"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on February 3, 2017 by Sioux under General
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There was a theory that the mines were made by the

Druids, Romans and Saxons and 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 pure speculation as the earliest documented evidence for a chalk cave is in 1737. 

 

During World War II, when the aerial bombardment of London began in September 1940, the caves were used as an air-raid shelter.

 

As London’s largest public air-raid shelter, the caves soon became an underground city of some 15,000 inhabitants. Entry fees were charged to ensure everyone got the chance to be safe for a period of time. 

A Victorian post box near to where I was working. In 1879 the post boxes were of a cylindrical design. The early boxes had no royal cipher and are known as ‘anonymous’ boxes. This oversight was corrected from 1887 when the words POST OFFICE were also placed either side of the aperture. 

In the roof of the caves is apparently the largest ammonite fossil ever discovered. It is almost 3m in diameter.

I was back in Bromley for an assignment and made the most of the daylight hours too, so exploring I went. The Chiselhurst Caves were first on my list and not too far from the house, so I walked there. It was an easy walk, taking me through the Jubilee Nature Reserve, an area I loved walking in and spent some time at the dam watching a Grey Heron fishing for food, before heading to the caves. 

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A 20-year investigation into the hauntings of the caves 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’. In November 1985 some of the most compelling evidence for the Caves’ resident spooks was

allegedly captured on a portable cassette recorder.

 

Two cave guides took “The Challenge”, a competition to spend a night in the caves. Anyone who

managed to complete this seemingly simple task was rewarded with the princely sum of £5.

Nobody has ever won that fiver.

 

As the guides settled down for the night, there was suddenly an ear-splitting scream. Rushing

through the gloom to find his colleague, one of the guides was stunned to find the other flailing

desperately on the damp floor of the cave, his skin taught and cracked, froth building around his

mouth and his eyes burning red. Terrified, the first guide tried to calm the second despite his

alarming appearance. The face of the second guide was distorted, and appeared feral, evil and very very old.

The first guide abandoned his attempt to calm the second, ran for the door and hit the emergency buzzer. This whole incident was allegedly recorded on a

cassette tape on which you can hear the screams and some very strange noises, but it has never been released to the public.       

In the 1960s, the caves were used as a music venue. David Bowie, who lived in the area at the time, Status Quo, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd all performed there.

 

In October 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”. 

Chislehurst Caves are a 35km long series of man-made tunnels, dug and used as chalk and flint mines. It is extremely dark inside the caves and we were given oil lamps to use as torches are not allowed due to the white light being harsh on the eyes. I was glad of the fact that I had taken a jacket along, as its was very cold once we went underground. The earliest mention of the mines is around 1250 and they are believed to have been last worked in the 1830’s. 

 

During the early 1900s, the caves became a popular tourist attraction. In World War I they were used as an ammunition depot associated with the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, and used for mushroom cultivation in the 1930s. 

Electric lighting was installed and a cinema, a barber, a gymnasium, a school, a jail, a chapel, a dance floor and an hospital were built into the caves. So popular a place of safety were these caves that between autumn 1940 – spring 1941, up to 8,000 people a night were housed there!

 

One baby, christened Rose Cavena Wakeman, was born in the caves. Usually pregnant women would be taken to the nearest hospital but at the time it was too dangerous and Rose’s mother, Polly Wakeman, gave birth in the caves. When she could not think of a middle name, the midwife, who helped deliver Rose, suggested Cavena as a reminder of the place she was born. Shortly after VE Day the shelter was officially closed. 

Dioramas depicting life during the war are set up in some of the caves.

 

Memorabilia from the war is on display in the small museum at the caves, as well as actual photos taken at the time. 

A very interesting tour, but I was glad to get back into the warm summer sunshine!

 

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