GKN Shadow Factory tunnels, Smethwick, Birmingham

A cold morning in Birmingham was to be the start of a weekend “up north” taking in a few sites that had been neglected for far too long. The tunnels under the GKN Shadow Factory had been cropping up for a while online and looked pretty special.

In reality, the tunnels are a glorified basement, but what a basement it is! Running under the entire site some of the tunnels were as long as the eye could see. A thick, sticky oil is present in a lot of the tunnels and seeping from the brickwork and the heavy air begins to give you a headache after a while. Hundreds of small storage areas and rooms branch off the tunnels, some still full of random tins and tubs of materials.

We walked the length of the tunnels and came out, strangely, without any kind of separation, into offices and a stairway to the outside area of the site where we could breathe fresh air again!

The GKN shadow factory
The GKN shadow factory

History of the site

In 1854 J. S. Nettlefold, a Birmingham screw manufacturer, had revolutionized his industry by introducing automated American machinery. Room was needed to house this; Nettlefold, joined by his brother-in-law Joseph Chamberlain, father of the statesman, established the Heath Street Works in Cranford Street, Smethwick. The firm dominated the market by the mid 1860s. In 1880, the year in which it became a limited company, Nettlefolds took over one of its local rivals, the Birmingham Screw Co. The newly acquired works was almost as large as the Heath Street Works and faced it from the opposite bank of the Birmingham Canal.

By the outbreak of the First World War the new company produced over half the screws and about a quarter of the nuts and bolts made in the country. In the late 1960s the headquarters of Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds Ltd., by then an investment company, adjoined the Heath Street Works, a 50-acre complex run by GKN Screws and Fasteners Ltd. and employing some 4,500 people.

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112 responses to “GKN Shadow Factory tunnels, Smethwick, Birmingham”

  1. Ryan Field says:

    Hi all,

    Just thought I’d say that this site has now become private property and isn’t accessible anymore. My friend and I visited yesterday, to be rudely escorted off the premises by the construction staff of the new Metropolitan Hospital ~ no adventure time for us :( x

  2. Gary Bell says:


    My dad, Derek Bell, was in charge of heat treatment there until he was made redundant after 33 years. He passed away shortly afterwards aged just 56. I’d love to know if any of his fellow workers are still alive. Thank you for that fascinating insight. I wonder if dad knew about the tunnels? I’ve asked my mum (now 88) but she knows nothing about them. My grandad Arthur Wilson worked there also in the 50s/60s.

    • Keith Wharton says:

      Hi, my Father worked in Heath St mill for 38 years until he retired his name was Tommy Wharton. I started as an apprentice in 1961 until 1968 when I married and moved to Lye.

      After I completed my apprenticeship, I was always told that the narrow tunnels housed the drive shafts when the machines were flat belt driven machines. The tunnels were probably used as air raid shelters, dad was a warden on the roof of Heath St Mill which were of timber construction.

      I still have Dads security lapel badge and his ARP badge from the time, he also served on the Thimblemill REC executive committee for many years.

      Regards Keith Wharton.

  3. eileen wood says:

    That has made me feel so ancient. You see the part where they mention that ‘strangely the tunnels connect to the offices’, well that was because as wages clerks we would be taken down into the basement, where we were locked into a room where all the money was. (No electronic payment systems then). We would have to sit there counting out what had to be put in the wage packets of all the workers… and we weren’t let out till it all balanced. A nightmare!

    • Eileen Attwood says:

      Yes I remember this, the smell of the money in the room and on your hands after putting it in the packets. Always two of you to a station and as you say had to balance to the penny, and on Friday you paid it out from different pay stations around the factory. The apprentices were paid out in one of those tunnels.

  4. Lauren Jones says:

    I’ve just found this site and love your work: derelict buildings are absolutely beautiful in my eyes. If you’re ever in the Derby/Nottingham region I’d love to go exploring with you. Good luck with your continued ventures. Great work.

  5. Joby says:


    How would I become an urban explorer? I am truly interested in this and live in the West Midlands/Black Country

  6. Bryce Kenwood says:

    Is the building still accesible to this day?

    • tomo says:

      Hi Bryce, all the GKN buildings have now been demolished to make way for the new hospital.

      • The Urban Explorer says:

        That’s a shame. Would you be able to provide photos?

        • Eddie says:

          Did you ever get pictures of the new hospital mixed in with some of the old buildings that haven’t been knocked down fully yet?

      • Joseph b says:

        The site IS STILL there! I drove past it earlier today, the hospital seems to be being built RIGHT next to it though, and if the GKN factory is due to be demolished in the near future I’m unsure. BUT the hospital / building site next to it seems to have brought security guards (to the hospital, not the GKN factory), so a certain degree of stealth may be required.

        (many years ago the site could be accessed through some other derelict warehouses around the corner, via a gap between a gate and wall, unfortunately it has since been bricked up and there are now cameras covering this specific “entrance” from a lamppost across the road)

        • The Urban Explorer says:

          Looks like you’re right if the latest Google Maps imagery is to be trusted. And I can still see our entry point, good news!

        • tomo says:

          Hi Joseph, there are some of the GKN buildings still left which look in a real bad state now. The majority of the site has been demolished. The new hospital is built mainly on the GKN self-tapping side. The wood screw mill is still in the flattened state. The bolt mill looks like it’s still there on Heath Street as well as the bridge.

  7. Daveh says:

    It would be an absolute disgrace if this old building gets knocked down, would be nice if the new hospital could keep this and redevelop it in to something the hospital could use, or sell privately maybe for other commercial ventures such as a hotels and restaurants like a wharf side steakhouse, or something to that effect.

  8. Alex Ward says:

    Hi all, is this factory still abandoned, just looked on Google Maps and nothing looks like a building site?

  9. CCS Media Student says:

    I was just browsing for different abandoned structures in my local area for a film project of mine, but I don’t know if the rumours of the ENTIRE site being demolished is true.

    Is the site still standing and accessible?

    If you have any word on this, can you please email me at shonjord@ccsacademy.net


  10. Joe says:

    Okay, after visiting the site earlier and now referencing google maps, I can confirm that most of the factory has NOT been demolished. The western most buildings however have been made from what I could tell inaccessible, with large metal sheets covering the doors actually inside the complex. In the open areas and the few buildings I was able to explore, I wasn’t able to find the entrance to the tunnels (aside from some manhole style openings that were completely filled with debris), so I can only assume that the entrance is in those western most buildings. If anybody has a incline as to where the tunnels may be and if they’re still actually accessible, please email me at batejor@gmail.com. Great explore, looking forward to going back and visiting it’s sister building in Lichfield!

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      It seems like a lot has progressed since I was last here. Google maps shows loads of cars in the once wasteland area, and streetview shows the main gates open and the area clearly under development. The tunnels were accessible via ladders in the ground floor of the main building (with the arched top windows). If I remember rightly, they also opened up towards the eastern end (near the gate) and could be just walked in to. It wouldn’t surprise me if the current developers have filled them, but it would have taken A LOT of backfill!

  11. Joe says:

    I’ve just got out of there after exploring the site (or what’s left of it haha). A lot of the factory has been lost to demolition work, with there only being one feasible entrance now without hurting yourself.

    The site is nowhere near as extensive as I have been told it once was, and there is no access to the tunnels now (if I’m wrong please correct me, because we searched through every room that was accessible). It’s a nice place to explore if you’re going through the area, but I wouldn’t make a trip here solely for this place; it’s a shame I didn’t get here before the demo works to see the tunnels in all their glory.

  12. Andy says:

    Anybody in the West Midlands interested in meeting up. Worcester based but easy access to Birmingham etc. Give me a message :)



  13. Robert says:

    Hi there, I’m doing a heritage project on the site for the Canal and River Trust. I don’t suppose by any chance you looked at the 10 air raid shelters at the rear of the site, dug into the grassy bank? These are the focus of the report I am undertaking. Any info you know of would be great. Cheers.

  14. Liam says:

    Hi there, I was just wondering if you were able to give me the full address for this area? I have struggled on finding it myself. Thank you!

  15. Bonky McHonkisson says:

    A Google Maps ‘driveby’ on Cranford Street, Smethwick, dated September 2015 shows the GKN building demolished and ‘Mar City Homes’ claiming the site. I see from their website that the new homes are ‘coming soon’ and the development is called ‘Cranford Grange’.

  16. Gio says:

    Hello I’m a photography student, I’m currently doing a documentary project and I was wondering if you could advise me on any places to go to for some photography opportunities.

  17. dan says:

    Is there asbestos there?

  18. dyl says:

    Hi, just wondered if this place is still accessible, as I am interested in taking a few photos for my A-Level course, I live around 45 Minutes away and wondered if it would be worth the trip?

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      Dyl, I travelled about 4 hours in the hope it’d be accessible. I suspect it will be, but that’s the nature of the hobby I’m afraid, you just never know!

      • donna says:

        Hi guys , I’m a Smethwick girl and also a paranormal investigator and would love to visit the site xoxo you send me the details of who I need to contact

    • Dan F says:

      Hi there, no it is no longer accesible as it has been demolished, I done security there while the demolition was being undertook in 2014.

    • Juna says:

      Hi Dyl, I’m an A-Level student too and planning on going there to take some photos for my portfolio and exam. Did you manage to go there?

  19. Osman Arshad says:

    Is it possible to get the floorplans of this factory from somewhere?

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      That’s a pretty niche request. I’d suggest starting at the local library, history centre, council? They must have existed somewhere at sometime, but whether they’ve survived or not is another question!

  20. Angela says:

    Me and a few people are wondering about visits some places like this, do you need to get permission from any one to enter this site and if so who and how ? Any info would be helpful x

    • Tariq hussain says:

      Angela, you do need permission to enter this historical fab place. Entering this site without permission constitutes trespass.

      • joe says:

        You do not, provided it is open and you don’t have to force entry, you can enter the site. Trespassing is something that is only civilly prosecute-able, so entry to the site is not a criminal offence.

  21. Luke Mooney says:

    Really interested in doing some photography in any sort of abandoned building around Oxfordshire or Birmingham. It would be fantastic if you could email lukebubbles@hotmail.co.uk with any suggestions, thank you!

    • Alex says:

      Hi Luke, It’s still a pretty good place to shoot. The building is still in-tact.
      alexadams.photography/?bw_gallery=gkn-shadow-factory-august-2015 shows a bit of it.

  22. Worldofcapella says:

    Hi UE

    Planning a short film in August would be a great location! Who do I have to contact to ask permission! Any help greatly appreciated and full credits to this local piece for you to see!thanks

  23. Kerry Paul says:

    Looking to find a model or two to shoot around sites like this. Should get some amazing shots

  24. Joe says:

    Hi guys,
    I haven’t been to this site but looking on Google Earth the site seemed very empty. After a bit of researching I came across this

    Can anyone confirm that the site has been cleared to save me a wasted day.


    • The Urban Explorer says:

      A wasted day is always a possibility in this hobby mate! However, I’m pretty sure the factory is still there although it was mentioned in September 2014 that “work has really been pressing on” with the hospital site.

      There really is only one way to find out for sure… maybe pin-point a few locations in the area so you’re not putting all your hope in to one site if it proves to be a no-go.

      • Jay says:

        Hey, as a kid I was always wandering in and out of factories and abandoned buildings (as you do) but came across a few sites now I’m in my mid 20’s that I would love to get into and have a good look around.

        I’m amazed by the history some of these buildings hold and just want to experience it for myself – any tips for a starter?
        Or anybody else want to join me in taking a look around this site as I live local :)

        • Chris says:

          Hi mate. I’m shooting a music video here early June, I tried to find it today but failed miserably.
          Any idea where it is ? Want to go to check it out ?

          • Declan says:

            OMG this is so weird. I wanted to make a music video here as well and I have no idea how to get to the factory even though I am from Smethwick lol. Anyway if you find out where the location is can you please let me know. Thanks :)

    • Mike says:

      Yes the site is still there I drove past it yesterday, you will not be disappointed it’s amazing down there!

    • Alex says:

      Hi Joe,

      I work in the construction industry and checked a national database we use to track projects; it looks as though work won’t start on this site before late 2015/early 2016.
      Better visit before it’s too late; I’m thinking of visiting this soon too.

      Best regards.

  25. lexi louise says:

    I’m a freelance experienced model and I would love to go here with a photographer and do some shots inside, looks amazing

  26. I went here a few weeks back with my friend after walking from Smethwick town center, couldn’t find a way in, I couldn’t work out whether I was at the wrong end of the road, I need to go for a college project as I’ve put it in my brief and changing the location means changing the whole thing again, is it at the bottom of Cranford street or the other end near Heath street? As when I got there I was rather confused :)
    I’m planning to go back soonish anyhow

    Thank you

  27. RD says:

    Went here yesterday as my first ever adventure and loved it, looking for new places near by already :D

  28. Chrisieboy says:

    Fantastic pictures. My factory is sadly closing, we too make screws and bolts, all our machines are destined to Pakistan. Funnily enough the old chap I work with was a worker here until it closed its doors a few years back

  29. Woz says:

    Where abouts do you get in when you are there?

  30. Chloe says:

    Can someone give me a link to the directions to this place please I’m really struggling

  31. Natasha Moss says:

    I see that most of these posts are a few months old does anyone know if you can still gain access? As I feel a little road trip coming on, Thanks

  32. SirBlox says:

    I went to this location today to get a shoot on abandoned places for my photography course, and I was not disappointed! It’s very easy to get in to and once you’re in there’s a huge atmosphere that just adds to the whole feeling, I didn’t even go into the tunnels and still got some amazing shots. This has been my first try at urban exploring and I already feel hooked, thanks for posting this article it’s been a huge inspiration :D

  33. skinny fox. says:

    I don’t see what the problem is on finding this place. I just google mapped it, and guess what. It came straight up. I’m assuming its the grounds with the big metal gates on it. With the 2 castle emblems on the gates.

  34. LondonColin says:

    I worked at GKN Screws and Fasteners at their Heath Street mill in the early 70’s. It was full of ancient machinery making wood screws one at a time on miniature automatic lathes, and self tappers which were rolled from wire. There were two machines then which were already 100 years old and worked two shifts a day making coach screws. Amazing to think of it.
    I have no recollection of the ‘tunnels’ despite roaming all over the place when I was bored and underworked. But I do remember a few hidden places frequented by girls with a certain reputation.
    I’m not surprised it closed down.

  35. Tilly says:

    These pics r amazin, is the buildin still like this if so where about is it, doin a photography course in college n wnt pics lyk dis, thanks

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      I think you might need to enrol on an English course instead! Haha! Thank you though, I appreciate that. I would assume the factory is still standing, I’m not local so I couldn’t say. It’s not difficult to find though if you do a bit of research.

      • Josh says:

        Me and a few friends went into the factory today and went through the basement , we think the tunnels go a lot further as we followed one for about 10 minute off the main path , also we found another factory close to a petrol station that looked abandoned about 5-10 minutes drive from this factory wondered if you had any info on that , cheers

  36. DeaDas says:

    Text here the complete address or the postcode, I don’t find this place! I see one place the same, but it’s closed all door!

  37. JC says:

    Wow, love the look of this place. I live about an hour from Brum and on occasion I’ve stumbled across some of these old industrial back streets and they fascinate me.

    I’m just getting into photography too and would love to stumble across some of these places for a shoot.

    Keep up the good work.

  38. Alex Taylor says:

    Looks like a great place! However I’m struggling to find it on google maps even with the address being posted here in the comments :/
    Could someone give me an accurate location of where it is, unless it has been knocked down? As if it has, then its a big shame :(

    • steve says:

      Hi, went to visit this morning, lots of security and no real place of entry and I’m not adverse to a little risk taking.

  39. Lee says:

    Looks like you just walked right through the front door. Does anyone know if it’s still like this? Or if its blocked.

    I would really love to take some video stills of the place.

    Amazing shots! Keep up the work.

  40. Kat says:


    Did you have any problems getting in to look around & shoot in this area? Doesn’t seem to be any ‘no entry’ signs but just want to be sure. :)



  41. Cam says:

    Me and my buddy want to give this place an explore, but I can’t seem to find a location for it. Any one who knows a street name for it etc. I would be very appreciative

    • G says:

      Hey cam its on heath st winson green. I used to live on heath st in the 70’s. I wud luv to investigate too myself so wud luv to go with u.

  42. ben says:

    Can anyone please give location?? Searching Google maps etc is timely and boring, I just want to get there and shoot film.

  43. Dokka says:

    Where in Smethick is it? I don’t know the area very well but this location keeps popping up on location sites.

    • It’s so easy to find! I don’t live in Birmingham and I’d never even heard of Smethwick before. A quick search on Google and I found the location in under 5 minutes. If you’re really struggling I’ll help…

      • Beth says:

        Where exactly is the address I can find the street, also it may have been demolished, the research I have done is inconclusive, does anybody know for sure? Thanks

  44. Louise Monk says:


    I am really interested in taking photographs here! Looks amazing!


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