Humankind has long sought to dig down into the depths of the world, to create vaults, caves, tunnels, and caverns beneath the very ground we walk on. These subterranean networks tend to lie forgotten under our feet as life above ground churns along at its hectic pace. Many do not realize that just under the surface of the bright world we know, lying deep under the earth we walk upon are complex realms which have remained hidden in the dark from the eyes of mankind. These underground places can sometimes hold mysteries just as bizarre and fascinating as any of the myriad enigmas to be found above ground, making the deep dark of our planet and its forbidding, claustrophobic atmosphere a place where mysteries congeal and lurk down out of sight. These are the dark forsaken places of the world; places of strange mysteries in an inky blackness populated by things that go bump in the night. One such location that has long placed itself into the ranks of underground oddities is a tunnel system hidden away underfoot since World War II, where history, unexplained phenomena, and sometimes even terror crash together to form one of the weirdest and most haunted places there is, underground or otherwise.
The Drakelow Tunnels, the name of which derives from the old English word “draca” meaning “dragon,” are a vast warren of tunnels lying beneath Kingsford Country Park near Kinver in Staffordshire, England. The tunnels sprawl out in a grid pattern under the earth for 3.5 miles, cover around 250,000 sq. ft. (23,000 m2), and reach sizes of 16ft across and 18ft high. This massive subterranean complex was originally designed as an underground secret factory, or shadow factory, for the Rover car company during World War II in order to build parts for Hercules, Mercury and Pegasus aero-engines for the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Construction took place from 1941 to 1942, with the tunnels being blasted directly into solid sandstone, after which crews of workers would go about the perilous process of going in to clean out the rubble and shape the raw tunnels into smooth passageways and rooms with air chisels. The end result was a vast system of underground tunnels and caverns that could support a veritable small city of industry. When Rover moved in to launch operations in May of 1943, 500 to 700 employees were assigned to work machining engines and parts deep down in the depths of the tunnels.
Rover used the Drakelow Tunnels to manufacture airplane engines and parts for the war effort up until 1946, when reduced hostilities caused production to be halted, yet this was not the end of the complex’s operations or usefulness. From 1950 until 1958, the tunnels were used for the production of various parts for Meteor tank engines, as well as for storage of tools and engines. The Drakelow Tunnels were eventually acquired by the Ministry of Supply and later the Ministry of Storage.
With the rising threat posed by the Cold War in the late 50s and 60s, much of the world was living in fear under the specter of nuclear apocalypse. This was a time when governments around the world were scrambling to protect themselves as they teetered on the edge of the destruction of civilization, and England was no different. The government went about setting up top secret fortified bunkers around the country from where it could remain in operation in the event of devastating nuclear strikes. The Drakelow Tunnels were perfectly suited to this role, and so they were reconfigured and converted into a sophisticated nuclear bunker which was completed in 1961 and called the Regional Seat of Government for civil defense group 9, or RSG9. The underground bunker was designed to accommodate up to 350 members from all of the departments of the government, as well as liaisons from the Army, Navy and Air Force, and was equipped with housing, command centers, offices, and even a BBC news studio from which the channel could broadcast information to the public during a nuclear confrontation.
The RSG9 complex situated within the Drakelow Tunnels was meant to be part of a wider network of 12 other such facilities scattered around the country; a nerve center from which the government could retain control even in the face of nuclear catastrophe. The RSPG9 bunker would see further upgrades and refurbishments in the 1980s, when it would be fitted with advanced blast-proof doors, air-locks, decontamination facilities, enhanced storage capacity, cutting edge communications equipment, new water, ventilation and power systems, and a plethora of other advanced new technology. The site was rechristened Regional Government Headquarters 9.2 and would remain a highly classified operation right up until the end of the Cold War in 1990.
With the ending of the Cold War, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief, and many facilities that had been constructed for the purpose of somehow preserving society in the face of nuclear annihilation were decommissioned or dismantled. The Drakelow Tunnels and their top secret nuclear command center were decommissioned and sold to the public in 1993. Upon the handing over of the tunnels to the private sector, there were various plans proposed to demolish the tunnels and turn the area into a residential and commercial center, but these were met with opposition from a group called the Drakelow Preservation Trust, who argued that the site held historical importance and fiercely resisted development projects there. The Drakelow Preservation Trust has continued to fight plans to redevelop the tunnels in any way in order to preserve the historical significance they hold right up until today. The site has been restored and turned into a museum open year-round to the public for tours, and is in fact the largest underground space open to visitors in the entire UK.
When walking through the dark, dank, claustrophobic passageways of the complex, where sounds bounce around in odd ways and the dark seems to congeal and twist into strange shapes, it is easy to get the impression that this is a haunted place, and this may indeed be the case. During the original construction of the tunnels, it is said that at least 7 people lost their lives in the dangerous undertaking in a variety of tragic accidents. In October of 1941, a roof collapsed during blasting of the tunnels which crushed 3 workers under tons of rock. In another horrific accident, two exhausted construction workers were riding one of the conveyor belts used to carry rubble and loose rock from the blasting of the tunnels to the outside world when they became caught up in machinery and gruesomely mangled to death. Above ground doesn’t seem like it was much safer, as one woman by the name of Mary Ann Brettel was struck and killed by one of the site’s many dump trucks, and a security officer at the site was also killed in an auto accident as he was leaving for the day on his motorcycle. Additionally, after their decommissioning and before their subsequent passing to private hands, the tunnels were rumored to be used for Satanic cults which were said to hold rituals, conduct human sacrifices, and even open up doorways to other realms or dimensions.
The tragic deaths and the spooky stories involving cult activity have served to imbue the stygian depths of these tunnels with a certain sense of dread, and could explain some of the many paranormal phenomena long reported from here. Since the tunnels became open to the public, there have been numerous accounts of a wide range of strange goings on in the Drakelow Tunnels. These include an acute feeling of being watched, being pushed or tapped by unseen hands and even having hair pulled, sudden drops in temperature, inexplicable mists, anomalous sounds such as heavy footsteps, disembodied voices or music which comes over the wartime speaker system even though it has been out of operation for decades, and EVP phenomena. There are also many reports of seeing orbs, shadow people, apparitions, and even strange beasts prowling through the dim confines of the tunnels. The tunnels are also supposedly home to a regular ghost that goes by name of Oswald, which has been persistently reported throughout the tunnel complex. This spirit reportedly displays a variety of behaviors ranging from playful poltergeist activity to more sinister actions such as pushing, shoving, striking, and pulling hair. This particular entity is believed to be a ghost of one of the workers who died here during construction. Some rather odd sightings have occurred above ground in the area of the tunnels as well. One sighting from 1989 described a family coming across three hooded figures which seemed to be hovering along three feet above the ground. Psychics who have come to investigate the phenomena here have reported that there is the presence not only of the spirits of the dead, but also of powerful demonic entities deep in the subterranean darkness.
Much of the ghostly activity within the Drakelow Tunnels seems to gravitate around tunnels 1 and 4, and it is from here where the most well-known accounts come from. One evening in 1993, a caretaker was inspecting an old, decrepit kitchen in the vast underground complex when he allegedly heard distinct 1940s style music wafting through the air from the direction of Tunnel 1. The caretaker thought that perhaps another worker had left a radio on somewhere, so he went to investigate. As he approached the tunnel, the music became progressively louder until it suddenly and inexplicably stopped as he entered Tunnel 1. A complete, meticulous search of the whole area turned up no radio from which the music could have come. The caretaker came to the conclusion that the only possible source for the music would have been from the old World War II era tannoy system, but this had not been functional since the 1950s. Interestingly, reports of this ghostly music have since become a fairly common occurrence in the vicinity of Tunnel 1.
In another odd case, a caretaker was doing his rounds and locking the complex down for the night while accompanied by his two German Sheppard dogs in 1996. In the vicinity of Tunnel 4, the two dogs became extremely agitated, barking furiously as if there were an intruder somewhere in the dark. The caretaker investigated the place the dogs seemed to be fixated upon but there was nobody there. The animals continued to bark for some time at what appeared to be just the wall. The dogs eventually calmed down, but as they entered Tunnel 4 proper, the dogs began growling and snarling viciously at something further down the tunnel, but the caretaker could not at first ascertain that anything was there to make them suddenly become so aggressive. The man pulled at his dogs’ leashes and tried to move them along, but they refused to budge or to stop their incessant barking and growling. The caretaker then reportedly took one more look down the tunnel and saw an ominous mist floating along the dark passageway. Thinking it to be indicative of a fire, the caretaker was then astonished when the dogs tore free from his grasp and ran to a blast door to scratch and bite at it in a terrified panic. When the blast door was opened, the dogs bolted to the caretaker’s car and whined to be let in. The caretaker locked the two dogs into the car and went back to see if there was indeed a fire, but he found no sign of any such thing and indeed nothing out of the ordinary at all that could explain the dogs’ bizarre behavior. Tunnel 4 has become known for instilling an inexplicable sense of deep unease, disorientation, dread, and bouts of panic, with many shaken visitors complaining of feeling particularly uneasy in this area of the complex.
It is unknown if the Ministry of Defense ever encountered such unexplained occurrences during their years of operation there, and if they did it seems likely that these accounts are just as classified as pretty much everything else that went on there. In recent years, the strangeness surrounding the Drakelow Tunnels have made the location a haven for psychics, paranormal researchers, and thrill seekers. There are even regular ghost tours offered to anyone willing to brave the constricting dark tunnels and the possibility of being accosted by creatures from beyond the land of the living. Numerous TV programs have also focused on the tunnels, with one notable example being the show Most Haunted, which sent a crew to lock themselves within the confines of the spooky tunnels for a full 48 hours in May, 2014. The crew ended up experiencing various strange happenings and was severely distressed when they emerged from their self-imposed imprisonment in this murky underground world.
What sits at the center of these phenomena? Is there any way for us to come to an understanding of the weirdness that lurks down there beneath the earth in the Drakelow Tunnels? Whatever is going on within the dank recesses of this tunnel system, it continues to lie buried very much as it was beneath the very ground we walk on, every bit as mysterious as it has always been. The tunnels remain a reminder of the bizarre horrors that stay sunken out of sight within the earth in these long forgotten relics of another time. The mysteries of this enigmatic underground realm continue to baffle, confound, and terrify those who attempt to delve down into the ground to try and understand the forces that pervade it. With its stifling passages of darkness and cold rock walls, this is a place that positively oozes with spookiness and a forbidding atmosphere, all of which sits tucked away beneath the ground at our feet out of sight. Which enigmas await discovery here and which are fated to remain ensconced in their earthen cocoon forever beyond our understanding? Perhaps time will tell. For now, the next time you are walking along enjoying the scenery above ground, please be aware that far beneath your feet lies a domain steeped in strangeness that we may never truly understand.