Box is a small village near Corsham in Wiltshire, England, about 5 miles or so east of Bath along the A4 London Road. Since Roman times a particularly fine stone has been mined here leaving the entire area riddled with literally miles and miles of tunnels. During the Second World War the army moved in and created several large ammunition dumps deep within the mines, and today some are still used by private companies as large stores. A short distance from Box village the remains of one of these ammunition dump access tunnels is still accessible alongside the railway, and we visited it back in 2011.

To see the pictures we took during our visit to Farleigh Down sidings in 2011 please click the image above right, and to "fly" to the Box Quarry location please click the Google Earth application link to the left.

The railway, which runs from Bristol to London via Bath, passes through Box Hill by way of a long tunnel built by the famous Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. At one time there was a secondary tunnel entrance which ran into the mine from the railway in order to facilitate the loading and distribution of the quarried stone directly via the railway network.

Bath Stone is an Oolitic Limestone comprising granular fragments of calcium carbonate. It was laid down when most of Somerset was covered by a shallow sea during the Jurassic Period 195 to 135 million years ago. Layers of marine sediment built up over time and individual spherical grains were coated with lime as they rolled around the sea bed. The warm, honey colour of the stone gives the city of Bath its distinctive appearance.

An important feature of Bath Stone is that it is a freestone, IE one that can be sawn or 'squared up' in any direction, unlike other rocks such as slate, which forms distinct layers. It's other peculiar feature is the fact that it is very soft and consequently very easy to work upon first extraction, but it hardens markedly after prolonged exposure to the air. It is therefore the almost perfect stone for construction.

Bath Stone has been used extensively throughout southern England for churches, houses and public buildings such as railway stations etc. Notable buildings include Bristol Cathedral -  LEFT  Truro Cathedral, and in London, Lancaster House and the Church of Christ the King in Bloomsbury. Underground extraction of Bath Stone still continues in the Corsham area but on a much smaller scale than previously. For example, Hanson PLC operates Hartham Park Quarry in the Hudswell district.

 

Not very far from Box is the tiny village of Monkton Combe, and in the church of Saint Michael, rests Britain's "last fighting Tommy", Henry Patch (17th. June, 1898 25th. July 2009). Harry as everyone knew him, served with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in the Great War, fighting on a Lewis gun team at The Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, where he was wounded in the September and evacuated back to Blighty. When he passed away at the age of 111 years, 38 days, Harry was the third oldest man in the world, and the oldest man in Europe. Harry first appears on the 1901 census as a two year old child with his stonemason father William John, his mother Elizabeth Ann, and older brothers George Frederick and William Thomas, at a house in the village called "Fonthill". The family are recorded at the same address "Fonthill Cottage" in the 1911 census. Harry left school in 1913 and started work as an apprentice plumber in Bath, a job which he returned to after his war service. In the Second World War Harry served as an auxiliary fireman and witnessed first hand the terrible bombing of Bristol when they were called out to fight the raging fires night after night. 

Now you may wonder what all this has to do with Box Quarry... well in Harry's autobiography "The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, the Oldest Surviving Veteran of the Trenches." ISBN 9780747591153, an absolutely fascinating read, he tells of how, even into the depths of his retirement he would be called upon to guide local services etc. through the mines whenever a collapse underground caused surface subsidence, so intimate was his knowledge of the subterranean passageways. We were deeply honoured to be able to visit Harry's grave to pay our respects and lay a wreath.

A lovely pub, The Quarryman's Arms, sits on top of Box Hill, from where it is possible to hire the key for one of the many entrances to the mine complex, and purchase a map which shows you the error of your (navigational) ways! Without the map finding your way through the maze of tunnels would be nigh on impossible, and our thanks go out to the trip organiser Robert, and his able assistant Nick, for selflessly giving up their time to make the visit so easy and thoroughly enjoyable.

The highlight of any wander through Box Quarry, other than finding the way back out again , has to be a huge cavern known locally as The Cathedral. A hole at the apex admits surface light and what at first sight appears to be an appreciable spoil heap from quarrying actually turns out to be partially composed of rubbish thrown in from above over the years! The opportunities for photography at this point are wonderful - not so for much of the rest of the mine though, because it is totally devoid of light and almost every tunnel looks the same as the last! In places pit props remain but they are rotting away alarmingly at a rate of knots with consequential roof falls here, there and everywhere. Interestingly too, an occasional abandoned mining tool can still be found. There is a lot of writing upon the rock walls, much of it in heavy lead pencil, and close examination reveals it to be the quarrymen's cutting instructions and the like. There are also several sumps or wells dotted throughout the mine and it would be all to easy to stumble into one for a short fall and a long soak in the crystal clear, fluorescent green water! We eventually came to a rather surprising "room" deep within the heart of the mine where visitors over the years have built some rather odd sculptures with red engineering bricks. A short while before we hit the "robot room" as it is often referred to we had arrived at a large metal mesh barrier, further barred with a mass of barbed wire. "Military" immediately came to mind and sure enough it proved to be one of the entrances to the ammunition stores. Beyond the partially demolished mesh and barbed wire a long corridor a few hundred yards long led us to an iron door set in a concrete block wall and many of the pillars of Bath Stone left holding up the tunnel roof had been partially encased in concrete and squared off. There were also several steel columns further strengthening the roof, and the sound of ventilation plant whirring away beyond the door showed this area of the mine still to be in use for storage of some sort.

Almost five hours after entering the mine we finally crawled out again, literally on our hands and knees, to a sodden, grey sky and the top side world! 

 

Below is a selection of the photographs we took on our Box Quarry trip...

To view any of the photographs in a far bigger size then click on the image of your choice and it will open in a new window.

Click right on the BACK button if you wish to return to our urb-ex site front page... 

 

About to "Box clever"! We met at The Quarryman's Arms, on Saturday 18th. February, 2012.
 

And we're in!

 
Many roof falls partially block the tunnels.

 
TJ in a tunnel!
 
First sight of "The Cathedral".
 
Robert and M look on as the first wave take their pix.
 
James, Lula, Marlon and UrbanX snapping away.
 
I hope the comment on the wall doesn't refer to M!
 
Apparently there's a cottage topside right by this hole.
 
Part of the debris field below the roof hole.
 
Light from above!
 
Team TeeJF on the debris field!
 
Lula modelling the latest in boiler suit chic...
 
...and here's Marlon in his KKK apparel!
 
Ever deeper!
 
Some of the pit props don't appear to hold much up!
 
This is about the limit in terms of direction markers!
 
More apparent pit prop randomness!
 
One of the "main roads".

 
One wonders about the story behind this inscription.

 
In amongst the roof fall debris are the remains of the pit props.

 
An abandoned miner's canteen.

 

Occasionally someone has put a route marker of their own on the tunnel wall next to the red route markings.
 

It's deep, it's green, and there looks to be another mine level below the water.
 
Nick "Lofty" Combes.

 
In the military section of the mine now.

 

At the end of the tunnel was an impassable metal door in a concrete block wall.
 

UrbanX, TJ and Lofty...
 
On the way back now...
 
..and out of the military sector once again.
 
The "Robot Room"!
 
This guy is full human height!
 
James attempting to set himself on fire...
 
...repeatedly!

 
TJ in a Tunnel Part 2!

 

Marlon doing his best to tear the ass out of his KKK suit. He eventually managed it.
 

Working our way back towards the entrance again.
 
Joined up writing = posh graffiti!
 
Mainy of the tunnels are partially "walled" with off cut stone.
 

 CLICK ABOVE  for The Quarryman's Arms website.

 

 

 

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A flight of steps hewn from the rock climbs up to an old exit. But this was not our way out!