In Norwich, existing underground spaces including old mine workings and chalk quarries were pressed into service as air raid shelters during the Second World War, often with little alteration. Included amongst these were some old underground workings in the bank at the rear of the Thompsons Tin and Metal Works in Rosary Road, which still retain traces of wartime strengthening, toilet cubicles and even a metal bunk. Reports in recent years have indicated dangerously bad air and they are now understood to have been sealed.
Norwich was heavily raided during the Baedeker raids at the end of April 1942 in which more than two hundred people were killed.
The old chalk workings at Rosary Road may have been part of a larger area of workings which included the nearby site of the Lollards Pit (not to be confused with the pub of the same name in the area). The Thorpe Hamlet website has this account of it “In Norwich the site chosen for the execution of heretics was a large chalk pit dug into the hills nearly opposite Bishop Bridge. This pit, part of the Thorpe Woods and held by the Bishops of Norwich was probably the site of the chalk workings and limekiln which had been leased to John Goldyng in 1544. Old prints of Norwich show Lollards’ Pit as “…the place where men are customably burnt…” and George Borrow writing of this tragic spot said “…many a saint of God has breathed his last beneath that white precipice, midst flame and pitch; many a grisly procession has advanced… …across the old bridge towards the Lollards hole…” … “Today the site of the pit has largely been built over and a large gasholder dominates the area on the hill.”
The same webpage continues “The chalk workings around the site -from which Lollards’ Pit was formed led to the chalk tunnels, it is said, have been worked since the 11th century. About a hundred years ago extensive tunnels of chalk were discovered under the hill by the Rev. J.W. Hayes, from which about 25,000 yards of material had been taken for lime burning. Rosary Road in this area was once known as Chalk Hill and near the Chalk Hill works on the rise of the hill some older excavations were found. Here two main tunnels had been driven into the side of the hill to a distance of about 133 feet. The tunnels were 10 feet high and 8-10 feet wide. Some 20-30 feet from the entrance of one of these tunnels, other small tunnels (about eleven in. all) branched off at right angles, each 50-60 feet long, one being 20 feet in length and about 10 feet wide. From these earlier tunnels some 20,000 yards of chalk had been taken, probably to be used as lime in the building of the cathedral.
“In the early 19th century the lime-kilns and chalk workings around this area were fully exploited but by the end of the century housing and industrial development had made access to the pits and tunnels difficult and they eventually were abandoned. However, they continued to be used as places for storage. Thompson & Sons, for instance, used the caves and tunnels when they occupied the Chalk Hill Works site as a natural storehouse for iron, zinc and tin, erecting two stout doors at the entrances to the main tunnels. In the 19th century Coleman’s Brewery Company occupied the site and used the tunnels for extensive storage. The disused pit further along Rosary Road on the higher level was to be excavated and laid out as a football ground in 1908 (The Nest - Norwich City F.C.). The chalk excavated from these workings was transported away by water and another tunnel existed under Rosary Road to a tip by the side of the river. This old tunnel entrance with its level at Riverside Road leading up the slope to the site of the Chalk Hill Works depicted on a map of the city of Norwich prepared by Mr. A.W. Morant, the City Surveyor in 1873. This map also indicated another tunnel leading from the old football ground chalk pit to a second landing stage along the river”.
- Geoffrey Goreham
- Thorpe Hamlet