Shorts Brothers’ Seaplane Factory & Public Air-Raid Shelter (WW2)

   

We set off on an about an hour’s car journey across the Dartford crossing and out into the wonders of the garden of England. The BTP boys were well equipped with equipment for photographic and video footage of the fascinating place we were about to discover. We met with Richard Kemp who we thank for having invited us, and former Canvey-Islander David Jackson, both from the Essex Underground group we are too part of. The crew met in a car-park not far from the site before driving to the field not far from Rochester Castle,  which Richard used to demonstrate the distance the tunnels covered using  both above-ground landmarks, and the faint shading in the grass caused by the underground construction. Many local residents and Councillors also attended, of all ages, who met near the site of the tunnel entrance.

The Essex Underground crew

The Essex Underground crew

   On September 23rd 1941 the Short’s Brothers, an aeroplane company making seaplanes in the Second World War, decided to build a factory in the safety of the underground for use through the wartime, adjacent to their above-ground factory which had stood therefor sometime, now demolished.

The factory was used to create seaplanes, and to store 75 new machine tools which needed urgent space as the original factory was full. At the time it costed £20,000, and consisted of 12,000 square feet of workshop space. At the eastern end of the tunnels, three-hundred yards of public air-raid shelter were made, carved into the chalk and lined with corrugated iron and brick. Much of the original signage still remains. In places, the tunnels had not been lined and were simply bare chalk, which was quite an impressive spectacle.   After the war, up to the 1990s, Blaw Knox Ltd. paving contractors took over the tunnels, and much of their belongings still litter the site.

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