The War Years
Drakelow Tunnels is an underground complex with tunnels stretching to around 285,000 sq. ft. It was built during World War Two as a protected shadow factory for the manufacture of Hercules, Mercury and Pegasus aero-engines by Rover. Construction was started in July of 1941 using a blasting technique to form the shape of the tunnels and then gangs of men with air powered chisels formed the final shape of the tunnels and galleries. The tunnels measured 16ft across and 18ft. high, and were arranged in a grid pattern. Around 4,455,000 sq. ft of sandstone was removed during this phase, and a further 1,620,000 sq. ft removed whilst building the entrance cuttings.
Rover moved into the tunnels in November of 1942, and by the beginning of February 1943 manufacturing had reached full output. Accommodation above ground was provided with a social club, canteen and sick bay and married quarters being provided nearby in Stourbridge. Adits B and C were completed soon after and some 83,000 sq. ft of of the total 284, 931 sq. ft of the entire site was given over to storage by the Royal Air Force , who stored a multitude of airplane spares in the tunnels. The rest of the floor space was for manufacturing by Rover, who had between 500 to 700 employees working in the underground site. Rover continued to manufacture engines and spares at Drakelow well into February of 1946, before production finally ceased due to the cessation of hostilities the year before and the site switched from one of manufacture to one of storage of spares and machine tools and textile goods. Rover returned above ground to re-commence its pre-war car manufacturing business.
From the beginning of the 1950s Drakelow was used for the small scale manufacture of components for the Meteor tank engine, primarily rocker covers, manifolds and camshaft brackets. This continued on until around 1955 when work started to tail off due to the completion of contracts. The site was then used again as storage for machine tools and engine spares till around 1958
Cold War Years
With the hotting up of the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s the government set about creating a network of civil defence regions with protected accommodation to enable the government to continue to function, and to maintain essential supplies and services in the aftermath of a nuclear strike by the Soviets. To this end Drakelow was ideally suited for conversion from storage and manufacture to a protected nuclear bunker to serve as the Regional Seat of Government (RSG) for civil defence group 9. The conversion of the Drakelow site into RSG9 was completed by May of 1961. The site was designed to hold approx 350 people representing the main departments of government. These being the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, ministry of Housing, Ministry of Power, ministry of Transport, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Ministry of Works, Ministry of Aviation, The National board of Assistance, The Board of Trade, The Regional Hospital Board, The Fire Service, The Police and the Post Office. The whole site would have been under the command of a Regional Commissioner, with assistance from two deputy commissioners.
There was also representation from the Army, Navy and Air Force purely to act as liaisons with Military Controls. A BBC Studio was also provided to enable broadcasts to be made to the wider populace. The tunnels continued in this guise, or similar guises due to political re-shuffling up until the late 1970s.
Drakelow Tunnels underwent yet more change in the late 1970s and early 1980s following Margaret Thatchers Home Defence Review, which re-organised the regional seats of Government completely. During this time a reputed £2,000,000 was spent on refurbishing the tunnels and equipping them with more up-to-date communication equipment, water, ventilation and power. Two generators were provided, 1 to provide essential power and the other to provide power for non-essential services. A large diesel tank was also built with enough fuel to last for 4-6 weeks continuous use, also added was a large 90,000 gallon water storage tank and a back up borehole. Decontamination facilities were also added at this time, these consisted of a single shower and concrete clothes bin. During this period the site still remained as the principle HQ for region 9, designation RGHQ9.2. It is interesting to note that at this time the area of the tunnels in use decreased further still, with approximately only 25% of the available area being used.
In 1990 a study was carried out to ascertain if the tunnels were worthy of further upgrades, including a plan to build a purpose built hardened bunker in another location, and moving the function of the site to another ready built site recently vacated by the Royal Observer Corp. Due to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, these plans never actually came to fruition and the government decided to abandon the RGHQ network. As a result in 1993 the whole Drakelow site was cleared of its contents and put up for sale by the government. Several bids were put in for future uses including secure document storage, and eventually the site was sold. To date no leases have been finalised and the site sits empty awaiting future revivial. The Friends of Drakelow Tunnels occasionally take interested parties around on guided tours and have been instrumental in the ongoing preservation attempts in the tunnels.
For more information please visit www.drakelow.org
An excellent read, and source of information for this webpage is the superb book entitled Drakelow Unearthed The Secret history of an Underground Complex by Paul Stokes, ISBN 0904015769