Industry => Mines & Quarries => Topic started by: kyn on November 16, 2010, 14:07:58

Title: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: kyn on November 16, 2010, 14:07:58
On Friday 12th March, 1937 this letter was sent to The Times:

The Caves of Kent

Sir, I respond to Sir Arthur Keith's inquiries in your issue of March 6.  From 1909 until 1924 I was investigating the caves and mines in the chalk in south-east England, from Bedfordshire to the South Coast, with special reference to Kentish deneholes and Chislehurst caves.  I examined several hundreds of the denehole type and various examples of the more extensive excavations, and I acquired a mass of relative evidence which I still hope to publish.
Chislehurst caves I had known since 1905.  In 1921 I, with assistants, completed a survey of the caves which in part had been made by a mining engineer whose partial plan was published in the British Archaeological Association Journal for 1904.  The caves were discussed in that Journal in 1904 and 1908.
In 1907-08 an energetic investigator, the Rev. J. W. Hayes, of West Thurrock, met with important facts which demonstrated a recent date for these workings, which he set forth in a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Volume 39, 1909-facts which I have been able to supplement.  Mr G. W. Miller, the careful local historian, in the 'History of Chislehurst' and some later writings, has contributed further facts of a like character.
From these sources I quote the following data:-
A local deed of 1737 mentions 'the chalk cave' at this spot.  Nothing further appears until 1830, when the caves were leased to a limeburner, who sold lime and chalk and supplied gunflints to the Government (I and others found many gunflints in the heaps of flintchips which lay on the floor of the 'inner series' of workings before the War).  The caves were then in active working, and about 1840 five limekilns were in regular use, and chalk was also sold to farmers for landmanuring.  From the 'middle' and 'outer' series of workings the chalk was raised through a shaft in each, by winch, and part of the machinery was existing in this century.  These two series probably were worked out by 1850.  The 'inner or remote' workings had no shaft, as the chalk was trolleyed out on the level to the face of the cliff on the south of the present entrance.  This series was in operation until 1855-60, when a succession of heavy roof-falls blocked the headings to such an extent that it was decided to relinquish the mines.  These roof-falls are still in evidence at the west end of these workings a little way in from the cliff, and are shown on the plan.
The Ordnance Survey, 25in., of 1862-63, describes the place as 'chalk pit' and marks 'engine house' and two
kilns remaining then.
In 1921 I showed the caves to two of his Majesty's Inspectors of Mines, in a friendly and unofficial way.  They were unaware of the facts given above.  They dated the workings, by the methods which they promptly identified, as nineteenth century, with features introduced in 1830 and later; and they were amused at the idea of antiquity for them.
The conclusion is clear - that the caves are chalk mines and show no early date; and, incidentally, that so-called 'deerhorn' pick marks are fanciful.
There are chalk mines still working at Wickham Lane, brick and tile works near Plumstead, and three or four others near there were in active work within this century - all within a few miles of Chislehurst; and close by was one under Camden Park, working last century.  At Totterhoe, Beds, there are several in the lower chalk, disused and closed; one of them was opened by the government for a few days in 1915, and I went through its lengthy passages, which had seen active work some 50 years ago, and others were of earlier date and provided clunch (hard chalk) for twelfth-thirteenth century churches.
The length of the passages in Chislehurst caves has been greatly exaggerated.  I and my colleagues measured every yard and crawled over or along the heaps of debris in choky passages.  The actual length is about 3 1/2 miles, to which the fully choked up passages, if measured to the nearest property limit line, might add as much as 1 1/2 mile.  The spiral ascent from the 'middle series' ends almost vertically above its start, in the garden of Woodlands, a Victorian (and not an Elizabethan) house; and it was made about 1860 by G.H. Baskcomb, proprietor of brick and tile works, who then owned part of the caves and of the land above.  The so-called 'Roman' well was made by him about 1864.
Your correspondent of March 4 errs in his direction.  St. Mary Cray is not north of Chislehurst caves but south-east; and as all of the passages on the south-east side of the caves come to a natural end (virgin chalk) there can be no connexion.

Arthur Bonner
Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: kyn on March 04, 2011, 08:33:41
In 1955 the owner of the caves, Mr Geary Gardner, was considering letting pitches of 10ft by 8ft to families for £1 a year in case of war.  The proposals would provide space for around 1000 families or pitches.
Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: karlostg on March 04, 2011, 09:38:59
The caves are still in the Gardner ownership, now by Jim Gardner.
Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: kyn on March 04, 2011, 12:32:45
 :)  Its nice that they are still owned by the same family.

Regardless of what the owner was planning at the time it is likely that these would have been taken over by the Government again to be used as a shelter under their own scheme.  In the 1950's the Government were looking at any tunnel system or existing WWII shelters to adapt for the safety of the public.
Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: Rochester-bred on March 04, 2011, 12:45:07
I've been down these twice years ago and they still amaze me, my sister once attended a disco there and also I remember they filmed a Dr Who episode there too. A real marvelous piece of engineering.
Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: kyn on March 07, 2011, 09:28:47
A dance held in November 1958 was blamed for the cause of a fire where two firemen were burnt.  Five fireman, with roped lining them to the entrance, fought their way through thick smoke to a fire 500 yards from the entrance.  The fire brigade was called in by lesee Mr. J. Gardiner, the fire was got under control after and hour and a half and was found to be stacks of loose timber which may have been set alight by a cigarette end.
Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: kyn on April 19, 2012, 22:09:10
9th November 1940

A Centre of Lively Shelter Activity

In these days, when so many churches have been laid low by German bombs, it is specially good to come upon a completely new church.  Moreover, this new church is a centre of lively activity, and it is 120ft. below ground.  Walking through a dimly lit corridor in the chalk caves here we came up against a barrier of corrugated steel, surmounted by a white cross which showed up conspicuously in the half light.  On a board was inscribed: “The Caves Church…..You are all welcome.”
More than 4,000 people, many from boroughs in S.E. London, are sleeping nightly in the caves.  For some, whose houses have been destroyed by bombs, their “pitch” here is home.  To the rector of Chislehurst, Canon J.R. Lumb, it seemed that here was a new parish which was in need of a church.  Men who shelter here readily gave their services, and before long the church was ready – the floor levelled and neat walls of chalk built to form an altar, a pulpit, and so on.  Great congregations gather for a simple “Good night” service on weekdays and for matins, Holy Communion, and evesong on Sundays, so that soon it will probably be necessary to enlarge the church.  On Sunday fortnight the Bishop of Rochester will preach here.
A harmonium has been taken down below ground, but it competes uneasily with some really vigorous singing.  Generally, the bulk of the congregation must stand, so great is the press.
Other necessary services have been provided.  The rector and his companions opened up the two canteens, and now serve 4,000 cups of tea a day.  The rector himself is “O.C. canteens,” a ig task in itself, for now they have also a rest house where daily between 100 and 200 hot dinners are served at 9d. a head.  To those who cannot afford 9d. free meals are served.

Fairyland Underworld

Another early service was a first aid post and a nurse attends to more than 50 people every night.  The local V.A.D. helps.  Local doctors have arranged to visit the caves daily.  In yet another screened off corner notices announce: “Gents” haircut 6d., shingling 8d…”  A barber whose shop in London was destroyed by a bomb is doing good business.  “I had my last crop down here,” said the rector.  There is also a tobacco shop with plenty of custom.
Electric light is laid on; electric fans keep the air sweet; there is a water supply; there are excellent sanitary arrangements; and there are no black-out worries.  Some people have brought down double beds; others sleep on camp beds or mattresses.  At night, besides electric lighting individual parties set up their own candles, so that some hundreds are burning, and then this underworld takes on a fairyland aspect.
At one time up to 1,000 oil stoves, heating meals, were burning, but because they consume needed air, their use is discouraged.  The caves are not cold at night.  Bunks are to be installed for 8,000 people.  Walking around, one noted the neatly made beds, veteran armchairs, here and there an alarm clock, a hoop-la board, wash basins, a sewing machine, dolls.
The caves are deep and safe, and the occupants enjoy untroubled sleep.  Their shelter has already been tested.  Bombs landed overhead one night, but not a single piece of chalk was shaken down.  Meanwhile, willing helpers go on improving the place.
Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: merc on April 19, 2012, 23:18:25
Some pictures from The London Illustrated News, 1907
Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: cliveh on March 31, 2014, 08:19:12
Some photos from my visit yesterday:

Title: Re: Chislehurst Caves
Post by: John38 on March 31, 2014, 17:46:22
Fantastic, thanks Clive