History – Corsham Tunnels
What is the origin of the tunnels that run under Corsham and Neston (the village I live in)? •
How has the use of the tunnels changed overtime?
How well known are the tunnels?
The Corsham Tunnels
A brief overview
The Corsham tunnels are a network of concealed passageways located deep underground in the small town of Corsham. Over the years the tunnels have been used for several different purposes. At first the tunnels were a series of quarries but later they were connected and adapted to serve storage uses required by the military. Later in the twentieth century the tunnels were adapted again to act as a safe house for the government in the event of a nuclear war.
What is the origin of the tunnels and how have they developed? The tunnels that run under both Neston and Corsham date back to 1840 when they began life as a quarry, but over time they have undergone major development, at one stage housing a fully developed underground city. Despite the fact that the quarry was around in the 1840s, to provide bath stone to help the development of the historic city of Bath, the tunnels themselves were formed some years later under the control of the MOD. So it was the early nineteen hundreds before the tunnels first appeared in their current form. Although the MOD has been responsible for most of the developments that occurred to the tunnels during their history, other local developments also had a big impact, particularly the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel was a famous engineer who built the Box Tunnel, which opened in 1841 after fourteen years of construction. This was an important development which helped realise the industrial potential of the area. The improved railway links helped the quarry develop as it allowed the stone that the quarry produced to be transported around the country quickly and easily. The opening of Box Tunnel therefore started the ‘Golden Age’ of quarrying at Corsham, which took place from 1850 to 1910. Despite starting life as simple quarries, the network of tunnels have had a varied history that has reflected events above ground. As the world has changed so have the tunnels. This is particularly true because the tunnels were a fall back point for the military, always ready to serve whatever purpose they were required to.
How has the use of the tunnels changed over time?
The tunnels have changed significantly over the last century as a result of the different needs of the MOD and the Government, which had to react to events in the world. Two events were very important in shaping the use and development of the tunnels – the Second World War and the Cold War. World War II
The start of the Second World War signalled the most extensive phase of development, with a number of the quarries that form part of the tunnels being adapted to help the war effort.
In the 1930s the War Office began investigating underground sites for storing ammunition, and attention was drawn to Tunnel Quarry. It was in many ways ideal with 44 acres of storage space directly connected to the GWR main branch line that entered a side tunnel at the east portal of Box Tunnel. Today, its 10 storage districts separated by concrete blast walls comprising 3-acres each, an underground railway and platform, conveyor belts for moving ammunition, huge ventilation fans, generators and barracks all remain. The west end of Tunnel Quarry was also used as a Signals Centre which continued in use for communications into the 21st Century. It began operation in 1943, and at this time it was one of three main signals centres in operation but stopped being operational in 1965. Browns Quarry
Browns Quarry developed as a small independent quarry at the north-west of Tunnel Quarry, and in 1940 the Royal Air Force used it as the base for air defence of the western region. By 1950 Browns Quarry was selected to be the new Southern Sector...
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