One of the Heapey Tunnels. If you look closely you will see a CCTV camera in front of the gate. This tunnel is nearest to the perimeter fence.
There seems to be a fascination with underground and secret locations within ufology at the moment. Whilst investigating the myth of the strategic reserve, and the alleged Rudloe Manor Rail connection, - see "An Anoraks Paradise" - I was put in contact with a man called Paul Screeton who told me about another possible site.
Paul has been investigating for many years unusual stories across the country, especially those concerning rail myths. He came across a railway worker who claimed to have seen lines of locomotives at an old former Ordnance factory in Heapey, Chorley.
The old abandoned railway line to Blackburn from Chorley. The holding sidings for Heapey ROF was behind the large tree in the center. There are still short pieces of track there.
A view down the valley. The main entrance comes down the left of the valley and the tunnels are on the right side of the valley. On 30th Jan, 2000, the main office at the rear of the sight was occupied at 9pm....what is there to guard.
Having just finished the article on the Box Hill Tunnel, we decided to take a look at the site in question. Heapey is a small village just off the M61 and not far from the Botany Bay area of Chorley. The village used to have its own rail link but this was severed when Beeching was wielding his axe back in the 1960's. The line that served Heapey, ran from Chorley to Blackburn. It joined the Blackburn to Preston Line near Cherry Tree. People from the nearby village of Wheelton used to walk two miles to the rail facilities at Heapey.
The railway lines have long been lifted and in parts the old track bed is covered with large trees. Resurrecting a line out of here would be highly impractical and of an exorbitant cost. Why would someone hide locomotives in a hillside, then sever the rail connection to it. Again, its these parts of the stories that give credence to this all just being a myth. But where does the myth come from?
Rod Howarth and myself ventured out to Heapey. We soon found the village but not the Ordnance factory. Where was this elusive site and why were we looking into the case of the strategic reserve based on one eye witness who's testimony stems from many years ago.
Firstly, what is the Strategic Reserve. Basically this is a store for out of date or unused equipment up and down various sites in different parts of the country. The equipment stored could be, jeeps, weapons and the angle we were originally following, trains.
Many people, mainly rail employees, were claiming that steam trains along with many other types of equipment were being kept in storage facilities for future use.
One of the sites that was mentioned was the Box Hill Tunnel in Wiltshire. After investigating this site, we have proved that there is no rail connection now into Rudloe from within the Box Tunnel. It is highly improbable that steam trains were being kept anywhere within the country as water towers and coal bunkers needed to replenish these engines are no longer around, having long since disappeared with the demolition crews.
It was from this investigation, into Rudloe and the strategic reserve, we were told to look at another site that could have been linked with the myth. How could we turn down a challenge to look at this. We wanted to know why the myth of steam trains being kept in sites up and down the country persisted. Was it just rail enthusiasts who could not accept that steam trains were just museum pieces or relegated to private companies who ran trains for enthusiasts.
We came across a new housing development and were beginning to think that this could have been the old site. A woman riding by on a horse told us where the site was, we had driven by the road to it three times. We soon got to the site and instantly it was apparent that this was an old site. The perimeter fences were very rusty with flaking paint. The buildings within the complex were run down, the windows all smashed, drain pipes hanging off and basically it was hard to imagine anything happening at this site.
However, having a closer look, it soon became apparent that there were lampposts within the site, that gave the appearance of being newer or more maintained than the rest of the dilapidated compound. At the back of the site, we could see two tunnel entrances into the hillside. The tunnels or gates were quite high, enough for road or rail vehicles to enter. The gates seemed metallic. Outside each gate there was a surveillance camera. We do not know whether these were working or not.
Shortly after, the woman on the horse who had originally told us where to look, caught up with us. She told us that many of the locals still believe that there were steam trains kept at the site and that a local farmer has seen them.
It is interesting to note that we never at any time told her we were looking at the site in relation to disappearing locomotives. The only thing we said was that we were looking at old railway lines. So, Paul's contact from many years ago, seemed to be recounting the same tale as this woman.
We had gone to the site expecting to find nothing but sometimes you trek out to these places on the slightest hunch and we seemed to be onto something. It was very apparent that this site was an old Ordnance factory and looking at it, it was again obvious that this was once a storage facility. There were signs which read :- ROYAL ORDNANCE PLC AMMUNITION DIVISION. THIS FACTORY IS A PROHIBITED PLACE UNDER THE OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT ( 1911-1939) PHOTOGRAPHY PROHIBITED.
Another sign read:-WARNING POLICE DOGS ON PATROL
These signs were typical of ordnance sites up and down the country, there was nothing special about them.
She stated that the site was abandoned three years ago. A local couple had applied for an extension to their business and were turned down on the grounds that it was in the blast zone. We were not interested that ordnance had been stored here as that is what the site was built for. So why were we still getting the rumours of steam trains being kept here. From Wiltshire to Lancashire, there seemed to be a strong myth that there was such a thing as the Strategic Reserve.
The objection to the extension was lifted and locals were told that the contents of the tunnels had been removed. The kind lady on the horse however told us that the site is still patrolled and that lorries have been seen visiting the site in the early hours of the morning.
She duly left and we took some photographs of the site from the perimeter fence, after all the site was abandoned. Suddenly we were aware of a police Range Rover on the road leading down the back of the site, this road is protected by a gate. The car had stopped and was watching us. It drove down the road we were on. It very slowly drove by our car, then turned around and returned slowly by us again, then drove off up the hill.
We returned at least half a dozen times to look at the site. We photographed it from every possible angle we could we could work out from the front of the site. We never at one point trespassed on any location. The location appears to be in a natural valley and is well hidden.
The area is basically made up of two sites. The main compound, which has the tunnels into the hillside and smaller section where there were old railway sidings. The two sites are divided by a road that is a public highway. About 25 years ago there was a rail connection across this road.
We spoke to about 10 locals over the course of a few days. Some say that the steam trains were moved on low loaders in the 60's. A local man used to affectionately call the site the "engines graveyard." He recalls that there was usually between 6 and 12 engines stored there at any one time. Smaller parts were removed from the engines and they were removed. The local man says he never saw where they went. He did say though that he got the impression that the locomotives were "old" for their time, possibly engines from the 1930's and 40's.
When I spoke to Paul, who deals in rail folklore, he says that removing trains on low loaders was not a common practise in the 60's. The local man who saw the trains removed on low loaders, says his father used to patrol the site at nights for the owners. So we have gone from a local man patrolling the site in the 60's, to the police patrolling an abandoned site in the 90's.
This part of the site is surrounded by a fence. It is very overgrown and hard to see what is there. We can make out a building within the limits of the fence. To the rear of the building there is a river which has been channelled by concrete walls. This flows through a small barrier and we cannot see where it ends due to the high foliage. However both sides of the river are protected by a fence. Then fence on the near bank is a high railing one, whilst the fence on the far side is a metallic mesh, with barbed wire on the top.
On a 1961 Ordnance survey map, we found that the main line that was nearby was still there, as were these elusive sidings that were surrounded by a fence. A 1968 map, showed the main line as lifted but again the sidings were still there. This line had faced the Beeching axe back in the 60's. We are trying to trace any records that relate to locomotives being stored at Heapey and if so where were they moved to and are there records of their scrapping.
I went to a local library in Chorley and tried to find out more about the location. There was only one reference to the site and that was an article in the local paper, which told of how the land was being purchased under compulsory order. The article was dated April, 1937, the paper was the Chorley Guardian.
We have since found out from locals that there are four tunnels entrances at this site but we can only see three after having only initially seeing two. One of the tunnels is bricked up, the other two have metallic gates, as for the fourth, we are not sure. A local farmer had been inside the tunnels and he claims there was just ordnance kept there.
We know of three people who were alleged to have been in the tunnels. These people have not spoken to us. We have been told about another two people who we should speak to. One of these lived out of the village but were told he has some useful information.
It was common for engines to be dumped in sidings and still is to this day, awaiting the scrap mans acetylene torch. Why would locomotives be dumped awaiting scrapping so near an ordnance site. Why would the sidings they were in be protected by such a high fence. If ordnance was being moved in and out of these sidings then one can appreciate the security.
The local man who used to play near the site, says they could not get near the old steam engines because there was a high fence around the sidings. The fence was very strong and was embedded in concrete, so there was no way to tunnel under, nor is there still; not that I would try anyway.
Whilst two of the locals say that the trains were moved on low loaders, many others say that they believe that the trains are kept in the hillside. I don't particularly believe that steam trains would be kept here but what fascinates me is the myth, that persists up and down the country, that trains are being kept hidden away for future use. What do they mean, future use, a war, hard times, an invasion. Let the conspiracy theorists play with that one for a while. Why would we keep very old engines from the 30's and 40's for future use, surely if you were to use steam trains, you would use ones from the last days of steam. In the last days of steam, engines were scrapped in bulk and quite quickly, would anyone notice a few disappearing into the darkness. Given the enthusiastic approach of rail enthusiasts and their ability to sniff out the dying grounds of locomotives, I find this very hard to believe.
We decided we needed to see the fourth tunnel and also to see what is in the secondary site that had contained sidings, and may still do. We have hired a plane to take us over the site and get some photographs from the air.
At the rear of the site there is a new roadway or dirt track being built, this is used by the local business extension and is used for horse riders to get into the valley.
This is the rear of the site. From down at the bottom of the valley (via a public footpath) you can get closer to the site and see the buildings here are in much better condition than at the front of the site.
I decided to visit the rear of the site with my video camera. We did this from a public footpath. From here it is very easy to get up to the rear of the site. This part is certainly kept in better shape than the front end. Although the fences are in a very rusted state, the buildings near the main gate appear intact.
The entrance to the ordnance site is accessed from a road that has a bar across it. Remember this is where the police observed us from the first time we went. This road leads virtually from the front of the site to the rear. The road comes to some high metal gates across it. These are in better condition than the rest of the fence.
The buildings nearest to this gate have all the windows intact, this is a stark contrast to the buildings at the front of the site. There was also a big building that could be seen from the front and rear of the site, this was also in poor condition.
At the main rear gate, there was a surveillance camera looking down. The paint on the woodwork on the door and window frames of the "good" buildings was not consistent with the rest of the site. There was a sign that stated "Drivers to report here."
There was an old fork lift truck and a separate skip attachment near the gates. On the hillside, there was a radio mast. There is no proof that access is still gained at this part of the location but if you were to see it, you would agree that this part is in much better condition than the rest of the site.
The road enters through the gates, turns right, then right again, virtually a U-turn. The road runs along a parallel route to the hillside and the tunnels into it. Again the road is in very good condition, it is clean and not overgrown with weeds.
Where the road takes its first right turn, there is another sign. The sign reads :-
THE FOLLOWING MUST NOT BE TAKEN ONTO THE CLEAN SIDE. Matches - Spent or unspent or any means of procuring a light. Tobacco in any form, including snuff. Pipe, cigarette or any article connected with smoking. Food, sweetmeat, beverage, medicine. Private bag, parcel or bicycle equipment. Stick or umbrella *Chemical, explosive or any obvious dangerous article. *Knife, scissors, file or other sharp implement. * = Except when required for official duties.
These are obviously security measures, that would stop people taking things in and out of the site, nothing unusual about that.
Also, again the lampposts at the rear are much more modern looking and again give the appearance that they would work.
From the rear, there was no way that the tunnel entrances could be seen. We could see the concrete surrounds of the tunnels and the surveillance cameras pointing at each one. It was still difficult to tell if there were three or four tunnels. The tunnels are on a curved hillside and from the rear you cannot see the front so clearly and vice versa. On top of each tunnel there was a lightning conductor. Also on the hillside, there were a number of tall posts that had conductors on the top, this is common sense for ammunition storage sites.
Another contrast between this main complex and the "sidings" complex is the fencing. Whilst they are both the same style, the fencing where the old sidings were, seemed to have insulators on, suggesting an electric fence at one time. If ammunition was stored in railway wagons prior to being moved into the main complex, this would also explain the extra security feature, as otherwise the wagons would remain quite exposed to "attack."
The sidings have now been lifted. It is possible to see where the sidings entered the fenced in area from the railway line. Although the line has been lifted, it is possible to see where the line crossed the boundary into the sidings. There are a number of rails about a foot long embedded in the concrete. At this point of entry there would have been two tracks. Looking at the angle, the track merged into one. Studying the map, one line ran parallel to the main line and ended in buffers, this would have been used for shunting purposes. The second line would have gone to the sidings, five in all. Before the sidings started, there would have been a set of points to take the single track across to the main complex.
The map shows the sidings as covered by one surrounding fence. Now the outer fence is intact but a fence not shown, now surrounds the building next to the concrete water channel. Cows now graze on the grass in this field which used to hold the sidings and the line into the main site, so maybe this part is owned by a local farmer.
I went back to the road and had a closer look at where the line used to cross it. Sure enough, just through the railings the two ends of the rails could be seen. On the opposite side of the road in the field, again the two ends could be seen, which matched the rails on the opposite side of the road. There was only one track that crossed the road. Whilst all the maps we looked at showed the sidings, none showed the track into the main site. The evidence is there though to say a track did go into the site and one of the witnesses we spoke to, says the track was lifted over twenty years ago; she remembers it crossing the road.
Remember that ordnance railway trucks would be covered, usually ventilated box vans would be used. The sign in the main entrance gives the clue as to how sensitively they used to treat explosives. Steam engines used to give off a lot of soot and smoke and in this mix of hot gases, there would often be sparks or glowing ashes produced, which in an ordnance factory could be lethal. So all the railway wagons would be covered and secured.
Just digressing slightly, steam train enthusiasts are often disappointed during hot summer months, as the railway operators used to put a ban on the steam train using its own power in case it set fire to the dry line side foliage. Often steam train specials were pulled by a diesel coupled at the front of the steam locomotive, much to the disappointment of the steam buffs, who were after some serious haulage.
The locals may disagree on where the trains went to but what they all did agree on was the fact that the site was still being visited in the early hours of the morning by lorries. The most popular time seems to be at about 2am in the morning. This is not a daily routine but on the odd occasion.
The locals were told that the site had been emptied. So are there still things in the hillside that are being removed? Are they being removed or are things being delivered? Moving ordnance at night is a safer option but why tell locals it has all gone, then still visit it during the night. If there was still ordnance there, why is there no on site security, i.e. actual people to guard it.
Would they leave such stuff locked away and just monitor it by remote surveillance cameras. What if somebody breached the site, how long would it take them to get there. Many of the locals say that security is still tight there. As one local man said, "Just try stepping across the line."
At least four locals told us that there is a tunnel that leads from this site to another Ordnance site at Euxton ( still in use ) about three miles away. This is probably another myth. Though one local says it would explain why the site is so quiet, as much of the equipment is being moved underground. Then this begs the question, what are the lorries moving? Something too big for the tunnels? A tunnel from here to the other site located at Euxton, would have to pass under the M61 and a Canal. Again, I think this is just another tale.
The location of Heapey Ordnance, could not have been more carefully chosen. It is hard to find and even driving by on the back road, you can only just see the tops of lampposts and the tunnels. The rear of the site is highly visible from the footpath, but even so this path is not very noticeable and where the path starts, there are no clues to where it leads. Actually it is hard to say where the path goes, as it just seems to run across the rear of the valley.
The place where the site is most obvious from is the road where the old railway line crossed the road, the front of the site. As I stated earlier, this road is tucked away and we missed it at least three times. This road is very narrow and has passing places. We refer to this as the front of the site only because it is near the road. This part was only the railway entrance, road vehicles would enter from the road at the rear of the site protected by a gate.
The gate protecting the road at first was only a swing type with one iron bar, which was locked with a padlock. When I returned a couple of weeks later, more wooden bars have been added to the gate.
When Rod Howarth and I drove down near the sidings complex, we noticed another gate into the site had the padlock undone. This gate led to the building at the back of the old sidings. We never entered. Since I returned at a later date, the padlock has been locked.
Is there any truth in the above. We have people who have seen lines of locomotives but never saw where they actually went. There are a few who have seen the locomotives near the tunnels but have not spoke to us. Why is the site still visited by police and also by lorries in the early hours.
We know that the site is split into two parts, the tunnels and main complex on one side of the road and site of the old sidings on the other.
The thought that steam trains are being kept at locations is a hard concept to swallow but the myth won't go away. Where did all this start from and why does it persist across the country.
There is more to this site than meets the eye. What it is, we are not sure. The answer may be mundane but mix that with the local stories and I feel this site warrants further investigation. We have no set opinions on what is there but I'm sure you'd agree that the location we are talking about deserves more time on investigation, even if it only reveals how a myth can start.
We will also be doing a skywatch at this site and hopefully we may even see these elusive lorries visiting. We need further proof of these night time visits.
I would like to thank the people of Heapey for their help with this article. Whilst we still are aware of a number of people who we are told know more than they are letting on, we cannot go badgering these people. This is a very small village. We did turn up on a number of peoples doorsteps and many were very kind and talked to us for a good while. Some of the people they pointed out, who we were told knew more, never spoke to us.
Obviously we could fantasise and create a great conspiracy and pretend that they do not want us to know the secret, or that they have been told not to tell us. The real answer is probably more simple, they don't want outsiders crawling all over Heapey. The locals accept that lorries visit in the middle of the night, to some of them, this is not seen as so unusual, they have become accustomed to this.
We are still looking for documentation that shows the existence of this site. The map on previous pages does not show the tunnels but does show the buildings. Although it cannot be seen on the previous map, the road is shown going to the main gate, after that, it is not shown on the map. As I stated earlier the road turns back on itself into the main complex. At the moment. All maps we have come across, do not show this road, this does not mean there aren't any, we are still looking.
Inside the main area, there is oddly enough, an old farm building. A local farmer has been trying to buy the premises, without much success. This building is run down but is situated near the main fence at the front of the site. This is probably an old farm building that got caught up by the Compulsory Purchase back in 1937.
Also near the front of the site and virtually in line with the old track that used to enter it, their appears to be an engine shed or at least a railway shed. What went into this building, we are not sure of. Was it a railway shed, the doors appear big enough to let railway stock in.
So at the end of the day, what do we have. An old Ordnance Factory that appears to be abandoned. The locals know that something is happening there but do now know what. The locals also recount the tales of the steam trains being kept in the hillside. We know for definite that the site is still visited by lorries and the police.
What is going on in this small village of Heapey? Do the locals care? Is there something more than old ammunition, or maybe even new ammunition kept in the hillsides. Could old steam trains be kept there. Or is this all just another case of the strategic reserve myth.
UPDATE, 30th January,2000.
We returned to the site on the 29th January at night time and all the lamp posts were lit and the main office at the rear of the site was occupied and movement could be seen. If this site is abandoned, why do they need to keep guarding it. Have our investigations made people take an interest in the site or are the ROF still using the site as a storage facility.
Back To Main Index