I was on annual leave last week so I decided to do something I’ve wanted to do for years: visit the air raid shelter tunnels in Stockport.
I was not at all disappointed, though I must declare that I do have an interest in all things subterranean, which definitely had a factor in it. The tunnels are naturally atmospheric but you are issued with a hand held device to take around with you, containing audio description and sound clips to enhance the experience and provide context. The audio description and the sound clips are really good quality, so it’s definitely worth making use the device as you travel around the tunnels.
I was very interested in the structure of the tunnels, and in how they’d been made. They were dug out of the sandstone over a period of about a year between 1938 and 1939. Sandstone is quite soft but not brittle. There is a lot of dust, and some damp, but the structures, aside from a bit of shoring up, seem to be pretty much as they were when they were last used as shelters.
The tunnels were equipped with a canteen, toilets (some flushable), benches, bunk beds, tools, Red Cross nurses station, ARP warden stations, and the workers from the Plaza would put on entertainments for those sheltering there.
The tunnels are all numbered, but it’s easy to see how you could become lost, even with signage, one tunnel looking much the same as another. Apparently people would sit with the name of their street on a bit of cardboard so that their neighbours could find them and they could all sit together. The tunnels became known as the Chestergate Hotel as more amenities and entertainments were added. You can see now how primitive the bunk beds were, how everything was functional rather than necessarily comfortable, practical and purposeful.
I’m so pleased that it’s been preserved as a museum because it is truly unique, and it tells a really interesting story.
The museum provide guided tours by night where you can see more, but you have to book pretty far in advance.
Stockport Air Raid Shelters are open Tuesday – Friday 1pm – 5pm and Saturday 10am – 5pm
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