail a taxi at street level.

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It all hinged on that lantern on the right of the photo above. When the executive was ready to leave he’d turn on the red light and the next train along would stop and pick him up. The driver would let him travel up front, other passengers being totally unaware.

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Our final stop was this cavernous shaft, capped off at the top with a plug of concrete over a metre thick to protect Down Street and its occupants from German bombing.

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Before leaving, Matt pointed out one of the many mysteries of Down Street station. This letter G. Nobody knows its purpose, though apparently there is a similar F at Aldgate?

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Back at street level, a couple of points to note. 23 Down Street was luxury apartments where the REC executives went for a bit of rest and recreation. Caviar, champagne and brandy (not rationed) were served here.

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Down Street is the only tube station with its own Mews. Here were stationed four motorcycle couriers, including Jill Horscroft, pictured above. Their role was to distribute typed instructions arising from the decisions of the REC to stations and stationmasters around London.

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I have nothing but praise for Matt and the Hidden London team who made my visit possible. There is far more to tell than I have recounted above. You have to be there to experience the trains rumbling past at full speed. Only by a personal visit can you truly appreciate how much black dust there was.

 

 

Tunnels and Caves at Ingress Abbey

 

What a fascinating place. Ingress Abbey and its Coach House are in Greenhithe, Kent. The Abbey is a Grade II listed building, now a private residence. Its story goes back to 1363, when Edward III gave it to the Bevis family. The current building is a Neo-Gothic, Jacobean style country House, built around 1833 for Alderman James Harmer, a London lawyer. The architect for the project was Charles Moreing. His work on the house followed on from the previous design of the estate grounds by Capability Brown in 1763. I visited the Abbey site on 20th June 2018.

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There is an entry in Charles Moreing’s notes adding an additional £120,000 on to the original budget, to pay for ‘the construction of follies, tunnels, grottoes, and hermit’s caves’. Ingress Abbey abounds with tunnels and caves. The geology of the area being largely chalk, lends itself well to tunnelling.

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The Monkswell Tunnel is allegedly haunted and leads to a semi-circular vaulted chamber, where is located a well, previously used by monks (hence ‘Monkswell’). Here’s me standing outside the business end of Monkswell Tunnel and also a photo of the well, which appears to be covered by a circular grating (photo taken at arm’s length through a locked, barred gate).

The Cave of Seven Heads pictured below, is under the Fastrack bus road, and lies close to the former gatehouse to the estate.

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Set into the chalk cliffs is the bricked-up entrance to the Georgian Wall Tunnel (aka Georgian Garden Tunnel or the South Tunnel). This is located in a wild overgrown area at the end of Park Cliff Road. It is not accessible but with a bit of imagination, can be seen from the park. This tunnel was used as an air raid shelter in WW2.

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The Coach House  Tunnel runs from the main house to the Coach House. This tunnel is still in service although locked. I am hoping for a visit next week

The Grange Tunnel emerges 200 metres south of the main house, in the Grange folly. The Grange is in good order and so I’m assuming that its tunnel is too. Hopefully I can explore it next week.

The Grange has a minor road running through its arch.

There is a flintstone arch shelter with a bench, installed in 1763 as part of Capability Brown’s work. This is known as the Lovers’ Arch.

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Legend has it that there is a tunnel leading from the main house all the way to the River Thames, this would be a distance of at least 300 metres. The only viable route would be via the avenue opposite the front of the house. I could find no evidence of a tunnel emerging anywhere on the river bank.

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The house in about 1917

This blog on Ingress Abbey is still very much ‘work in progress’ and I have more research to do. I hope to visit Ingress Abbey in the next week or so to view the tunnels at first hand. I would particularly like to ascertain whether the tunnel to the River Thames is myth or legend. Watch this space 🙂

 

Plessey’s Ilford Factory

In September 1940, the Plessey works in Vicarage Lane, Ilford was manufacturing component parts for for Rolls Royce Merlin aero engines. On the night of the 18th, the Luftwaffe did terrible bombing damage to the machine shops. A further attack on 9th October sealed the fate of the factory. Major work would have been needed to get the factory up and running again which would cause unacceptable delays in production. The directors of Plessey looked for an alternative solution.

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Before the war, London Underground had extended the Central Line in East London from Leytonstone via Redbridge, Ilford and Wanstead to Gants Hill. The tunnels had been dug and lined but the contractors stopped work before the tracks were installed as finances were diverted to the war effort. Plessey came to an arrangement with London Underground and the empty Central Line tunnels became a factory 13 feet 6 inches wide and five miles long. This secret ‘factory’ was known as Cambridge Park.

2,000 operatives worked here at any one time (2,000 per shift). This 300,000 sq ft production facility, made all manner of technical parts including: wiring harnesses, starter motors, gear levers and field telephones. The shift system ensured that the facility was in operation 24/7. Conditions were dirty and grim, very cold in winter and it was a trial to get so many people and materials in and out every day. The tunnels were however relatively safe from air raids. Former workers have commented that it was like working in a mine.

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There was apparently an excellent canteen facility at Redbridge. Additional ventilation shafts were installed to the surface. Extra loading and entry points were added at Danehurst Gardens and Cambridge Park and bicycles were used below ground so that workers didn’t have to walk so far underground to get to their places.

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The existence of the factory and its purpose was kept a closely guarded secret throughout the war. The factory closed in 1945 and after 12 months work decommissioning and removing the concrete floor, the tunnels were handed back to London Underground. 12,000 tons of equipment and broken up concrete had to be removed before track  could be laid in the the tube tunnels. The former factory reverted to the Central Line and opened for business in December 1947.

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Plessey workers further contributed to the war effort by collectively donating a  proportion of their wages to a Spitfire Fund. In 1941 they funded the manufacture of Spitfire AD381 which flew from RAF Digby in Leicestershire throughout the war until June 1945. It was ultimately brought down due to a flying accident, not enemy action.