Chislehurst Caves has been a bomb shelter and a mushroom farm, a human sacrificial chamber, a battlefield for Time Lords, and a venue for rock concerts.
As Halloween approaches, Odd Days Out have been to explore this fascinating subterranean world, the home of restive spirits with historic links to Druids, Romans and Saxons.
Mythology and Mines
According to the British Archaeological Association, the caves are entirely man-made. Running a staggering 22 linear miles, for over 800 years they were excavated for chalk and flint.
Hauntings & Ghosts
The cave network has been the home to a great deal of supernatural activity. In the 1950’s the owners of the Chislehurst Caves posed a challenge, wagering a prize of £5 to anyone who could spend one night down in the caves alone.
Only one person, Tony Bayfield, succeeded. He has since said that nothing could make him return to the underground labyrinth, where he sensed something behind him, breathing heavily during his night in the caves.
In 1985, the then owner of the caves banned anyone spending the night in them, persuaded that there was a malevolent force lurking beneath.
Other stories have arisen over times from the caves. One of the most chilling is that of the White Woman who is said to have been killed by her spouse and now prowls around the haunted chamber. A paranormal presence has been seen glowing at one end of the pool in the haunted chamber.
It’s also common for guests to report hearing the noises of children laughing or playing deep in the darkness, perhaps the long-lost voice of children lost in the caves…
During the blitz the caves were used as an air raid shelter. The then owner, a mushroom farmer called James Geary Gardner, opened them up to Londoners escaping the bombardment and the local vicar headed up the ‘Caves Committee’ managing the evacuees.
Soon, an underground city swelled to some 15,000 inhabitants (who each paid a penny to enter). The tunnels were fitted with electric lighting, toilets, washing facilities, and even a chapel and a hospital were built..
The tour today allows visitors to see the area that residents called their home during those long uncertain nights where London was bombarded from the air.
TV and Film
The caves have captured the imagination of many musicians and film makers. A 1972 Doctor Who episode called ‘The Mutants’ includes scenes in the cave. In an episode of Seven Natural Wonders the caves were shown off as one of the wonders of the London area. The caves were also used in the films Beat Girl, The Tribe and Inseminoid.
The acoustic and secluded nature of the caves also makes them a popular music venue. In the 1960s, the caves were used as a music venue for “Rock” where acts included David Bowie, Status Quo, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.
On 31 October 1974 Led Zeppelin used the caves celebrate the launch of new UK record company Swan Song Records.
Metal bands Iron Maiden and Cradle of Filth have both filmed music videos in Chiselhurst, too.
Getting There & Tours
Experienced guides take you on a 45 minute lamplit tour and tell stories of Druids, Romans and Saxons. They show the tunnels WWII sections, too, and the makeshift Church, Druid Altar, Haunted Pool and more besides. Tours leave hourly from 10:00-16:00.
The caves are a short walk from Chislehurst Railway Station, which is only 30 minutes from London Bridge. The entrance can be found in Caveside Close, near the “Bickley Arms” public house.
By road, take the A222 between the A20 and A21. At the railway bridge by Chislehurst Station, turn into Station Approach, turn right at the end, then right again into Caveside Close. if Using a Sat-Nav, the postcode BR7 5NL will lead you to the entrance to Caveside Close.
By rail, there are regular trains to Chislehurst from Charing Cross and London Bridge. From the station, turn left into Station Approach and follow the above directions.
By bus to Chislehurst Railway Station, the 269 runs between Bromley and Bexleyheath and the 162 between Beckenham and Eltham.