Reigate cave complex being opened up for visitors
REIGATE'S subterranean hidden gems are being opened up for curious cavers.
The town's three caves – two 19th-century complexes off Tunnel Road and a medieval cavern in the castle grounds – have served as mines, storerooms, and potentially life-saving air raid shelters.
Now, 21 years after the Wealden Cave and Mine Society first opened them to the public, volunteers hope the revamped displays within can make them one of East Surrey's top attractions.
Five open days are planned over the next five months for curious residents to take a peak.
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Reigate Caves co-ordinator Peter Burgess said: "People are very drawn to the underground, they are naturally curious about things that are hidden away. We want to make it as interesting as possible when people come and have a look.
"The caves are dark and mysterious and it's very unusual to have underground features to visit in the South East.
"But every year people will come along and say, 'I have lived in Reigate for 25 years and I have never been to look', some say they never knew they existed.
"Dorking has a small tunnel but not many towns in this area have got something like this. They are historic. They are linked with the town's past.
"Your picture of the town is sadly incomplete until you come and have a look. It is the missing jigsaw puzzle in your life if you have never been down there."
Volunteers were underground on most weekends over the winter working on improvements to the Tunnel Road caves, which both stretch 100 metres from a doorway on either side of the streets.
Changes include a completed display of the old tramway from Merstham to Croydon, and one section of cave given over to a re-enactment of underground stone quarries at Godstone.
The enthusiasts have also made improvements to displays on Reigate during the war years, added displays and installed a Morrison table.
The Barons' Cave was part of Reigate Castle, built soon after 1088, but it is not clear what it was used for.
The Tunnel Road caves were built as sand mines and as storage areas for wine and beer when the street was constructed in 1823. During the First World War they were used to store explosives, and in the Second World War they served as an air-raid shelter for up to 200 residents.
"The caves have served a lot of purposes and that is what we try to get across," said Mr Burgess. "There are a lot of different things a hole can be used for."
Society members are all volunteers and their work is funded through admission charges during the open days.
The society is on the hunt for a Second World War Anderson shelter to install in the caves. Any readers who know of one are asked to contact members.