Drakelow – Beneath the Dragon’s Mound
Drakelow Tunnels, on Drakelow Lane between Kinver and Wolverley in Worcestershire, is aptly named. Drakelow in Anglo Saxon refers to a ‘dragon’s mound’ or burial ground. Drakelow Tunnels are themselves buried deep into the sandstone beneath Kingsford Country Park. Drakelow and the surrounding area are subject to many reports of alleged paranormal activity. In August 2008 an opportunity presented itself to carry out some research inside the tunnels. Given that at the time this was not at all a well-known location we were interested to see what, if anything, a medium with no previous knowledge of the area would make of it. Although the events described here took place in 2008 this is the first time they have been reported. Quotes used have been taken directly from an audio recording made at the time.
Brief history of the tunnels
Drakelow Underground Dispersal Factory began life as a shadow factory for Rover to produce aero engine parts for the Bristol Aeroplane Factory. The tunnels were constructed over the period 1941 to 1942 from a design by Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners (Brooks and Pevsner, 2007). The initial intention was that aero engine production would be switched to Drakelow should Rover’s existing surface factories be bombed into submission. Explosives were used to blast out the 3.5 miles of tunnels and not without serious accidents. One of the worst happened in October 1941, when a roof fall in Tunnel 1 claimed the lives of three men including Harry Depper who is buried locally (Stokes, 2004). Once completed the whole underground area was split between the Rover Shadow Factory and an RAF storage facility for aircraft spares. At the height of its operation men and women would have been working underground producing Mercury and Pegasus aero engine parts. The complex had everything required for working underground including workshops, offices, kitchens, canteens, toilets and even several bars. There was also a concert hall to entertain the wartime workers. In true 1940’s style the workers had canteens but the white collar staff had their own separate dining room. Small battery powered trucks were used to transport materials and finished goods through the network of tunnels. These trucks could move around freely as they were not restricted to running on tracks. In addition to all of this the RAF also had their separate area of the underground complex where uniformed RAF personnel would have guarded and administered the storage and distribution of essential aircraft spares.
During the 1960s and through to the early 1990s Drakelow took on the role of a nuclear bomb shelter. Initially designated Regional Seat of Government for Defence Region 9 (RSG9) Drakelow continued to be upgraded throughout the cold war with additions such as nuclear blast proof doors to augment the natural protection from radiation afforded by the sandstone above. In the event of a nuclear war contact would have been maintained with the network of similar Regional Seats of Government throughout the country through a telecommunications system which ran through the complex and a BBC radio broadcasting studio would have provided information to those still left alive outside. Fortunately Drakelow never needed to be activated for this purpose.
Drakelow Tunnels and the area surrounding it have long been subject to reports of strange phenomena. Whilst investigating an unconnected case an odd sighting was reported to me dating from the winter of 1989 and I was able to interview the principal witness, Michael. He was driving his wife and daughter back home around 11.00 pm at night along Drakelow Lane and had just passed the nuclear bunker on the left. Michael clearly saw three figures emerge from a light mist and drift across the road from right to left in front of him. They appeared to be floating in the air and clearly illuminated in the car headlights. He described them as being solid looking and wearing dark habits with hoods as if they were monks. However, there is no record of a monastery ever being in the area. David Taylor (2013) makes the interesting association with three hooded Celtic deities, the Genii Cucullati. Whilst there was no monastery there certainly was an Iron Age Celtic hill fort, Aylesbury Solcum, which lies immediately above the Drakelow tunnel complex.
In the tunnel’s themselves 1940’s wartime music has sometimes been heard seemingly coming from Tunnel 1. When the source of the music is investigated it abruptly stops. Strange mists have also been seen in the shadow factory part of the complex particularly in and around Tunnel 4. On one occasion a caretaker’s two German Shepherds were transfixed by what appeared to be a misty figure in Tunnel 4. The dogs ran off terrified and would not return (Drakelow Tunnels, 2014). People often experience the feeling of being watched and some claim to have been touched or even pushed. One of our guides, Roger, had the experience of seeing a figure he described as a ‘be-trousered leg’ disappearing around one of the doorways in a fully lit tunnel. This figure has been given the name ‘Oswald’ and is purported to have been one of the workers killed during construction of the tunnels. However, there appears to be no evidence to support Oswald as having been a real person and the identities of the two other workers who died along with Harry Depper are not known. Neither are the names of two workers who were tragically mangled to death when they were riding the conveyer belts out of the complex. It is likely that Oswald was named by one of the many ghost hunting groups who nowadays frequently hire the tunnels for investigations. Odd events do continue to occur underground at Drakelow. On a recent investigation carried out by the Stourbridge Independent Paranormal Society and attended by the author a tremendous bang was heard and recorded in 1st Avenue, Government Department, near one of the nuclear blast doors (Homer, 2015). There was no-one anywhere near the area concerned and a thorough search revealed no clue as to what might have happened. However, other groups have reported incidences of stone throwing in the same area.
The idea behind our research was to see what, if anything, someone claiming mediumistic ability might be able to pick up from a location which would give little clue as to its history. We were fortunate in knowing of a medium, Teresa Clarke, who was very interested in being involved in such an experiment. We also had what we considered to be the ideal location in Drakelow Tunnels. Teresa, our medium, did not live locally and would have had no knowledge of the Drakelow tunnel system as at the time (August 2008) fewer people had access unlike today when it is frequently booked out to paranormal groups and is hopefully to become an underground museum. The following is a chronicle of the events that took place during our investigation.
We had previously agreed that the author would be the only one of our team to contact Teresa in order to limit as far as possible any prior contamination concerning the location. Obviously transport had to be arranged for Teresa as she could not be told where she was going beforehand. It would be reasonable to assume if inviting someone to an allegedly haunted location they might expect the location to be a house, historic property, pub or something similar. Not in this case. One of the first questions Teresa asked was whether the location was safe. In those days Drakelow was reasonably safe but you still had to be careful where you went. We were to be taken around the site by two experienced local guides. I asked Teresa why she thought it might not be safe. Her impression over the telephone, having been given no clues at all, was of a dark place with things lying around and she asked if it was some sort of factory. Of course, Drakelow had been a shadow factory during World War II. Naturally I gave no clues whatsoever apart from assuring Teresa that she would be safe and accompanied at all times.
On the night of the investigation I collected Teresa and we drove the 20 odd miles to Drakelow. The entrance was quite difficult to find especially in the days when the Drakelow Tunnels were less well known. Teresa had no idea where she was. Our little group was shown around by two guides, Roger and Ian, from the Drakelow Preservation Trust which looks after the tunnels.
On entering the tunnels Teresa immediately felt ‘almost like I was walking into an aerodrome’ and referred to the war (WWII), aircraft and RAF personnel. When Drakelow was a shadow factory it was used to both make aero engine parts and also to store aeroplane spares as Roger later confirmed, ‘Drakelow would have been occupied by the RAF as a storage area for the RAF. The factory made aero engine parts’. RAF personnel would certainly have been here. As well as picking up on male workers Teresa also felt that there were women working down in the tunnels:
‘Women here working, their hair tied up in scarves … packaging, putting things into boxes … typewriters clicking … quite a few women down here’.
At this point we had not seen any ladies toilets which of course would have provided a major clue! Roger confirmed that there could well have been women packers in the tool store. Drakelow did not produce complete engines but aero engine parts which would have been packaged. Teresa also had the impression of:
‘A cart going up and down on wheels … metal trucks on wheels. Looked like they should be on tracks but these weren’t’.
In fact such a battery powered metal truck was discovered in the tunnels left over from the old WWII shadow factory. Teresa had no knowledge of this when she was giving what was quite a good description of the one remaining electric truck.
After such a promising start when we progressed further into the complex Teresa came out with some information which at the time appeared to make no sense. She had the impression of 14 year old boys being in the tunnels ahead of us, ‘moving back, about six of them’. Teresa described them as wearing, ‘caps, shirts and braces’, suggesting that the boys were connected with the earlier use of the tunnels as a shadow factory. At the time I could think of no reason why 14 year old boys would have been in the tunnels but this was to quickly change. Our second guide, Ian, asked me whether I would like to see a part of the tunnels not included in the occasional underground tours. We made our way to a section of the tunnels I have been unable to find on subsequent visits. At one point a very tattered wartime poster was still attached to the wall. There was enough left to later identify it as a propaganda poster showing a Supermarine Sea Spitfire flying over a British aircraft carrier with the caption, ‘Great Britain will pursue the WAR AGAINST JAPAN to the very end’ (Imperial War Museums, 2016). The presence of this poster emphasised the fact that we were very much in the original WWII shadow factory area of the complex. Further on into the tunnels were some of the original ladies toilets and Ian invited me to go and look at some wartime graffiti still on the wall of the end cubicle. Clearly scrawled here were the words, ‘Fancy a boy of fourteen – lovely’. Needless to say this fitted in perfectly with what Teresa had said about fourteen year old boys being associated with the tunnels. Ian explained that boys generally left school at 14 during the war and some were employed both in the construction and operation of the shadow factory. In fact, children could leave school at 14 up until the 1944 Butler Act which then raised the school leaving age to 15.
On re-joining Teresa and the rest of our little group we made our way into Tunnel 1. At one point Teresa suddenly began to feel very uneasy saying that she didn’t ‘like the feeling in this bit’. As we went further into this area of the tunnel she started complaining about feeling a pressure on her back pushing her down. As we carried on she began to get quite distressed and reluctant to go any further. She was feeling that that there was:
‘Something falling against me and I can’t push it away … something terrible could have happened down there [pointing to a specific area of the tunnel] … something awful down there’.
As we walked past this area Teresa began to feel better and said that the pressure on her back was easing. Without any clue or hint from our guides or anyone else, and after walking a considerable distance through the miles of tunnels, Teresa had correctly identified the exact spot where the three workmen digging out Tunnel 1 had been killed in the roof fall of October 1941.
Most if not all that Teresa was able to pick up on referred to the use of Drakelow as a shadow factory during WWII. This is perhaps not surprising as thankfully Drakelow never needed to be made operational as a Regional Seat of Government in the event of a nuclear war.
One of the difficulties in working with a medium is that there is a tendency to recall the things that make sense (the hits) and filter out anything that is wide of the mark (the misses). Added to this there is the possibility of ‘cold reading’ taking place where information is unintentionally given and picked up on by the medium. To counteract this in our work with Teresa the whole investigation was recorded on two separate devices, one being a backup for the other should we have had any equipment failure. Two things stand out from the recording. Firstly, Teresa is not supplying a continuous stream of information. She relates only what she says she is picking up in different parts of the tunnels. Secondly the things Teresa does concentrate on (RAF personnel, 14 year old boys, metal trucks and particularly the location of the rock fall) were all descriptions of things we were able to later confirm to her even though the presence of 14 year old boy workers was only discovered on the night of the investigation itself. All in all this was a fascinating exercise to be involved with and carried out at a time when knowledge of the Drakelow underground complex was not nearly so much in the public domain as it is now. All credit is due to Teresa Clarke for allowing herself to be tested in this way following the strict protocols imposed by our group.
Of course it would be erroneous to generalise about mediumistic ability from just this one exercise. It would also be very difficult to reliably replicate today as the possibility of contamination through prior knowledge is that much greater given the explosion of paranormal tourism and public interest in allegedly haunted locations reflected in the plethora of television shows and websites. Replicating such field experiments anyway is notoriously difficult due in part to the number of uncontrolled variables present which could be influencing the results one way or another. However, perhaps the last word is best left to William James commenting on his own work with the medium Leonora Piper (Murphy and Ballou, 1973):
‘If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you must not seek to show that no crows are; it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white’.
Grateful thanks to Steve Potter for the interior tunnel location photographs, West Midlands based Parasearch for organising the original research investigation and of course to our medium, Teresa Clarke, for her complete co-operation in this project.
References and further reading
Brooks, A. and Pevsner, N., (2007), The Buildings of England: Worcestershire (New Haven and London: Yale University Press), p. 667.
Drakelow Tunnels, (2014), Paranormal Activity. [online] Available at: <http://www.drakelow-tunnels.co.uk/> [Accessed 15 January 2019].
Homer, A., (2015), Drakelow Tunnel’s unexplained footage [online video] Available at: <https://youtu.be/vcY27jgJS1A> [Accessed 15 January 2019].
Imperial War Museums, (2016), IWM PST 15001. [online] Available at: <http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/32417> [Accessed 15 January 2019].
Murphy, G. and Ballou, R. (eds), (1973), William James on Psychical Research (New York: Augustus M. Kelley), p. 41.
Stokes, P., (2004), Drakelow Unearthed: Revised Edition (Drakelow: BCS / Paul Stokes), p. 5.
Taylor, D., (2013), Here be Dragons and Ghosts…The Coiled Serpent and Otherworld Hoodies. [online] Available at: <http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/hereford-and-worcestershire/hauntings/here-be-dragons-and-ghoststhe-coiled-serpent-and-otherworld-hood/> [Accessed 15 January 2019].
First published in The Outer Limits Issue 3, 2016
Author: Andrew Homer