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Chislehurst Caves is a 22 miles (35 km) long series of tunnels in Chislehurst, in the south eastern suburbs of London. Today they are a tourist attraction and although they are called caves, they are entirely man-made and were dug and used as chalk and flint mines. The earliest mention of the mines is circa 1250 and they are last believed to have been worked in the 1830s. During the early 1900s they became a popular tourist attraction, but in the First World War, they were used as an ammunition depot associated with the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich then they were used for mushroom cultivation in the 1930s.
During the Second World War, when the aerial bombardment of London began in September 1940, the caves were used as an air raid shelter. Within a short time, it became an underground city of some 15,000 inhabitants with electric lighting, a chapel and a hospital. Shortly after VE Day the shelter was officially closed. One baby, christened Rose Cavena Wakeman, was born in the caves.
In 1903, William Nichols, then Vice President of the British Archaeological Association, produced a theory that the mines were made by the Druids, Romans and Saxons. This theory was used to give names to the three parts of the caves. Tour guides point out supposed Druid altars and Roman features. However this can at best be speculation as the earliest documented evidence for mining is 1250 AD. However these stories proved attractive to tourists and the increase in tourists led to the mines being used as a music venue.
In the 1960s, the caves were used as a music venue. David Bowie, Status Quo, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd all performed there. On October 31, 1974 a lavish media party was held there to celebrate the launch of new UK record company Swan Song Records by the band Led Zeppelin. More recently, some of the tunnels have been used by the live action role-playing game "Labyrinthe".During the 1980s a Sidcup promoter known locally as Andy Ruw organised sixties nights, employing Chislehurst resident David Lewis as DJ, in the caves booking such acts as Brian Poole and the Troggs to perform there alongside a coverband named the Strolling Bones.
The caves have appeared in several television programmes including a serial in the BBC programme Doctor Who from 1972 titled The Mutants. In an episode of Seven Natural Wonders, the caves were presented as one of the wonders of the London area, in an episode presented by Bill Oddie. The caves were also used in the films The Tribe and Inseminoid and in a 2008 music video for Cradle of Filth a metal band. It was filmed for two episodes of Most Haunted. A 20-year investigation into the hauntings of the caves by author James Wilkinson containing the testimonies of many of the guides and owners over a 50-year period was published in 2011 entitled The Ghosts of Chislehurst Caves.
- Chislehurst Caves from the heritage trail
- Official web site
- Alternative web site
- Map sources for Chislehurst Caves
- Labyrinthe web site
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chislehurst Caves.|
- Jelbert, Steve (September 8, 2000). "The Arts: Pop: Playing the field: access all areas". The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 May 2009. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Wilkinson, James (November 2011). The Ghosts of Chislehurst Caves. Witham, Essex: Greenlight Publishing. ISBN 978-1897738436.