So a couple of weekends ago, Thomas and I took a (short) trip into Reigate (just he and I) for one of the rare chances to take a look at the tunnels that exist under the town! Starting with a two person procession under the temporary "Triumphal Arch" at the start of Tunnel Road (it's there to celebrate 150 years of Reigate and Redhill being granted official status as a "Borough" and is a reconstruction of an arch erected to greet a young Queen Victoria when she stopped at the local inn (The White Hart) to pick up a fresh horse on her way to Brighton Pavilion many years ago...
Anyway, we followed the signs and fluttering flags until we came upon a collection of folk wearing hard hats and miners lights (a good indication we were in the right place) -
- paid a small entrance fee to one of the Wealden Cave and Mine Society officials -
- and then began our tour with the first of the caves - the East Cave - or "Tunnel Caves Experience"...
This particular cave is a sort of "do it yourself" affair (to quote them "you are free to wander as you please"), shortly after making our way though the entrance door we were greeted by two cheerful Cavers who helped Thomas and I into hard hats-
- Thomas' one had a little bat on it (which we thought was pretty cool) -
- next up was a glimpse (through a little gap in the wall) into an old shop cellar/storeroom, still laid out as if in use (I imagine it would be situated right behind the kitchens in Cafe Rouge)-
In the first (proper) chamber was a display of plates (rails) and sleepers from the horse-powered "Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway" (which was in operation between 1805 and 1838) - it was originally intended to extend all the way to Reigate (the main terminus was to have been in Bell Street - right opposite the Priory), but the money ran out when they reached Merstham...the main purpose of the railway was to link up all the mines in the area with the glass furnaces along the Thames (the Reigate mines (or caves as they are called now) were an excellent source of "silver sand" perfect for this purpose)-
- there is also a "meat cooler" (which I, and I imagine a few other people, mistook for a railway "carriage")...From there on we move quite far forward in history, the mines having been used (when all the valuable sand had been extracted and the mines closed) largely for storage by local businesses - but when World War 2 arrived, the caves found new purpose as Air Raid shelters -
Quite sophisticated ones...with emergency water supply tanks -
- living spaces and kitchens -
- radio and operations rooms -
- (one of which had been converted into a display of the local geography)-
- even (much to Thomas' delight) a large toilet!
Plus the caverns had more entrances than it currently enjoys (although all but the one we came in through are now bricked up)...from here we wandered back in time again, as we got deeper and deeper under the ground, back to the days of the original miners -
- exploring the dark twisting passages spotting ancient graffiti left in the sandstone walls...
Next - we ventured into the West Caverns - this time led by a guide (but more on that later)... ;)