Saturday, 6 February 2010

Going Undergound.

This week, and last week, I've been busy with a bit of building maintenance. We have a building, under which was rumoured to be a basement full of water. The only person who could recall having been in there was the company chairman. Apparently, in the late 1950s there were all manner of educational and hobby clubs among the company employees, and he, then in his twenties, was a member of the Archery Club. They used to practise indoors in winter in the basement.
The building was erected in the 1920s, with a water-filled reservoir beneath it which supplied fire-fighting water, and boiler cooling water, this was fed from springs on site, and also from a sixteen-inch iron pipe running from a deep-well pump at the other mill, a quarter of a mile away.
When, in the late nineteen-thirties, war in europe was expected, the reservoir was drained, tanked with asphalt, a nine-inch thick, heavily reinforced concrete slab poured above it, and it was turned into an air-raid shelter, with steps at both ends, steel blast doors, and an escape tunnel to an open area nearby. There were toilets, a kitchen, bunk-beds, a first aid station... We have all the plans in the archives.
In the late nineteen fifties, however, there were plans to install a steam-turbine power-station on site. This would generate electricity for both mills, and reduce the costs of running all the post-war electricall powered machines. So the clean-water reservoir was needed again. The stairs were taken out, the rainwater diverter pipes smashed, the drain closed, and the basement allowed to fill to a depth of about 7'6". The access hatches were concreted over.
When the turbine, known as "Eleanor" was taken out of service in the early eighties, the basement was forgotten.
Now, with the ground-floor untenanted, we decided that a structural inspection was due. I had to find the hatch, Which proved not to be easy. The measurement indicated on the plan was bogus. But after a fair bit of jackhammering we found a steel hinge, and from there, managed to cut a hole, finding the original steel ladder.

A cheap sump pump was lowered into the water, and I checked the rate of level drop. It took two days to get to within wading depth of the ladder section, then, surprise, a doorway. And three steps down. Gak. Thigh deep water. No ghost so far. Nor skeletons, or pirate treasure-chests.

 The old stairway, now filled with rubble is at the far end.
Down the pump went again, for another day, I calculated that the cheap pump, of the sort you might buy to run a waterfall in a pond,  had shifted over 480 tonnes of water.
Down in the bottom layer, however, there was a lot of black ooze, and the pump kept clogging, so we ended up with a big tanker, and three men, using it as a giant wet-vac. Yesterday, we shifted 4,500 gallons of black goop.
Next step was to get the structural steelwork guy in to assess the corrosion. He said it was all okay, scale off the loose stuff, wire-brush, paint with bitumen, and check every five years.
Oh, and prise out the rotten shuttering wood. It won't be me doing it. we'll contract it out, I suspect two men, maybe two weeks, in the dungeons. Then we'll let it fill again..

What fun I have.


  1. OMIGOSH! I remember that excellent film a couple of years ago about a London bank robbery THE BANK JOB showed these dudes tunneling under stores and find a sealed off plague crypt....full of skeletons or whatever. All you found was black goop????

  2. Black goop. A lot of it, a few broken bricks, a few still readable wrappers for stuff last sold and eaten fourty years ago. Nothing at all exciting. I was so disappointed.

    Still, I keep finding cool stuff elsewhere, like an apprenticeship indenture from 1795, in a box in the attic. And a sampler from 1853.

  3. This is exciting...& you are documenting it. To give some perspective, the town I live in is celebrating it's 125th birthday this mnth. That's it, 125 years. Bare earth underneath, nothing to show...nada

  4. Fascinating. I have a basement full of junk that my husband drags home. In the spring it usually has ankle high water and I'm sure there is also black goop. Once when the town was doing sewer work a rat got in and left droppings all over everything. I mostly choose not to go down there.

  5. that's a pretty amazing looking dungeon indeed. i can't help but think how strange it would have been to scuba through the basement while it was full of water... creepy like a movie. and what a trooper the little sump pump that could. i had never heard the word bitumen until i roofed the flat roof of my studio and someone suggested what i came to understand was referred to as modified bitumen... long story. but in kentucky, people don't speak without a distinct accent... one i personally think sounds ignorant but i'm from the north. anyway, the guy i was talking to kept saying... "ya need ta git yersef some bitchman". you can imagine the start of my detective work trying to find someone who knew what i was talking about when all i had to go on was bitchman. anyway lovely shots from the crypt

  6. Rita: I've always been interested in history, but then, I've always lived in the midst of it. I drive to work along a road which was recorded and described in King William I's Domesday book survey in 1086.
    I pass Kirkstall Abbey, whose building was largely funded by Ilbert De Lacy in 1152.
    A town dating back a hundred and twenty five years? I walk through older buildings than that, every day. I'm always fascinated by it, but mostly, we're unaware of it, spare it no thought.
    I try to think, as I walk up worn stone stairs of the people who worked there, they wore nailed soles, hence the rate of wear...

  7. Nag, I confess I'm a junk magnet. My basement at home is rather overfilled with things I'll never need, yet can't bring myself to discard.

    Luckily it doesn't flood, though it's damp. No rats.

  8. Jim: I posted a pic of the outside of the building, because I was struck by the similar timbering on Rookwood's building. Bitumen... We use a lot, roofing, crack mending in the car-park, waterproofing walls, it's versatile stuff. Also used to fill and waterproof/insulate underground cable joint-boxes.

    Funnily enough, the city fire department often borrows another basement area for training, they fill it with smoke and send crews in to search and evacuate "casualties". I suggested, tongue in cheek, to my boss that we invite the underwater search team to practice in there.
    One of the lads sent to work on the clearing/pumping freaked out when he heard water cascading in, had to get out quick, white-faced and shaking.
    It turns out he was in the navy, in a ship that took damage below the water-line, and he was one of the crew sealed in with orders to wedge mattresses into the gash, and shore them in with timber. As they worked, the water level rose to chest height, and above them was a watertight hatch, firmly dogged shut. He refused to come back down.


Spam will be reported and swiftly deleted. I will put a curse upon you if you post spam links.