Hidden history buried in the hill above Portsmouth

Christmas party inside the Cliffdale Tunnel at Portsdown Hill on December 19, 1942
Christmas party inside the Cliffdale Tunnel at Portsdown Hill on December 19, 1942

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As a child during the Second World War June Hutchings recalls being taken into the tunnels within Portsdown Hill constructed to protect the people of Portsmouth during air raids.

She says: ‘We were taken to the shelter by bus and some mornings, when we came to leave, we could see fires and smoke over Portsmouth.’

BARRED June Hutchingss picture of the sealed entrance to the Cliffdale Tunnel opposite her home

BARRED June Hutchingss picture of the sealed entrance to the Cliffdale Tunnel opposite her home

Her life has gone full circle because, for the past 30 years, she and her husband Henry have lived opposite the tunnel entrances.

Mrs Hutchings, of Cliffdale Gardens, London Road, Cosham, has sent me the two colour photos here.

She adds: ‘One entrance is plain to see in the photographs, the other has been completely covered by a large mound of earth. We think there was a large generator outside the entrance. It is now our waste bin area.

‘It was decided several years ago to seal the entrance for public safety. There were fears children would enter and get lost. It was supposed the original plans had been lost when the Guildhall was destroyed.

OBSCURED Another tunnel entrance now lost in the undergrowth on the slopes of Portsdown Hill

OBSCURED Another tunnel entrance now lost in the undergrowth on the slopes of Portsdown Hill

‘The local fire brigade, using guide ropes, explored the tunnels before closing them.

‘They found a dispatch rider’s motorcyle and many iron-framed bunk beds,’ she says.

When the air raid sirens sounded, people would flee their homes for the night and make their way to the tunnels seeking protection from the bombs. There was enough room for 2,535 people, but numbers often stretched to double this in times of need.

FIRST AID The Red Cross area in the tunnel shelters inside Portsdown Hill

FIRST AID The Red Cross area in the tunnel shelters inside Portsdown Hill