Chislehurst Caves

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Chislehurst Caves

Chislehurst Caves are a series of intersecting man-made tunnels and caverns covering some 22 miles (35 km) in Chislehurst in south east London, England. From the mid-13th to early-19th centuries the 'caves' were created from the mining of flint and lime-burning chalk.


Today the caves 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 recorded mention of the mines and lime burning kilns above dates 9th century Saxon charter and then not again until around 1232AD and they are believed to have been last worked in the 1830s.[1]

During World War I the caves were used as an ammunition storage dump associated with the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. In the 1930s the tunnels were used for mushroom cultivation.

Second World War shelter[edit]

When the aerial bombardment of London began in September 1940, the caves were used as an air raid shelter. Soon they became an underground city rising to some 15,000 inhabitants (who each paid a penny to enter).[2] The tunnels were fitted with electric lighting, toilets, washing facilities, a chapel was built and also a hospital. The caves were located close to Chislehurst railway station and many people arrived there to then enter the shelter. Shortly after VE Day the shelter was officially closed. There has been only one child born in the caves, christened in the cave chapel with the unfortunate name of Cavena Wakeman, who endured the name until she turned 18, when she legally changed her first name to Rose and using Cavena as her middle name.


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.[3][4] 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 is based on Dr. Nichols writings. The earliest documented evidence for a Chalk Cave is in 1737. An opposing article in the next issue showed the similarity of the workings to coal mines in the Newcastle area, and argued that most of the excavation had been made in the last two centuries and that the evidence for any dene-holes was slight.[5] The caves were used between 1830 and the 1860s for producing lime. The 25 inch to a mile (approx 1:2,500) Ordnance Survey map of 1862–63 describes the place as a "chalk pit" and marks an "engine house" and two remaining kilns.[6] A further investigation produced, among other evidence, a letter from the son of one of the workers.[7]

TV and film[edit]

The caves have appeared in several television programmes including episodes of Doctor Who from 1972 titled The Mutants.[8] In an episode of Seven Natural Wonders presented by Bill Oddie, the caves were presented as one of the wonders of the London area. The caves were also used in the films Beat Girl, The Tribe and Inseminoid and in a 2008 music video for the metal band Cradle of Filth.[9]

The caves featured in two episodes of Most Haunted. A 20-year investigation into the haunting 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.[10]

Other uses[edit]

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.[11]

On 31 October 1974 a lavish media party was held in the caves 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".[12]


  1. ^ "Chislehurst Caves, Kent". The Heritage Trail. Archived from the original on 2015-05-02. Retrieved Apr 18, 2015.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Nichols, W. J. (1903). "The Chislehurst Caves and Dene-holes". Journal of the British Archaeological Association. IX (ns): 147–160. Retrieved Apr 18, 2015.
  4. ^ Nichols, W. J. (1904). "The Chislehurst Caves and Dene-holes". Journal of the British Archaeological Association. X: 64–86. Retrieved Apr 18, 2015.
  5. ^ Forster, T.E. and R.H. (Aug 1904). "The Chislehurst Caves". Journal of the British Archaeological Association. X (ns): 88–102. Retrieved Apr 18, 2015.
  6. ^ Bonner, F.S.A., Arthur (1937). "The Chislehurst Cave Myth". Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal. 7 (23): 32–34. Retrieved Apr 18, 2015.
  7. ^ Hayes, Rev J. W. (1909). "Deneholes and other chalk excavations". Royal Anthropological Institute. 39: 44–77. Retrieved Apr 18, 2015.
  8. ^ "Filming at Chislehurst Caves". Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-16. Retrieved 2014-04-28.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Wilkinson, James (November 2011). The Ghosts of Chislehurst Caves. Witham, Essex: Greenlight Publishing. ISBN 978-1897738436.
  11. ^ Jelbert, Steve (September 8, 2000). "The Arts: Pop: Playing the field: access all areas". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-07-12.[dead link]
  12. ^ "Labyrinthe Venue". Retrieved 3 August 2016.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°24′27″N 0°03′27″E / 51.4074°N 0.0575°E / 51.4074; 0.0575