Spring Quarry

This quarry was opened by Pictor and Sons in 1855-56 just west of Spring Lane in Corsham. Also known as No.7 Corsham Quarry, it soon became known as Waterhole due to it being wet and flooded (the spring for Byde Mill Brook originates here) thus after 1869 a new slope shaft was sunk into the workings above the flood level some way west of the waterhole shaft. It grew into a very large and successful quarry, the workings extend westwards into Box parish extending to a total area of 3.5 million square feet.

Quarrying here ended when in December 1940 the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) requisitioned the quarry having decided due to recent bombing of cities and factories that vital war production facilities needed to be moved underground. The north western end of the workings were still being quarried when the requistion notice was given and was never used again, hence this remains the best preserved quarry to this day as noted and protected by English Heritage.

After the bombing of Bristol in 1940, Spring Quarry was converted into a bomb proof factory for the Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) at Filton, ostensibly for the production of large radial piston engines and development of a new gas turbine engine. The factory was finally handed over not entirely completed in the summer of 1943 at a cost of £20m, most of the building works being contracted to Afred McAlpine’s (£7m) and overseen by Alexander Gibb and Partners on behalf of the MOWB. Over 2 million tons of waste stone was excavated from the quarry with two new slope shafts fitted with conveyor belts to speed up the process. McApline drafted over 10,000 labourers from Dublin in Ireland to work on building the underground site which was to contain five canteens capable of catering for 6000 workers in one sitting, two coal fired boilerhouses with 12 Lancashire boilers and two escalators requisitioned from the London Tube to speed up the ingress and egress of personnel at shift changes.

Part of the quarry to the southwest was eventually allocated to BSA for making 2000 Oerlikon gun barrels per month when it was understood that the imminent threat of air attack on the BAC factory at Bristol was becoming less of a threat. In 1942 realising even more space underground would not be required by BAC. Parnall, a Yate company making gun turrets were allocated an area for production next to BSA. By the time the area had been finished to the required standard, Parnall decided they didn’t require any underground space afterall. The area was to remain unoccupied until the end of the war. The north west area of the quarry was allocated to the Dowty company to build aircraft undercarriage which also never materialized and this area was never finished. In total 14,000 employees were expected to work underground, 9300 living locally and the rest commuting from Bristol daily. Hostels were built on the surface around the site to house some of the workers with places for up to 12,000 people. Most have been demolished now, some used for local authority housing in the 1960’s but some remain in use such as the Cotswold Families Centre. Machine tools were purchased in 1943 for the engine factory to the cost of £3m – the original plan was to move the equipment from Bristol but instead a shadow factory was built rather than a dispersal factory so duplicates were required.

The project was massively underestimated and over budget and was supposed to produce 260 Centaurus engines per month but actually only produced 523 engines in total during the 18 months of operation. Development work was also carried out on the Theseus and Proteus turbo prop jet engine in the north eastern section of Spring Quarry but was transferred back to Filton towards the end of the war. The factory closed down in 1945 with the Treasury desperate to recover some of the public money spent, failed to find a buyer of the site for 1% of the original cost.


In 1954 the government having spent so much on Spring Quarry realised that they didn’t actually own it, but it was still under the wartime requisition order. They set about negotiating the freehold from the Bath and Portland Stone Co. In the late 1950’s the northern part of the BAC factory was converted to provide the Central Government War Headquarters (CGWHQ) in the event of nuclear attack often referred to by codename ‘Burlington’ The south of the quarry was separated by a gas and blast wall and retained for use by the Admiralty as RNSD Spring Quarry – a Royal Naval stores and a sub depot of RNSD Copenacre nearby. The north eastern and north western unfinished areas were used for air and water supplies for the self contained bunker.

The CGWHQ was de-commissioned in the early 1990s. It was de-classified in 2004 having been secret for 50 years.


Corsham Quarries » Spring Quarry Media
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