Naval Fuel Bunker, Portsdown Hill, Hampshire
During the 1930’s a vast underground storage facility was dug deep in to Portsdown Hill overlooking Portsmouth, capable of holding up to around 180,000 tons of oil in 9 concrete storage tanks, each 35ft high. During a few visits to the site, we managed to see the entire place.
Portsmouth’s naval history is a long & proud one which the residents of the city are constantly reminded of living in the shadow of Portsdown Hill. Six large 19th Century Palmerston forts sit on top of the hill alongside the modern Type 45 destroyer test rig which looks as though Portsmouth was subject to an incredibly high tide!
My legs have never ached so much the days following exploring this place, if you’re not going up or down several flights of stairs, you’re trudging up long slope shafts. Perhaps that says more about my physical fitness? There are four entrances to the fuel bunkers, officially labelled North Compound, Top Entrance, Main Access Tunnel & Access Tunnel. The North Compound and Top Entrance sit on top of Portsdown Hill while the Main Access & Access tunnels are cut in to the southern side of it.
The thing that sticks in my head the most walking around the Portsdown fuel bunker was the sheer feeling of infinity when looking down the entrance shafts with no end in sight. Endless walking and feeling like you’re getting nowhere.
Decommissioned in the 1990’s, Portsdown fuel bunker is still in great condition, although the pump room (the deepest part of the bunker) is quickly becoming an oil-filled swimming pool. Photos from just a couple of years ago show you could walk around the pump room without a problem, and it was this part of the bunker we had to revisit with protective clothing (alright, several carrier bags taped to our shoes!) in order to see it. Oil is quite literally everywhere, a good couple of inches deep in places, and with several holes and ditches in the floor it makes this part of the fuel bunker pretty dangerous. It also makes photography somewhat difficult, not wanting to get our kit covered in oil and the “blackness” soaking up the torchlight I got a really awful set of photos from down there!
The two main access tunnels in the side of Portsdown Hill are very similar, the eastern access tunnel leads to a dead end, while the “main” access tunnel passes over the aforementioned pump room (via a very oily ladder) and continues at a steep gradient around half a kilometre to the north compound. Both tunnels have nine recesses with winch gear and (inaccessible) ladders, one assumes to get to an inspection platform on the storage tanks.
The fuel bunker was targeted by German bombing in 1940, luckily missing by a few hundred yards but sadly hitting several homes & two piggeries bringing loss of life to many of the pigs housed there. Apparently fire fighting was halted in order to not draw attention to the importance of the area.