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24 September 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > About Wiltshire > Places > Secret Underground Wiltshire

Secret underground Wiltshire

Secret underground Wiltshire

Secret Underground Wiltshire

Wiltshire's secret warren of underground tunnels and chambers are a hot spot for urban explorers...

Crawling through a gap between two huge bath stone boulders, feet first, he gingerly lowers himself down on to a ladder and into the darkness…

Urban Explorer Steve Higgins

Urban Explorer Steve Higgins

Feeling his way down a narrow flight of stone steps, in a steep mine shaft, he clambers his way down into the strange, silent underground world of Wiltshire.

Steve Higgins is an Urban Explorer.  For him the hidden, forbidden, the off-limits, the unsafe and the derelict are a secret addiction.

And for him North Wiltshire, with over 200 acres of air-conditioned tunnels and chambers to have a nose around, is the top hot spot for a bit of urban exploration.

In fact just 100 feet below the rolling Wiltshire countryside are miles upon miles of tunnels, an amazing labyrinth of long forgotten ammo depots, abandoned mines and caverns to infiltrate.

And to access them all you need to know is where the secret entrances are.

And Steve knows.

Secret Underground Wiltshire

Looking down the slope shaft

A small abandoned quarry on the outskirts of Corsham, for instance, is one such hidden place.

Abandoned and deserted for the last 40 years access to the quarry is, to say the least, not obviously encouraged.

The mine’s main lift shaft has been completely blocked-off, one of the slope shafts has been bulldozed closed and only one hidden entrance remains.

Despite attempts to wall it up, behind a couple of hefty looking quarry stones, some determined Urban explorer has managed to shift one of the stones to reveal a squeeze hole through a doorway.

It's from here that Steve is able to access the underground museum below. 

Covering almost 12 acres, the quarry's warren of tunnels and chambers were carved out by generations of quarrymen after the honey coloured Bath stone.

For over 40 years the mine was worked until 1915 when the War Department stepped in and requisitioned it for the storage of ammo and TNT.

Secret Underground Wiltshire

Part of the warren of tunnels

A part of a massive underground complex, extending for miles under the North Wiltshire countryside, it was abandoned at the end of the First World War only to be taken over again by the RAF, in 1936, under an air of secrecy.

With rumours flying that the old mine was to become an emergency food dump, for the Ministry of Food, unsuspecting locals had little idea that over the next 12 years up to 3,000 hand grenades, 31,000 tons of explosives and TNT would be stored literally under their feet.

And even to this day it’s doubtful whether locals have any idea of what still lies right beneath their feet.

But according to Steve the smooth, honey coloured walled tunnels and leveled floors give little away and other than a few short stretches of narrow gauge tracks, that once linked the quarry to the local main line railway, there is little visible history left to see.

That is except for the writing on the walls.  Everywhere within the maze of tunnels can be seen pencil drawings.  60 year old graffiti of men in uniform, caricatures, regiment badges and even a few that would make a teenage tagger blush…

But other than a few blue drawings from a lost generation what is the attraction of clambering around Second World War underground bunkers and disused tunnels?

Secret Underground Wiltshire

60 year old graffiti

Well according to Steve, who seems to know his way around Wiltshire better underground than above it, a large part of the attraction is discovering and exploring obscure sites that are basically out of bounds and unknown.

And he's not alone in this.  Across the country there are up to 900 hard core devotees crawling their way into the hidden places in the urban landscape.  Armed with digital cameras they post up images of their latest expeditions and keep tabs on each other through dozens of UE websites.

On Steve's own website each of his missions, into some of Wiltshire’s best kept secret places, is logged and backed up by galleries of images.

And with lots of places still out there to be discovered… underground Wiltshire is beginning to resurface.

To take a 360 degree tour of Wiltshire's secret underground tunnels click on the links in the right hand column.

last updated: 09/05/2008 at 10:24
created: 18/03/2005

Have Your Say

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si
i think this should be more out in public so that every one who lives in wiltshire will no the mystriouse undergrounds

tb
Did you know that the mine is on fire :0 hope there is no explosives or steve

Mandie Stone
There are a whole series of murals painted by the artist Olga Lehmann in 1943 - she was commissioned by the then owner of the Bristol Aircraft Company to brighten up several of the canteen areas with art. Along with her colleague Gilbert Wood they produced a series of murals including circus scenes, prehistoric monsters, drinking and card game scenes and 'sailors from bygone days' amongst others. Around 40 of the murals still exist in great condition and are located deep underground in Spring Quarry. The majority of them have now been documented by English Heritage but the future of the murals is uncertain. The place is still owned by the MoD who are gradually selling parts of the site off bit b bit - what it needs is a generous private investor who supports the arts to invest in opening a gallery/museum enabling the public access to these murals and other exciting and interesting artefacts and machinery which has been left underground since the place was converted into the Burlington Cold War Nuclear Bunker during the 1950s.

Laura
these places are fascinating,especially springs!you could spend all day down there and still not see everything!sadly,the hole to get in has now been filled again:-(hms royal arthur is a great site to have a look at but sadly,it time has certainly taken its toll.

bored little american
I wish we had something cool over here like that - at least, something I knew of :)

fafa
cool

Caroline Mills
My Grandfather was a Wiltshire quarryman. He lived at Neston and went underground at the age of 12 (1904) as his mother altered his birth certificate to claim he was 13. He started as a pony boy and eventually was a full quarryman until 1939 when the MOD closed the mines for quarrying purposes. He then joined the police and patrolled the tunnels, the entrance for the munitions trains that entered via the entrance on the Corsham end of Box Tunnel. He also patrolled above ground. He was a veteran of the Somme, (twice) and was a machinegunner (the life expectancy was 3 weeks and he came home without a scratch). He lived to 93 and died in 1985. I was aware of the tunnels from a young age, it was no secret in my family. I still have quite a few relatives at Gastard and Hawthorn.

dave
very interesting i would like to know more

Steve
This is really fascinating!

David Miller
As youngsters of about 12/13 we played in Box quarry, which was considered dangerous then (1950s). The WW2 underground factories were well known to us then, much of the area was used by Bristol Aeroplane Co, building engines. The ammunition lorries were a common sight around Corsham going to and fro to the old quarries, they even had "ammunition" stencilled on their sides.

paul kelly
i love this thers a place in pinner an old chalk mine just one entrance i no of.apparantly its still got all the machinery and someone does tours but you will have to bfit as the entrance is bit tricky

Des
Worked at both Eastlays and Monks Lane (Sumsens)up until last year. monks lane belongs to Leafield Logistics

diana james
absolutely fantastic. I wish I could see half of what you have discovered, but I am almost 80 and not agile enough I suppose.

j styles
lived in wiltshire most of my life never new anything about this ,this is amazing

Sketchy
I wouldnt go down Box Quarry if i was u. First of all no official clearence has ever been given to enter them, and they are now owned by the M.O.D. Second they are quite unsafe, both from roof collapse (many supports are breakin under the stress and at least one cave-in is reported each year) and gettin lost. (which is so easily done down there its not even funny) There are also reports of paranormal activity! (many workers died in there, more than 100 workers died building Box tunnel alone) This includes hearing low voices, sudden changes in temperature and mood, and lights down the end of tunnels. Also, 30% of the entire UK population of rare 'horseshoe' bats are residing in this protected site, violators can be fined upwards of £1000 pounds for disturbing them in any way shape or form. Remember if something goes wrong you aint in the best place to be rescued! You may have already heard about the kids that went in there, got lost, and had to wait 36 hours in solid darkness before a rescue team found them. Think about it.

Peter James
How does one get started in exploring such hidden delights?

sharon
I grew up in gastard and went to chapel knapp school our headmistress took us on a visit to the underground tunnels,not sure which one it was but it was in walking distance from school and i think it was used by the armed forces! would love to visit again it was amazing.it was probably around 1973 that i went down there.

gary
Are you allowed to go into the unused mines in wiltsire ?

roy
The tunnel at Swindon ran between Dean St. Rodbourne and came out at Mannington Rec.I was 12yrs old in 1951 when I tried to walk along it,but because of large rats and a vivid imagination I gave up reaching the other end, anyway I was hungry.

Steve M.
I used to work underground at Corsham until the Govt closed many of the areas due to cut backs...You can get, and I have done this... from north Corsham to Gastard (in the south) to Box (in the west) without seeing daylight by electric car no problem! Most are flooded now though! Shame...One day someone will find my signature down there...we all signed out, all 300 of us in 1994.

Roger B
An excellent update. I served as a staff officer at Corsham in HMS ROYAL ARTHUR firstly in 1969 and secondly between 1986 - 1990. Corsham has many deep caverns one of which, (the entrance immediately outside of the main gate) was rumoured to become the seat of government and home to the Royal Family if Germany had invaded. Cerainly, within the bounds of ROYAL ARTHUR, there were several collapsed shafts which, filled with water over the years, became ponds and home to crested newts. Nearby RNSD COPENACRE, of course, contained many naval stores. I always believed that the tunnels and caves in the area originated from the extraction of Bath stone for building and were subsequently uktilised by the War Office for storage of ammunition and other stores as well as administrative and communications centres in the event of war or natural catastrophe - possibly as far back as the Napoleonic wars? I think it no coincidence that the MoD still maintains a communications facility at Corsham.

Oliver Meyer
This is so cool. I wish i could see it.

Land Owner
How nice, self confessed trespassers being given the time of day by the BBC. Perhaps sometime in the future the BBC will look into the damage and misuse of these "secret areas" and help to combat the crime that some of these idiots do. Forcing entry between to bath stones is still forcing entry. Would it be the same if these people invaded your homes, just because a door was unlocked? I too enjoy exploring, but have always managed to ask the owner and get permission before I considered entering smeone else's property. I must be the exception to the exploring rule.

dan
i found a underground tunnel at the back of dean st. swindon but it was flooded waist height as far as i could see

Leigh goulding
When they say "on the outskirts of Corsham" do the mean the quarry's in Box the clues are there i just wanted to see if anyone agrees!

jade
i think that it is really good

margaret smith
I have just had my uncle relate his 2nd World War stories and he was stationed in some of these tunnels!

chris passmore
very interesting i went underground once when iwas a kid near my home in swindon the old gwr tunnels

Matthew BUNKERBUSTER Williams
Ive been at it too. My website is www.truthseekers.co.uk Check it out!

georgina kiddell
wow.........this place is amazing im coming here to make my next film!

chris passmore
i used to play in old tunnels when iwas a kid in ferndale they where part of gwrunderground railway lt was interesting

root
Some people dont like what we do, but its better then just going to the pub or roaming the streets with nothing todo. We are learning more about our history, expanding our minds and getting exorcise. None of this is new, is just thanks to the internet more people can enjoy these places.

Simon X
Enjoy the parts of Wilthsire 99.9% of people will never see. its excellent

Steve Higgins
In reply to Cliff's comments... it's not that big a secret if you know where to look but I've spoken to people who's house is on top of these mines and they've never been down there. The photos in this feature are of quite well known places to the urban explorer (and local kids) and as Dan says it is a growing community so more and more people are learning of these places all the time.

dan smith
i also enjoy finding old abandoed buildings and unusual urban contructions. It wasn't until recently, through the internet that I realised how popular this has become; there's quite a community of people doing this all over the place. And why not?

Cliff Johnson
I dont understand steve big secret 50 years ago these areas was working and to us then kids our playground I recognise the photos so must lots of other people

Steve Higgins
My website can be found at http://www.nettleden.com/

Maurice Myner
Don't know about Steve's, but Nick McCamley's is at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~mccamley/index.htm

Andy Holmes
What is the URL of Steve Higgins' underground website?

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