Ridge Quarry (Central Ammunitions Depot), Wiltshire
Ridge quarry was my first real underground experience as an “urban explorer”. Growing up on Portland in Dorset I wasn’t a stranger to underground spaces and cave networks, but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer scale of the Wiltshire mines.
Being one of the smaller mines earmarked for the Central Ammunition Depots (CAD) in the area of Corsham, I remember exploring Ridge on a sunny Sunday afternoon and climbing down inside the slope shaft obliviously under-prepared and under-equipped.
We had one torch between us, no maps, no safety helmets, completely under-dressed & perhaps most shockingly, told no one where we were going. All these oversights quickly came to the fore when for about 30 minutes we were going round in circles searching for the exit, getting more & more irate with each other, both of us arguing that we knew the way out, eventually happening on it by complete luck. Never again would I go underground so badly equipped.
Access to Ridge quarry over the years after our first visit changed a lot and for a long time it was either completely inaccessible, or open for very short periods of time, and as far as I know, Ridge is now in the hands of a local stone company, Ham & Doulting, and completely locked down. Periodically we managed to get a few visits in and see more of the mine each time. Even though Ridge is one of the smallest mines in the area, I thought it was one of the most difficult to navigate as everything looks so similar.
The history of Ridge
Taken over by the war office in 1915 and used for TNT storage during The Great War, Ridge was vacated by the Ministry of Munitions in 1922.
Ridge quarry is on two levels, accessed via two inclines and after Ridge was requisitioned in 1934, concrete works began in 1938 on the lower level but were soon abandoned due to the costs out-weighing the benefits. Even if it did look spectacular!
Early in 1944, bomb storage peaked at 31,563 tons as the invasion of Europe was being prepared and in April & May of that year the RAF dropped 200,000 tons in operation Overlord with Ridge’s contribution to the campaign an impressive 21,000 tons.
It’s genuinely sad seeing the mines around Corsham slowly but surely being locked away from sight and only being accessed by a privileged few. Uncertainty surrounds what Ham & Doulting Stone have planned for Ridge and why they’ve decided to secure it so tightly. I can’t see it being re-opened for mining, but I’d be the first to admit I’m no expert and time will ultimately tell.
If you’d like to learn more about Ridge and the Corsham mines, I’d highly recommend Nick McCamley’s book, Secret Underground Cities.