Mysterious tunnels and secret passages are all part of English and European Folklore. The Cornish Fogou – pronounced foo-goo – are thought to be Pict in origin. (A civilisation that pre-dated the Roman occupation around the 10th century.) In essence one thing these passages and tunnels had in common was a need to provide safety, security, and shelter in secret.
Some tunnels near large houses during the eighteenth century were in fact passages to the fridge – where else would you put an ice house in a time that pre-dated electricity? Simple and innocent explanation. But there are far more sinister tunnels dating from periods of civil unrest and WWII and in preparation for the outfall of the cold war.
London is awash with ghost tunnels – no – not filled with spiritual apparitions, but old tube stations now closed but whose stations and tunnels can be seen from the tubes as you pass by. These silent dark stations are frozen in time, while current stations are refurbished and provide an eclectic mix of art, design and function, these remain with their dirty ceramic tiles, old signage, a modern archaeology ride through underground history. You can see them at King’s Cross on the Metropolitan line. On the Northern Line you can see the Bull and Bush station, between Hampstead and Golders Green, even though it was completed it was never opened, and there are many more examples.
General Eisenhower’s headquarters were housed at Goodge Street station, an underground bunker that was safe and secure against bombing. Sadly most of the WWII shelters that were prepared for government departments in the event of an invasion are used for document storage. But during the Cuban missile crisis, these tunnels were fully manned for a fortnight. Staff could have lived down there for months.
You can see the UK Cabinet War Rooms, now a tourist attraction costing about £17.00. It’s a huge underground complex under the Treasury building in Whitehall, it is reported that there were over 200 rooms, so only a fraction are open to the public. It isn’t only central government that had these underground emergency rooms. A small local government office, located near a strategic Royal Airforce Base, has such a room. I spent the best part of a day underground in these offices with a management team. I found the experience somewhat claustrophobic and that was with all the doors open. On the boards around the room were the remains of a planning exercise that rehearsed the appropriate actions in the event of some catastrophe happening at the air base. Fire, Police and Ambulance crews had all played a part, together with Ministry of Defence teams. It was scary stuff, and conducted in the post cold war era. Our enemies never seem far away these days, and we don’t even know who they are, or what they want.
Britain is not alone in having these underground shelters, in 2006 a New York cold war bomb shelter was discovered inside Brooklyn Bridge, under the Lower Manhattan entrance ramp. The room was stockpiled with decades-old military provisions. City officials kept the location secret, and most pedestrians pass by, oblivious to the history under their feet.
Under Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus there are a series of interconnected tunnels between various campus buildings, thought to date from a time when an insane asylum was on the site. The scientists met during the initial project stages of the Manhattan Project. An appropriate location? Maybe.
So from ancient folklore to modern secrets, tunnels and passageways still form part of security and shelter against our enemies. While there is still a need to keeping those tunnels in use secret, everyone hopes they will never be necessary.
Do you have any favourite secret tunnels? If so, do share picture and comments.