Subterranea Britannica

Foxenden Quarry, Guildford

York Road, Guildford
OS Grid Ref: SU999498
Date of visit: September 2009

[Source: Chris Rayner]

While they all came about following a relaxation in the Government’s opposition to deep shelters once the Blitz had started, the four deep shelters at Coulsdon, Kenley and Epsom were Surrey County Council conceived, whereas the Foxenden Quarry deep shelter in Guildford was planned by the city’s Borough Council in October 1940. This though was not the first use of Foxenden Quarry for such a purpose, as “model shelter trenches” had been dug in the quarry floor at the time of the Munich crisis two years earlier, which had then been taken over by Sandfield School for their pupils.

Foxenden’s new deep shelter was intended to be a large one, housing a thousand people, and including two-tiered sleeping bunks, lighting and ventilation, Elsan toilets, and a First Aid Post, the only part of the shelter with mains water. The concrete floored tunnels were around 2m wide and up to 3m high, and were laid out in a grid with two long tunnels parallel to the quarry face and six linking cross tunnels on which were located the toilets and the First Aid Post. One of the cross tunnels was completely out of alignment with the rectilinear grid because it was intended to be reused after the war as part of an underground bypass. Intended, though, might be too strong a word as it was only once so mentioned in official documents, and it may have been to make the plan more palatable to councillors torn between the conflicting aims of protecting the Council’s finances and the lives of its citizens.

The original plan envisaged that the chalk would be stable enough not to need lining, another budgetary bonus, but in the end some sections had to be lined with brickwork or concrete. These must have been the most popular sections to shelter in as it was these sections that are thought to have had tubular heaters when they were installed in 1943.
Ventilation meanwhile was provided via 14m vertical air shafts up to the surface which doubled up as laddered escape routes. The ductwork within the shelter has long been removed but the circular holes above the separating doors between bays provide a record of its path.

Like all shelters it had a complex life, in demand during times of renewed threats and then abandoned. “Unsuitable behaviour” possibly a euphemism for the wartime equivalent of “dogging”, led to it being generally locked up and only re-opened when raid warning sirens sounded. At various times during the war parts of the shelter were used in invasion defence exercises (May 1942 – the site was also designated as a post-invasion Nodal Point headquarters), as food stores (late 1942), as a Civil Defence Corps reporting centre (1943) and as a Ministry of Supply store (1945). Its use as a shelter ended in November 1944 as it was too costly to run the heating and ventilation and to pay cleaners to empty out the toilets.

Visits to the shelter are at present suspended but will hopefully resume

[Source: Chris Rayner]

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