The old mine workings under the North Downs at Godstone, often called ‘caves’, are actually older underground STONE QUARRIES. The bed of sandstone, which was quarried, is part of the Upper Greensand beds [formed during the cretaceous Period], which lie directly beneath the chalk.
It was sometime in the 17th century when quarrying started in Godstone, although nobody is exactly sure when. The stone was used for buildings, and can be seen in furnaces because of its special fire resistant properties. Because of this it earned the name FIRESTONE.
The quarries were part of the Clayton estate and provided a useful income to the Clayton family over the years. Quarrying for stone continued until about 1900 when more durable stones from further afield and bricks removed the demand for firestone. However, the quarries survived, and some continued for several more decades supplying HEARTHSTONE.
In the middle of the 19th century, a fashion developed for whitening stone hearths, doorsteps and window ledges by rubbing Hearthstone into them. This left a chalky white deposit when it dried out. Some of the material otherwise considered unsuitable for building purposes was sold as hearthstone. Together with other mines in Surrey. the Godstone mines supplied many hundreds of thousands of tons of hearthstone to retailers of household materials such as BLANCHARDS of South East London.
Mines to the east continued to supply hearthstone into the 1940’s and 1950’s but those under Godstone Hill were turned over to GROWING MUSHROOMS in the earlier years of this century. Until the 1930’s nearly every available square foot of floor space in the mine was used to grow mushrooms. Compost was laid out in long piles called RIDGE BEDS. The walls were regularly painted with limewash to disinfect the galleries, and doors and barriers were fitted ton control the ventilation in the mine.
Mushrooms require careful control of humidity to thrive, and pipes were installed to distribute water to various parts of the mine to keep the ridge beds adequately moist. It is the remains of the mushroom farm that are most evident in the mine today, though there is plenty to see of the older quarrying and mining activities.
Visits can be arranged by contacting www.wcms.org.uk
The following is an article taken from ‘The Daily Telegraph’, 25 February 1939:
A scheme to construct an evacuation camp to house some thousands of Londoners in time of war at Godstone, Surrey, with underground shelters in the neighbouring Godstone Caves, has been submitted to the Home Office by the Caterham ARP committee. Godstone quarries known locally as the caves, consist of a labyrinth of underground galleries, from which, at one time, the famous Godstone greystone, used in some of London’s oldest buildings was quarried. The subterranean passages which are thought to be about eight miles in length, are from 80-200ft below the surface. They are now being explored and charted. A plan of the passages known to exist is already in the hands of the Home Office. Several underground springs have also been found, and the water has been analysed and passed as fit for drink. Four entrances to the caves exist, and the exits from the camp will be built near them. So far no other entrances have been found, but there is a local legend that an entrance exists in Caterham, over 1 1/2 miles from Godstone. The caves are covered with trees, which would make a perfect natural camouflage against aircraft, and experts consider that the caves would provide complete protection against the heaviest bombs known. Major E H Impey, ARP officer for Caterham, said last night: ‘Home Office experts have already inspected the caves. They are keenly interested in our scheme, and are giving it their very careful consideration. We are hard at work trying to locate other entrances’.