Tuesday 21 August 2012

Hidden Plymouth Living History - The 15 Minute Discovery

Site Visited - July & August 2009

Okay, in the last post we featured the Air Raid Precautions in place around Plymouth & what follows is my account of what has to be one of the highlights of my research. From the archives, here is a prelude to one the best discoveries in recent years & Hidden Plymouth's own version of Snakes n Ladders....roll the dice!

Now this particular air raid shelter had eluded us for some time, primarily because of it's location within the City & the difficulty in accessing it's passageways. After numerous visits walking above mapping where I thought the passageways where, lady luck one day decided to shine & I found what I thought to be a way in......but it was going to be the most daring & difficult site visited on a personal level (at that time). After lengthy discussions with one of the South West's leading historians Cyberheritage & taking advice from his own wealth of experience, it was decided that further investigation was clearly needed, to ascertain just how big it was.

After a long day trying to locate other shelters, myself along with Si & Andy headed for one last bit of research, & to look at what I thought could be one of the old escape hatches. Lady luck certainly was on our side & hope of finding a way in soon turned into somewhat disbelief at first, that there we were, sat looking into a rubble filled hatch with just the top rails of the original ladder - only problem was, we weren't prepared for a full explore & we certainly couldn't all go in at once!

Looking back at where we had just left 2009 behind for a brief few minutes

The adrenalin hit when we lifted the hatch for the first time was coupled with great surprise & within 15 minutes of our first glimpse, found ourselves walking the passageways of Plymouth's biggest public air raid shelter to be discovered in recent years, twice the size of the previously documented Devonport Park shelters put together. Si was in first & after a quick scoot around came running back excitedly, trying to stem his echoey voice from within the passageways when saying "It's massive!". I told Andy to get down below for a quick look whilst I stayed above for safety issues....wouldn't want a wandering badger to fall down the hatch now would we!

My headtorch barely lights this WWII time capsule, untouched for years

Whilst laid above the hatch, I could hear the distant rumble of voices from somewhere far into the shelters passageways & then a screech of brakes alerted me to the presence of a strange looking chap who proceeded to circle me for the duration of my stay up top - until finally it was my turn to descend into the time capsule. For a few brief moments on reaching the end of the passageways, I lost my bearings as one section interlinked with another that led to another 'dead end' - a bricked up old entrance, infilled behind with tonnes of rubble blocking the stairwells. This place was awesome!

Bricked up passageway - one of the original access points to the shelter

After shooting a few frames of the shelter (apologies for the quality of photos in advance, they were taken on a digital compact before I got back into my photography...oh & the adrenalin was pumping!), I knew my fifteen minutes was up & left knowing that were was much more time needed to document original WWII posters, grafitti & artefacts that were in abundance. We felt so privileged to be the first to see this in over 50 years, graffiti confirming that the last person to probably be in the shelter was in 1960. All the shelters were infilled after the war, so we can only assume that this different hatch was once the point where explorers like us were curious & decided to walk the tunnels, or it was merely a council worker who uncovered the hatch during Plymouth's rebuilding.

A plan was needed, but it wasn't going to be easy & the hatch was resealed for another day....that day would come six long weeks later.....

WWII graffiti - Emperor Ming in Plymouth?

Child's toy pram - vintage artefacts hidden under Plymouth

......To be continued.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this, thanks very much and good luck on your further investigations and adventures!