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UK Ouseburn Culvert/Shelter, Newcastle - January 2016

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History

The Ouseburn Culvert provides an interesting counterpoint to the nearby Victoria Tunnel, for while the latter was described during the Second World War as the worst air raid shelter in Britain, the Ouseburn Culvert was considered by some one of the best, thanks to its dryness, facilities, the sense of camaraderie due to its size, and of course the level of protection afforded. It was also one of the few shelters in the country where no one would have noticed if the chemical toilets were a little ripe.

It had come into being in the first decade of the 20th century when the city fathers of Newcastle culverted the Ouseburn stream and then proceeded to bury the 655m long Hennebique ferro-concrete tunnel with a covering of industrial waste and spoil to improve cross-city access. Building work started in 1907 and was completed in 1911 at a cost of £23,000. The original idea was that it would take ten years to fill the 30m deep dene which would then be built upon, but by the 1940s it was still not full and plans changed, and the new City Stadium was built on it instead.

The two tunnels were built in very different ways. The Victoria Tunnel was bored in shorter sections between sunken vertical shafts which were then backfilled, while the 9m wide by 6m high elliptical culvert was built in the open and then covered over. Construction photographs from 1907 on show first the timber formwork and then the tunnel being built in a steep banked valley.

In 1939 the culvert was converted into a shelter for 3000 people for £11,000, just under half the cost of its initial construction. The work included the construction of a concrete platform floor a little above stream level. The finished shelter would have been incomparably drier than the Victoria Tunnel and the background sewer smell one notices today would at the time have had competition from other shelter aromas. Its size and dryness allowed a wider range of communal facilities such as a canteen, sick bay, library, wardens’ offices, a stage for musical events, a youth club and space for church services.

An unusual dispute arose between the canteen operator and the Council over his unwillingness to pay for the electricity he was using. Resolution was achieved when he agreed to lower his charges for tea and other hot drinks and sandwiches (a bargain at 1½d for a cup of tea and 2½d each for cocoa, coffee and sandwiches).

Interesting remains from the wartime period are the shelter bay numbers painted on the walls, and glass “tell-tales” fixed across roof cracks with wartime dates inscribed on the mortar. The latter show that it was being regularly monitored to ensure its safety, and may have been placed there in 1941 after a fracture 30m long was found, possibly caused by bomb impacts on parts of the city above.

Our Version of Events

Once again we found ourselves wandering along a river, but eventually we reached a nice dirty outflow; precisely the one we’d been looking for. Unfortunately, owing to the amount of rain we’ve had recently, it was a bit of a welly breacher, so we quickly hopped up onto the side platform. At first glances, the beginning of the culvert looked quite scruffy and chaotic, it was a little disappointing.

Once inside, there are a few parallel tunnels situated on a lower level, and above there is a raised platform to walk on; all contained in an A-frame-styled type of structure with a few blast walls in-between. The tunnel has various different sections throughout; lowered and raised, with plenty of ankle breaking type holes in the floor to watch out for. Occasionally you encounter a few manholes where you are able to view the culvert flowing beneath your feet. The metal girder section mid-way offers quite a nice view; I believe this is underneath quite a busy road.

It is a shame there is nothing left from the WW2 era, it resides mainly as an empty shell now. But, the tunnel doesn't seem to have lost much structural integrity, it looks to have been a fine place seek shelter during the war. I have no doubt that it would probably be used today if a war broke out. Although, it’s probably not nuclear-proof…

Towards the end the smell of fresh is real, and it has quite a strange culmination: a few manhole steps implanted into a brick wall that leads towards the ceiling and an open square opening. Through the hole there is a small room full of absolute shit – mainly spray cans and needles. It was no surprise that at this point we encountered two hipster 'taggers', who made a hasty exit after we interrupted their activities. There is also a series of manhole steps leading to another manhole at the Ouseburn inflow, however, we did not photograph this as we were feeling quite high off of the fumes at this point.

Explored with Ford Mayhem.

 

1:

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3:

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6:

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Looks cool this mate. Like CBS said an unusual shape to some of the tunnels. Really like pic 6. Looks like a mad force field :thumb

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