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Video reveals Bristol railway tunnel that was BBC’s back-up base in WWII

A long-abandoned railway tunnel which housed the BBC‘s backup broadcasting centre during the Second World War has been documented by an urban explorer.

After it was built in 1893, the tunnel, in Bristol, was named the Clifton Rocks Railway and was the widest in the world.

But after falling out of use in the 1920s, the tunnel was repurposed as an air raid shelter, council document archive and as the hub for the BBC if its London headquarters, Broadcasting House, were destroyed.

Now, explorer Urbanexboi has revealed the current sorry state of the tunnel.

Photos and video show narrow water-filled corridors, arched rooms filled with rusting boxes and doors bearing labels such as ‘police’ and ‘archives’.

A long-abandoned Bristol railway tunnel which housed the BBC's backup broadcasting centre during the Second World War has been documented by an urban explorer. Above: The tunnel was also used as a council archive, abandoned document boxes can be seen above

A long-abandoned Bristol railway tunnel which housed the BBC’s backup broadcasting centre during the Second World War has been documented by an urban explorer. Above: The tunnel was also used as a council archive, abandoned document boxes can be seen above

After it was built in 1893, the tunnel, in Bristol, was named the Clifton Rocks Railway and was the largest of its kind in the world. But after falling out of use in the 1920s, the tunnel was repurposed as an air raid shelter, council document archive and as the hub for the BBC if its London headquarters, Broadcasting House, were destroyed. Above: One of the narrow corridors inside the repurposed tunnel

After it was built in 1893, the tunnel, in Bristol, was named the Clifton Rocks Railway and was the largest of its kind in the world. But after falling out of use in the 1920s, the tunnel was repurposed as an air raid shelter, council document archive and as the hub for the BBC if its London headquarters, Broadcasting House, were destroyed. Above: One of the narrow corridors inside the repurposed tunnel

Explorer Urbanexboi has revealed the current sorry state of the tunnel. Photos and video show narrow water-filled corridors, arched rooms filled with rusting boxes and doors bearing labels such as 'police' and 'archives'

Explorer Urbanexboi has revealed the current sorry state of the tunnel. Photos and video show narrow water-filled corridors, arched rooms filled with rusting boxes and doors bearing labels such as ‘police’ and ‘archives’

The tunnel was used in the war because it was deep enough underground for it to be safe from German bombs.

When it was brought back into use, the tunnel was turned into a series of rooms which had blast-proof walls.

There, Bristol residents sheltered from the onslaught from the air, allowing them to keep out of harm’s way as the city was hit hard by heavy bombing.

Some of the rooms were also given over to the work of repairing barrage balloons, which were used to prevent dive bombers from getting near enough to cause devastation.

The decision to make part of the complex the BBC’s emergency centre was taken even though the broadcaster had facilities in Bristol, as they did elsewhere around the country.

But it was decided that the broadcasting equipment would be best kept safe in the deep tunnel, meaning that the BBC could continue to function and help to maintain morale.

Whilst ordinary Bristolians had to make do with buckets and basic washing facilities next door, the BBC staff – who took over the lower levels of the complex - had a canteen and proper flushing toilets

Whilst ordinary Bristolians had to make do with buckets and basic washing facilities next door, the BBC staff – who took over the lower levels of the complex – had a canteen and proper flushing toilets

The exterior of the complex. The original tunnel, which travelled upwards into the rock of Bristol's Avon Gorge, was dug by hand with the help of dynamite

The exterior of the complex. The original tunnel, which travelled upwards into the rock of Bristol’s Avon Gorge, was dug by hand with the help of dynamite

The decision to make part of the complex the BBC's emergency centre was taken even though the broadcaster had facilities in Bristol, as they did elsewhere around the country. But it was decided that the broadcasting equipment would be best kept safe in the deep tunnel. Above: A door in the complex is marked 'Police'

The decision to make part of the complex the BBC’s emergency centre was taken even though the broadcaster had facilities in Bristol, as they did elsewhere around the country. But it was decided that the broadcasting equipment would be best kept safe in the deep tunnel. Above: A door in the complex is marked ‘Police’ 

When it was brought back into use, the tunnel was turned into a series of rooms which had blast-proof walls. Above: One of the archive boxes, marked 'Housing Committee'

When it was brought back into use, the tunnel was turned into a series of rooms which had blast-proof walls. Above: One of the archive boxes, marked ‘Housing Committee’

Whilst ordinary Bristolians had to make do with buckets and basic washing facilities next door, the BBC staff – who took over the lower levels of the complex - had a canteen and proper flushing toilets. Above: A rotting door to the original toilet

Whilst ordinary Bristolians had to make do with buckets and basic washing facilities next door, the BBC staff – who took over the lower levels of the complex – had a canteen and proper flushing toilets. Above: A rotting door to the original toilet

When the tunnel was repurposed, it had to be fitted with blast-proof walls and was segmented into several rooms

When the tunnel was repurposed, it had to be fitted with blast-proof walls and was segmented into several rooms

The tunnel also boasts a rusting safe, which is still fitted with its original manufacturer label (above). The tunnel was a secure place to house a council archive

The tunnel also boasts a rusting safe, which is still fitted with its original manufacturer label (above). The tunnel was a secure place to house a council archive

The BBC kept the backup service in place until 1960, although it was ultimately never used – either in the war or afterwards. Ultimately, it was decided that the cost of renting the space from the Bristol authorities became too great, and so the BBC vacated the complex

The BBC kept the backup service in place until 1960, although it was ultimately never used – either in the war or afterwards. Ultimately, it was decided that the cost of renting the space from the Bristol authorities became too great, and so the BBC vacated the complex

Urbanexboi said: 'The discovery was amazing and sad at the same time because the council have left these artefacts to rust away with no intention of trying to preserve the site for visitors or for museum pieces'. Above: One of the doors in the archive section is emblazoned with the sign 'Education and Libraries'

Urbanexboi said: ‘The discovery was amazing and sad at the same time because the council have left these artefacts to rust away with no intention of trying to preserve the site for visitors or for museum pieces’. Above: One of the doors in the archive section is emblazoned with the sign ‘Education and Libraries’

'The best part of exploring is when you first enter a place, as you never know what you're going to find', Urbanexboi said

‘The best part of exploring is when you first enter a place, as you never know what you’re going to find’, Urbanexboi said

Whilst ordinary Bristolians had to make do with buckets and basic washing facilities next door, the BBC staff – who took over the lower levels of the complex – had a canteen and proper flushing toilets.

These still exist, as documented by Urbanexboi.

The BBC kept the backup service in place until 1960, although it was ultimately never used – either in the war or afterwards.

Ultimately, it was decided that the cost of renting the space from the Bristol authorities became too great, and so the BBC vacated the complex.

Since then, the fittings have slowly rotted and the rooms have been vandalised.

There have been calls to preserve the tunnel and turn it into a museum which could reveal its fascinating history to current visitors

There have been calls to preserve the tunnel and turn it into a museum which could reveal its fascinating history to current visitors

Urbanexboi added: 'I'm hoping that the council will do something with this site for future generations. 'At present, this is slowly being vandalized with spray paint and obscene images. I think that it should be drained, cleaned up and preserved for visitors and locals to visit'

Urbanexboi added: ‘I’m hoping that the council will do something with this site for future generations. ‘At present, this is slowly being vandalized with spray paint and obscene images. I think that it should be drained, cleaned up and preserved for visitors and locals to visit’ 

Another rusting box which was once in the council archive appears to have housed local title deeds

Another rusting box which was once in the council archive appears to have housed local title deeds

Urbanexboi said: ‘The discovery was amazing and sad at the same time because the council have left these artefacts to rust away with no intention of trying to preserve the site for visitors or for museum pieces.

‘The items could have shown locals a glimpse of Bristol during World War Two.

‘The best part of exploring is when you first enter a place, as you never know what you’re going to find.

‘It could be empty or it could be filled with amazing pieces that wouldn’t normally get to see.

‘For me, one of the best moments of this discovery was the chests that included deed polls in the clerk’s office.

‘I’m hoping that the council will do something with this site for future generations.

‘At present, this is slowly being vandalized with spray paint and obscene images. I think that it should be drained, cleaned up and preserved for visitors and locals to visit.’

The tunnel, which travelled upwards into the rock of Bristol’s Avon Gorge, was dug by hand with the help of dynamite.

When it opened, visitors could travel to enjoy the spa waters at the top of the Avon Gorge, without having to face the steep walk to the top.



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