Wellington Quarry - History and Facts | History Hit

Wellington Quarry

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

The Wellington Quarry in 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.

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About Wellington Quarry

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

Wellington Quarry history

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 World War Two 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.

Wellington Quarry today

The Wellington Quarry museum consists of a visitor centre displaying historic artifacts and presenting the historical context of the Battle of Arras, including the work of the tunnellers and the military strategy that underlay the tunnels’ construction. It was opened to the public on 1 March 2008.

The tunnels are accessed via a lift shaft that takes visitors approximately 22 m (70 ft) under the ground inside the galleries of the underground quarry. The tour consists of both guided and audioguided tours on a planned path accessible for wheelchairs.

The visitors discover the development of the strategy of the Battle of Arras, and also the daily life of the tunnelers of New-Zealand and the soldiers of the British Expeditionnary Forces sent in these tunnels to prepare this battle.

The site is also a memorial dedicated to the battle of Arras, with a memorial wall remembering all the regiments involved in the battle of Arras. Since the Hundred Years of the battle in 2017, a second memorial wall is dedicated to portraits of NZ Tunnellers, and a statue was installed in the park for the remembrance of these tunnellers. Each year, a ceremony is organised at 6.30 am on April 9th.

A small but well-stocked shop at the reception desk sells related books in English and French, postcards and souvenirs. Leaflets about visiting Arras and the surrounding area are also available. Between 2008 and 2013, the museum has welcomed 45 000 visitors per year. Since 2014, the affluence increased to 70 000 visitors each year.

Getting to Wellington Quarry

The Wellington Quarry museum is located on the Rue Arthur Delétoille in the south-east part of Arras. Rue Arthur Delétoille is a small road, turning off the D917 Avenue Ferrand Lobbedez, approximately 800 metres south of the road bridge over the railway line and next to (south of) the Leclerc supermarket car park.

Turn off the D917 into Rue Arthur Delétoille, and the entrance to the Wellington Quarry is signposted in Rue Arthur Delétoille approximately 150 metres on the right. This entrance for vehicles is one way.

Vehicles exit from the car park onto the Rue du Temple, which runs parallel to Rue Arthur Delétoille. There is a free car park for cars and coaches during museum opening hours.

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