DAY ZERO UPDATE
Those of you who have been following my Day Zero Project progress have probably been wondering what’s been going on these past few months. I haven’t posted an update in so long you probably thought I’d abandoned the challenge.
Well I haven’t.
Progress has slowed considerably due to other commitments but I’m still hacking away at it as and when I can. I’m about 150 days into the challenge and so far I have completed 18 challenges. Thank goodness I have until May 2014 to complete them all.
One of my challenges was to visit Stockport’s Air Raid Shelter on Chestergate. Ever since the air raid shelter opened to the public as a museum in 1996 I’ve wanted to go inside – Something I’ve told anyone who’d listen repeatedly over the years. One Saturday morning it finally happened.
When the shelters first opened in 1939, they were the largest purpose built civilian air raid shelters in the country. Four sets of underground tunnels, almost one mile in length, were carved into the natural sandstone cliffs of Stockport centre and provided shelter for 6,500 civilians during the Second World War.
The shelters were fitted with basic amenities: electric lights, benches and bunk beds, flushing 16-seater toilets, first aid post and sick bay, plus separate facilities for nursing mothers. Thanks to the “luxurious” standard of accommodation the shelters were ironically nicknamed the Chestergate Hotel. You can imagine it was fairly cosy down there.
After years of procrastination it was almost on impulse that three of us ventured inside. We couldn’t believe our luck when we discovered we had the underground labyrinth to ourselves. (It pays to go early, apparently).
After listening to an introduction in the tiny audio-visual room our guide answered our questions then disappeared leaving us alone to explore the tunnels. Of course, only the bits with the electric lighting re-installed were open. (Everything of use was stolen from the tunnels after the War – including the lights). It is possible to explore the remaining tunnels by torch-light, subject to booking, but when we were there those tunnels were temptingly locked behind big metal gates.
Artefacts from the time, such as benches, three tier bunk beds and gas masks, have been reinstated so visitors can get a feel for what life was like during the War. My Dad remembered seeing similar artefacts growing up and appreciated seeing them in context. (“Oh, so that’s what that’s for!”)
I think our guide expected us to wander through the tunnels and be out the other side within 15 minutes or so. It’s not as though we had to queue for anything after all. We actually spent a good 90 minutes down there, soaking up the atmosphere and playing spot the motion / light sensor. Our guide was beginning to get worried.
CHRISTMAS IN THE TUNNELS
It’s too late now of course, but Stockport Air Raid Shelter had special events over the Christmas period, such as Carol singing in the tunnels, with a festive feast of wartime favourites, followed by free wine and mince pies. On other days children were invited to ‘follow the good fairy’ through the tunnels in search of Santa and were treated with 1940s wartime gifts, provided they brought a sock or stocking to put them in. I don’t know about you but I’m disappointed I didn’t go!
SEE IT YOURSELF!
I’ve written about Manchester’s underground tunnel tours before and I still think they’re worth a look, however if you only want to visit one set of underground tunnels in the area make Stockport’s Air Raid Shelter your priority. Believe me, it was £4 well spent.
Click on the photographs to see larger (clearer) versions.
My photographs from the day are all dark and gloomy. If you’d like to see some colourful photos of Stockport’s Air Raid Shelters (Brinksway deep level shelter and Dodge Hill deep level shelter) take a look at 28dayslater – The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forum.