About Chislehurst Caves
Located in Chislehurst in southeast London, Chislehurst Caves are a manmade labyrinth of tunnels covering some 22 miles. At different times used for chalk used in lime burning, brick making for the construction of London and flints to fire the tinderboxes and flintlock guns of years gone by, they were later repurposed as an air-raid shelter during World War Two.
Today, they are a fascinating tourist attraction located a half an hour’s train journey out of London.
History of Chislehurst Caves
It is unclear exactly when the caves were first created. Early 20th century archaeologist William Nichols, then the Vice President of the British Archaeological Association, suggested that they had been made by the Druids, Romans and Saxons. This theory later led to different sections of the caves being named, and today tour guides point out supposed Druid altars and Roman features. However, this is heavily disputed and very unlikely.
The earliest mention of the mines and lime-burning kilns dates from a 9th century charter, and then once again in 1232 AD. The earliest documented evidence of a chalk cave dates to 1737, and it’s likely that the caves were most active and developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are last believed to have been worked on as late as the 1860s for producing lime.
When air-raids began during World War Two, the caves were used for shelter. Inhabitants from London and Kent paid 1p per night to sleep in the biggest bomb shelter in London. The tunnels accommodated up to an incredible 15,000 people at a time and were fitted with electric lighting, toilets, washing facilities, a chapel and hospital.
So many people were packed into the caves as bomb shelters that temperatures reportedly often reached up to 70°F (21 degrees Celsius).
In the 1930s, the caves were used for mushroom cultivation. From the 1950s they were used for music gigs, with bands performing right up until 2001.
Chislehurst Caves today
Today, the caves are open to the public via tour only. A 45-minute tour will take you along a mere mile of the tunnels, but it is well worth it to explore the relics of hundreds of years of human activity.
Along with being a hugely popular tourist attraction, the caves have been the site of a number of cultural spectacles, such as two performances by Jimi Hendrix, four performances by David Bowie, a performance by Pink Floyd, an episode of Doctor Who (some of the stage set glitter is still visible on some of the walls) and a Led Zeppelin launch party. They are still available for private hire for a range of events.
Getting to Chislehurst Caves
The caves are a 30 minute train ride from London Bridge or Charing Cross, and are a short walk from Chislehurst Railway Station. 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.
By bus, the 269 runs between Bromley and Bexleyheath and the 162 runs between Beckenham and Eltham. The entrance can be found in Caveside Close near the “Bickley Arms” public house.