Music, Mushroom, and Re-Purposing the Caves

Re-purposing is important. The more use we get from something, the less waste we produce, right? That's why there's an old whirlpool bathtub in my backyard. When we remodeled the bathroom, we discovered that there's not a lot you can do with a fifteen year old bathtub. Having enjoyed The Martian so much, I decided to use the bathtub as a potato-growing container.* Works perfectly, too. The bottom is certainly impervious to weeds and invasive plants, it's shaped to funnel water out, and of course, has a drain.**


During our summer trip to London I learned that Europe is all about re-purposing. One of my favorite examples is Chislehurst Caves, just a short train ride southeast of London. 

The caves are actually a 21 or 22 mile set of tunnels, and are completely man-made. The first of the tunnels was begun sometime back around the signing of the Magna Carta.*** Local residents dug into the ground to extract chalk and flint, and beforeyou knew it...there was a whole lotta excavated space.

Fast forward to the 1900s. In between, the locals were pretty straightforward thinkers: dig the chalk, dig the flint, have a pint, repeat. However, during World War I, the British Army decided the caves were an excellent place to store ammunition and explosives. Lots and lots of ammunition and explosives. I don't recall the exact numbers, but let's just say that Chislehurst was temporarily the Wal-Mart of stuff that blows up.

Between WWI and WWII the caves were turned to a more peaceful pursuit -- mushroom farming! Makes sense, right? Mushrooms love caves. 

But World War II is the time period for which the Chislehurst Caves might be most famous. Britons seeking shelter from air raids took to the caves. Eventually, as many as 15,000 people had taken up residence. Electricity was run, and engineering work was undertaken to keep air flowing and temperatures down. Keep in mind, these are caves. They're typically much cooler than ground temperatures, but with so many people living in them, the temperature of the caves rose dramatically. I believe our guide mentioned the temp rising to nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit, until improved air circulation was hastily engineered, and after the war it took around 20 years for temperatures to fall back to normal.


The amount of organization that took place in the caves is incredible. The temporary residents had a post office, chapels, stores. Of course, bunk assignment alone was a major undertaking, considering the numbers involved. 

After WWII the caves became an entertainment venue. Jimi Hendrix performed there, as well as Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and if I remember correctly, the Stones. Our guide even played the drums in one cave while we listened from farther down the passage. He mentioned that the music had to be shut down, ironically, not because the music itself was too loud -- as residential areas closed in on the cave entrance, the local population found that people exiting the caves in the wee hours of the night were annoying.

Some things never change.

The caves have also been used for TV and film production. At least one Dr. Who episode filmed there, and the caves have shown up on documentary programs. The site is also used for live-action fantasy pastimes as well; when we were visiting, a large group of SCA or LARP folks were there for an event.

Without a doubt, Chislehurst Caves was one of my favorite stops on our London trip. It was a nice train ride from central London, a very enjoyable walk around the village, and something great to see. Since the caves don't show up at the top of every tourist search for London attractions, we're fortunate to have stumbled upon them, but I highly recommend making time to stop in if you're in the vicinity. And don't forget your lantern.

* It would have been more appropriate, perhaps, to plant my Martian potatoes in a toilet, but a) we didn't have a toilet to discard and b) you can grow more potatoes in a bathtub.

** When you repurpose a bathtub for growing plants, it's important to keep plants actually growing in there. Otherwise, you just appear to be the slob who threw an old bathtub out into his yard. 

*** Look it up. You're on the Internet, for crying out loud.


My European Education

By which I mean, "We vacationed in Europe." But first, yet another apology -- back in June I may have hinted (or said outright) that I was going to start catching up on blog content. Apparently I took the summer off. So,'s nice to see you all again.

Canterbury Buttress.jpg

Sure, the trip to Europe was vacation, but there were plenty of fun learning experiences, which I'm happy to share with you. You're welcome.

For this first return blog, I thought I'd focus on buttresses. Like many people, I always assumed the "flying buttress" was a professional wrestling move, or that weird Airlander 10 ship built by those wacky Brits a few years back.  Turns out that "flying buttress" is actually an architectural term. Go figure.

So, what's a regular, run-of-the-mill buttress?* Check out the photo I took, above, of Canterbury Cathedral. See those vertical ridges along the walls? That's right: buttresses. Pretty simple concept; the roof extends a lateral force against the walls, which effectively makes them push outward. The buttress is very heavy and sunk into the ground, and it pushes back.

But a FLYING buttress? Is this some sort of futuristic, levitating buttress, defying gravity itself while pushing back against the roof?** Not exactly. The flying buttress simply isn't attached directly to the wall. The stone pier stands off at a distance, and is connected to the wall by a span from the top of the pier to the top of the wall. With the buttress doing its buttressing from afar, the architect is free to use more of the wall decoratively, with windows and gargoyles and such.

Flying Buttress.jpg

Of course, you can also put gargoyles on a flying buttress if you like. I'm not the kind of guy who gets pushy about where you put your gargoyles.***

The flying buttress has been around for a really long time, but apparently hit its peak of popularity during the Gothic period of architecture. I'm not very up to date on my architectural history, but I'm pretty sure that the Gothic period precedes the classic era and disco.

So, there you have it. Flying buttresses. We saw a lot of cool things in London**** and had a great time, so expect more blogs from the trip. And when you impress your friends with your knowledge of buttresses, give me a little mental thumbs-up.

* I'm so glad you asked.

** If architecture involved more monoliths, megaliths, and buttresses that literally levitated, I guarantee there'd be more architectural students in universities today. 

*** Now I feel like I should 3D print some gargoyles for my office.

**** I even got a picture of Baker Street. Sad that Gerry Rafferty departed so early; he was one talented guy.