Wellington Quarry | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Wellington Quarry

Arras, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy, France

About Wellington Quarry

The Wellington Quarry in the northern French Artois town of Arras is a remarkable network of underground tunnels built during WWI with a fascinating museum commemorating the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Arras.

To prepare for the spring offensive in 1917, the British stumbled, literally and metaphorically, onto a cunning plan of Baldrick-esque proportions. They had the idea to connect the vast complex of chalk extraction tunnels under the Arras pavements to create a makeshift barracks for 24,000 soldiers.

The tunnels were built by 500 miners from the New Zealand Tunnelling Company (hence the name they gave the complex – Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city) as well as the Royal Engineers, many of whom built the London Underground. The tunnels ran out from the town centre, under no man’s land to strategically chosen points in front of the German battle lines. At 5.30am on April 9th 1917, the exits were dynamited, the Allied soldiers advanced at lightning speed and the Germans retreated by 11km. It was a resounding success.

During WWII the tunnels were used as air-raid shelters and then sealed in 1945 as the war ended. They were all but forgotten until 1990 when surveyors exploring the site found much of the network of tunnels had either collapsed or in a dangerously precarious condition. After a €4m restoration project, the museum houses a visitor’s centre with lots of historical artefacts as well as an unforgettable underground guided tour of 350 metres of tunnels.