Chislehurst Caves is a 22 miles (35 km) long series of tunnels in Chislehurst, in the southeastern suburbs of London.
Today they are a tourist attraction and although they are called caves, they are entirely man-made and were dug and used as chalk and flint mines. The earliest mention of the mines is circa 1250 and they are last believed to have been worked in the 1830s. During the early 1900s they became a popular tourist attraction, but in the First World War, they were used as an ammunition depot, and then they were used for mushroom cultivation in the 1930s.
During the Second World War, the caves were used as an air raid shelter. Within a short time, it became an underground city of some 15,000 inhabitants with electric lighting, a chapel and a hospital.
In 1903, William Nichols, then Vice President of the British Archaeological Association, produced a theory that the mines were made by the Druids (who apparently conducted blood sacrifices), Romans and Saxons. This theory was used to give names to the three parts of the caves. Tour guides point out supposed Druid altars and Roman features. However, this can at best be speculation as the earliest documented evidence for mining is 1250 AD.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the caves were used as a music venue for jazz, skiffle and rock bands. David Bowie, Status Quo, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Paul Raven (later Gary Glitter) and Pink Floyd all performed there.
On October 31, 1974, a lavish media party was held there to celebrate the launch of new UK record company Swan Song Records by Led Zeppelin. More recently, some of the tunnels have been used by the live-action role-playing game Labyrinthe.
The caves have appeared in several television programmes including Doctor Who in a 1972 story titled The Mutants. The caves were also used in the films The Tribe and Norman J. Warren’s Inseminoid and in a 2008 music video for Cradle of Filth a metal band. Two episodes of TV series Most Haunted were filmed in the caves.
A twenty-year investigation into the supposed supernatural hauntings of the caves – including the legend of the “white woman” – by author James Wilkinson containing the testimonies of many of the guides and owners over a fifty-year period was published in 2011 entitled The Ghosts of Chislehurst Caves.
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