Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Drakelow

 As a resident of Shrewsbury, I am of course familiar with the Charles Darwin Drinking Game. That is, the player takes a shot whenever they see a feature in Shrewsbury thats designed to remind them that Charlie D was born here. As such, in order to give my liver a break and have a chance of reaching thirty, I take the occasional excursion from Shropshire in spite of loving it here. And my blog content reflects where I go, so there do occasionally come times when I wish I'd named the blog something less geographically restrictive.

 If you look to the top of the right hand corner, you'll see a list of categories (Abandoned, rooftopping, underground etc.) and you'll see that "Beyond Shropshire" is now an option. This is a pretty useful method for filtering topics on here, and it was Tree Surgeons idea to add a Beyond Shropshire topic so that people can look at whats beyond their doorstep. And if you take a look, I'm not venturing beyond Shropshire just to blog about the rat runs and milk cottages of our neighbouring counties (personally I feel sorry for any county that does have its own milk cottage, but no offence- you can keep it!).  I know part of this blogs appeal is that the locals can identify with the location, so when I blog about something beyond Shropshire it's usually for something impressive, like Camelot for example. Camelot had its nostalgic value for a lot of people in Shropshire, and even if it didn't, abandoned theme parks are awesome.

Today we're outside of Shropshire again but this time not quite as far as Camelot. We're still in the West Midlands, in the UKs largest underground artificial space (that the public know about). My visits to military sites are always popular and this place is several square miles of previously top secret. In fact the public had no idea it existed for several decades.

So we're off to Kidderminster! Or at least, near there, to check out the Drakelow tunnels!


Now on my trip to Kidderminster I met several unrelated people who knew who I was, including the people who put all that Christmas stuff up in Christmas House. I also found out that another local blogger, Violet Fenn of Sex, Death, Rock n Roll had already been here and gone about an hour earlier. What a travesty that we didn't cross paths by such a teeny time frame. Maybe next time!

The Drakelow tunnels cover roughly 3.5 miles making it the largest underground complex in the UK. I saw perhaps a quarter of it.

Around the entrance, etched into the sandstone, were numerous names and dates. The 1943 one was possibly genuine but whoever wrote 1862 there is a big fat liar, because these areas weren't excavated until 1941.



Drakelow was a shadow factory, created between 1941 and 1942 for the Rover car company, which stopped producing cars in May 1940 in order to help with the war effort producing aircraft engines. Rover suffered a massive blow to production when Coventry was bombed in November 1940, so they decided to take their production line underground to ensure that they couldn't be seen from the skies during an air strike. Drakelow was the largest of six such shadow factories.





Construction of this place took around eight months, and 4,455,00 cubic feet of sandstone was excavated. During this period, seven workers lost their lives on site, and this is the angle often used by paranormal groups. I personally have yet to experience anything supernatural in these tunnels, although given the labyrinthian layout of this place, I completely understand why even the spirits of the deceased would struggle to find their way out.


Disapointingly, I'm told that these funky chandaliers are actually put here by the paranormal group to help their atmosphere, and are not an original fixture. It would be great if they actually were an original fixture though!

I did come on a ghost tour down here back in 2010, unfortunately without a camera, and among ouija boards and other such things, we held hands in a circle and said various things like "Hear us Spirit, move something, give us a sign that you're here," but nothing happened. At one point the Ouija board thingie did move towards me but by this point I was highly suspicious that the person across the table from me was a mole designed to "experience" things to validate the mediums claims. Pushing a Ouija thingie at me was easy. I figured if I asked the ghost to move it in the opposite direction I'd see a noticable difference in the moles arm, as it retracted the thingie back towards them. But in this case, the Ouija thingie stopped moving altogether, so my experiment was inconclusive.

Of course, if there were any spirits lingering, I felt slightly sorry for them. After all they died contributing to the war effort and now they're being spoken to like they're Slimer from Ghostbusters. Not the Slimer from the movies either. I mean the one from the 80s cartoon.What was Slimer even the ghost of anyway? Ah well, I'm sure they'll give him some elaborate backstory in the new reboot, because it's that sort of irrelevant detail that makes it into irrelevant reboots.

Speaking of which, the new trailer has incredibly unfunny humour, and the overall movie feels rather forced. I'm unimpressed. And before anyone calls me sexist, it's not because the lead roles are people with vaginas. I don't have a problem with that. I actually don't think my body would be at all inconvenienced by the presence of a vagina. Certainly it would revolutionise my choices while shopping for underwear. However the reproductive organs of the lead roles seems to be what everyones fixating on in the Ghostbusters reboot even though it's an irrelevant detail. The defence against anyone who dislikes the trailer seems to be "If you don't like this movie, you're sexist." Something similar happened last year with the Fantastic Four- "You just don't like that we made the Human Torch black." 
No. Just No. You can't take a group that has been oppressed (and still suffers some degree of oppression today depending on where you are), and use them as a shield to escape criticism.  Regarding Ghostbusters, the trailer looks awful and would do so even if the stars had willys. I think the movie will be bad because the script is bad, the humour is absent but trying so desperately not to be, and the concept is irrelevant because if something isn't broken, don't fix it.

Anyway before my blog comment section turns into a Tumblr thread, let's get back to the gorgeous labyrinth that is Drakelow.





In the 1940s, due to fuel rations, and such a high number of staff required to run such a large complex, it became impractical to take staff to work via coach and so in November 1942 the site opened up dormitories for the staff to stay on site. And to give the place credit, the  higher ups did their best to make the place as comfortable as possible for the workers. After all, they worked 7:30am til 5:30pm in complete artificial light, which isn't exactly ideallic. So they had a games room, a bar, and a concert hall where artists and actors would come and perform. During these times, the concert hall was also open to residents of surrounding villages so that the factory had a sense of community involvement.




 This was allegedly the original entrance to the concert hall, since converted into the ladies dorms at some point between the war and now. Next to it is something quite remarkable.


Back when the factory was operational, this tannoy system would have played music, as well as made announcements and news and weather broadcasts. The speaker would have been mounted on the ceiling. Quite a few were installed around the facilityand some can still be seen. This feature was apparently added in 1943.



Isn't this place beautiful? I could get lost in this place very easily and not care at all. I could spend an entire day down here and not even see all that there is to see.










Loads of old hooks on the walls, presumably where keys once hung.



Here's one of the tannoy systems speakers, mounted high up in the cavern.


Painted on the walls around this area were all kinds of odd heiroglyph-like markings.These actually glow in a UV light, and were used for a music video for a band called Kids in Glass Houses years ago. While they aren't the only band to have music videos filmed down here, they have left a permanent mark. It's not part of the military portion of the history, but it will still be on these walls decades into the future. If anyone is interested, the song is called Animals.





In 1945, the second world war ended and the Drakelow tunnels no longer had a purpose. The tunnels would have been closed forever had it not been government policy at the time to retain military sites in case there were future hostilities. And so Drakelow became a storage depot, and then later in 1946 they reopened some of it to produce tank engines. They were really behind on schedule for this though. As such the facility was entirely re-opened and re-staffed in 1951, until the tank model was decommissioned in 1953. All production work at Drakelow stopped in 1955. The entire complex was handed over to the Ministry of Supply and simply renamed the Drakelow Depot, although it was officially referred to as Codename: Maccadam. It remained a storage depot until 1958.






These drawings on the walls allegedly date back to the 1950s, although nobody knows why they are there. It seems that one of the workers back in the day was quite a talented artist, as these drawings are done in pencil crayon, and seem to be an attempt to create a homely illusion, with a picture frame and a window shutter there. Some seem half finished, which leads to the intriguing question of how awesome this wall would have looked had production not stopped.



 Vintage urinals. Still in better condition than some of the toilets I've seen in active bars and clubs.


In the 1950s and 1960s, fear of nuclear strikes rose, and as a result the government established several nuclear bunkers across the country, called RSG posts (Regional Seats of Government.) Drakelow was to become the one situated in the west midlands, code named Quadrangle but later Linstock, and stocked with enough food for its residents to live down there for around thirty days, until it was believed fallout would be low enough for the people in power to return to the surface. Only half of the facility was actually needed, and so walls were put up to separate the new bunker from the original shadow factory. These walls can still be seen, some of which have been torn down to grant access to the original tunnels, and one seems to have an amusing fire exit sign directing people to a hole.





 As a bunker, Drakelow was operated by 75 female staff and 275 male staff. It was intitially activated in 1961, and a series of drills were regularly undertaken to test the efficiency of the bunker in a simulated nuclear attack. Once these tests were complete, staff resumed the role of maintenance and otherwise ensuring that Drakelow was ready should it be needed. A lot of the old communication equipment is still down there, although the very original stuff was updated and replaced during the bunkers final incarnation in the 1980s.











I'm actually a big fan of the sign that states that it is suitable for 120 VIPs. Doesn't that just make the average human feel special?

Drakelow was kept entirely top secret understandably so. After all, leaflets given to the general public about what to do in the event of a nuclear strike recommended taking a door off its hinges, propping it up against a wall, surrounding it with sandbags, and getting underneath it. So you'd think the general public would be offended to discover that the people in charge would be safe underground. There'd be a shitstorm if word got out, right?

Well that's exactly what hapened.
In 1963, another RSG post in Reading was broken into and several classified documents were leaked to the public, shocking the country with news that these places existed all over the country. Numerous  RSG posts were then located and picketed as a result. I'm not sure whether Drakelow was attacked during this intitial period, but it does contain some interesting graffiti allegedly put there during a break in. I was unable to see it on my recent visit but I do have this old mobile shot from my ghost hunt in 2010.


Now aren't you glad I got a real camera?

Here's a feature I loved- A shower facility in the entrance, I think for decontamination of people entering the facility but I'm not sure.




 Interestingly, the cost of conversion of Drakelow for nuclear bunker purposes is still classified to this day, but allegedly due to the high costs of it and the fact that there were no major cities around, it was actually given reasonably inadequate protection. The walls and doors were not reinforced, and the air locks in four of the entrance tunnels retained the same wooden doors they had always had since World War II. They did, however, get updated ventilation and an updated water tank.





 

The machinery along these walls, I think, is machinery left over from the second world war. 

So in the 1960s with the public fully aware of the presence of secret nuclear bunkers, the prime minister announced that they would cease any further usage of the RSG posts, and Drakelow was redesignated a Sub Regional Headquarters. The last drill in Drakelow was scheduled for 1965 but due to the restructuring of the countries defence, it never happened.

Drakelow officially closed in 1979.

When Margaret Thatcher, grandmother of my celebrity crush Amanda Thatcher, came to power, the RSG posts were to be replaced by 22 nuclear bunkers scattered around the UK, referred to as Regional Government Headquarters. But since nuclear weapons had become a lot more refined, so too had to be any defensive precautions, and it was very expensive to construct so many brand new facilities. As a result, only four were actually built and Drakelow was chosen to be restored. This conversion began in 1980 and slowly refined the facility.











This is the original generator from the 1980s, still down here and still functional. 

There's a lot of old, unused machinery left in the kitchen and canteen area, that allegedly dates back to 1986.















Allegedly out of the entire complex, the infirmary is the only area that has retained the same functionality throughout the places history.





In 1993, the MOD decommissioned Drakelow in favour of the bunker beneath the MOD Headquarters in Whitehall. Drakelow remained untouched until it was purchased by its current owners in 1994.

In recent years, Drakelow has been used for search & rescue training, sniffer dog training, various video projects, airsoft events, ghost hunts, and other activities. It's currently being worked on by a group of really dedicated volunteers to restore it and they also give the occasional tour. As impressive as it is now, it's fair to say that as a work in progress, it will only get better.

Posted on the walls were some old photographs of the exterior and interior. 



 Now, these are photographs of photographs so it's not immediately clear but the above photo is actually very telling of changes in photography. The people in the foreground are in focus while the people further back are slightly blurry, due to exposure not being so instantaneous back then. Those in the foreground are posing and holding position while those in the background are doing their jobs.


 This picture was very intriguing. It depicts the ground that the Drakelow tunnels were built into, and there in the hill, visible in these pictures are houses built into the walls.


These are actually the rock houses that allegedly inspired Tolkiens Hobbit Houses. The origins of such caves are unknown, although they are believed to have been there around AD700, and were lived in as late as the 1950s. I've personally never seen them in person but they are still there and some of them are allegedly still partially furnished. 

Perhaps an adventure for another day.

As a final image, while I didn't take many during the ghost tour in 2010 due to only be equipped with a mobile phone, I did snap a sign that I did not see on my recent return there. But then there's no doubt loads that I have missed and only the current volunteers and owners know for sure. The picture itself is poor quality but I only post it now because it's a pretty awesome sign.


"Any person found writing or defacing these walls will be severely dealt with. Please assist in keeping the lavatory clean and tidy."

It sure is refreshing to know that even in top secret military installations, toilet graffiti is prevalent. But the sign really intrigued me because of its bluntness. What exactly is meant by severely dealing with someone? It sounds quite sinister. If only they used such an approach in bars and clubs.

Next blog post I'll be back in Shrewsbury. There's a location I explored late last year that has recently lost its accessibility, and as such I'll now be able to blog about it. In the mean time, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and most important of all, share this blog on your social media platform of choice. Even if that choice is Tumblr, although I'll probably regret saying that when I get crucified for that Ghostbusters rant... 
If you can afford it, please donate whatever number of pennies you can to the adventure fund. Proceeds will go towards better equipment for this blog, so that I can keep making it better. You can see how this promise has already been implemented right here in this blog post because my camera was paid for by donations. But of course no pressure. It's far more important to me that you're happy and that you're making other people happy as well. Go out and be the reason someone smiles today. Bonus points if you get a hug.

Thanks for reading. Stay awesome!












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