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Drakelow Tunnels: From vital war role to ghost hunts
6:40am Saturday 24th August 2013 in Local
Shuttle reporter Becky Carr charts the fascinating history of Drakelow Tunnels in Wolverley after plans were drawn up for a museum to commemorate the Second World War aero engine factory.
IT took 2,000 men 15 months to complete the three miles of tunnels at Drakelow, used throughout the Second World War by Rover Aero Engines Ltd.
The factory was built below the surface so it was immune from any form of air attack.
Tunnelling work began in July 1941 by engineers Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners and workers excavated thousands of tons of rock a week by digging 24 hours a day.
Specially-designed conveyer belts were used to remove the sandstone to create the 19ft wide and 24ft high tunnels.
Above ground, the only buildings which could be seen on the 50-acre site were the labour office, the garages for buses to transport the workers, the boilers, generators and fire station.
Two huge towers were also erected to house fans to circulate the air and two sets of 30ft doors were put in to prevent a sudden inrush of air from outside.
Big steel doors were built behind the main entrance so that they could be closed in the event of a gas attack.
To eliminate danger of condensation, the rock face was chemically treated and then coloured so that the reflection of the special lights gave the effect of early morning sunshine to those underground.
Temperatures could be also controlled, so that in summer they were low, and in winter, they could be raised.
There was an administration block, surgery, laboratory, control room, dance hall, recreation room, kitchens, canteens, bar and bakery.
In February 1943, the factory went into production making aero engines, and for two years shifts were employed day and night, seven days a week.
Each employee was subjected to a medical examination and the workforce of about 500 was closely scrutinised in case they suffered due to the unnatural working conditions.
The staff were also given free medical and legal services and were visited by income tax experts.
News bulletins were relayed twice a day using an amplifying system and five minutes before each shift finished, a weather report was issued.
The details of the factory came to light after the Second World War ended. The tunnels were kept in service and were used for storage until 1958.
They were then earmarked during the Cold War as a potential support site for one of 12 regional Seats of Government.
About 140 personnel, led by a junior government minister who would have acted as regional commissioner, would have gone underground in a bid to run the country if a nuclear attack happened.
Support staff would have included representatives of the armed forces, emergency services and various Government departments.
When the Soviet Union crumbled at the beginning of the 1990s, Drakelow’s tunnels became redundant and the site was put up for sale.
The tunnels are now regularly used for ghost hunts, airsoft games and paintballing.
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