Located only 20 minutes’ train journey from Victoria is a complex subterranean network that has seen all periods of London’s history. Underneath the sleepy market town of Chislehurst in an incongruous residential area lies chalk-mines-turned-caves that feature everything a city could want, from a church, hospital, rooms, even cultural attractions such as a music venue and sacrificial altars. Indeed, Chislehurst Cave’s maze of caves could take equally as long as a city to explore. With this in mind, we donned our coats and grabbed a lantern, and descended into Chislehurst’s underground caverns.
Although Chislehurst Caves’ history stretches back to the time of the druids, visitors enter through the network created by the Saxons. This section of the caves was used extensively during WWII as an air raid shelter, and could house up to 15,000 people at a time. Some alcoves were even used to store dynamite and ammunition!
Considering you could be spending hours, maybe even days stuck in the caves, the organisers behind the air raid shelter fitted it out with every modern convenience you could wish for at the time.
Fun fact: you can still get married in the cave church today!
Even after WWII, the stages in Chislehurst Caves continued to hold prominence, as the South London Jazz Club held concerts inside. Their gigs gained such popularity that other artists including The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, even Led Zeppelin all performed there!
Gradually the tunnels leading between the different network of cave formations shrink. Around these areas, be on the lookout for carvings in the rock – previous inhabitants have left signatures and even carvings of faces behind.
Just when you arrive at the druids’ caves, an eerie green light draws you towards an elaborate series of carvings in the rock. It would be nice to believe these were done up by the druids, but instead it was done by an artist called Sandy Brown. It took her 6 months of hard work to complete the carvings, and to ensure it was never mistaken as originating from the druids, she sneakily hid some modern references throughout it (and I’ll leave you to find them).
The next section is the spookiest yet – the Haunted Pool. Legend has it that a man once drowned his wife in there, and her spirit continues to dwell by the water. Various sightings and reports of paranormal activity have been reported here over the years, with some people reportedly being attacked by her spirit.
Unsurprisingly, no one wanted to sleep near the pool during the air raids, which are located just around the corner from the Haunted Pool. In the sleeping quarters, bunk beds were lined up either side, which could then accommodate up to 60 people in each alcove. Now people were in here for the long haul, and as a result the shelter organisers prepared for the worst. A hospital, showers, toilet facilities, even a citizen’s advice bureau were built into the caves to ensure everyone’s stay was comfortable as possible.
And the cost for maintaining the facilities? One penny per person, per stay. Today’s prices are slightly more, at £6.00 per ticket, but considering the amount of history you get to see up-close and explore, it’s a bargain.