Teenagers’ plan to save shelters

Jordan Wilson, 13, who is campaigning to stop underground tunnels in Mesnes Park from being sealed up
Jordan Wilson, 13, who is campaigning to stop underground tunnels in Mesnes Park from being sealed up
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A CAMPAIGN to save air raid shelters under a Wigan park has been launched by two students.

Many homes across the borough had home-made Anderson shelters dug into their back gardens to escape the Nazi bombs of the second world war but virtually all are now long gone.

But the maze of air raid shelters which protected hundreds of workers at the Rylands Spinning Mills and Pagefield Iron Works complex are still bearing witness to the hostilities more than 60 years after the end of the conflict, even if they are now securely capped against intruders.

Now two Wigan school pupils who are interested in history are trying to save the concrete tunnels which are said to run under Mesnes Park in Wigan town centre.

They face an uncertain future because they lie on the boundary of land bought by property developers MCR Properties for a housing redevelopment scheme which will include the former Pagefield Mill, latterly the Pagefield annexe of Wigan and Leigh College.

Jordan Wilson and his pal Elliot Carey, both 14, believe that the air raid shelters would make an ideal educational resource for pupils studying the Second World War and how it affected the townspeople of Wigan.

They haven’t yet been able to gain access to the tunnels and apart from seeing the capped entrance, the only sight of them has been ‘guerilla explorer’ websites, where camcorder wielding trespassers have shot video and put it onto the internet.

The boys believe that the tunnels should be taken over by the council on behalf of the education department as a teaching resource.

Jordan, a pupil at Standish High School who lives in Wigan Lower Road, Standish Lower Ground, said that he had met Elliot through friends of friends.

Both realised that they had a mutual interest in history but it was Elliot, a Year 10 pupil a at Orrell St Peter’s RC High, who mentioned the existence of the shelters.

Jordan said: “I was amazed at the time because I had never heard anything about them and I bet a lot of young people, including those who live nearby, have no idea they are still there. I think that it would be a massive shame if they were allowed to be filled in.

“Things like this, which you can touch and go into, really do bring history to life and make it easier to help pupils to understand what it was like to live here in Wigan during the Second World War.

“My Nan lived in Liverpool during the blitz and she has told me many stories about what it was like in the air raid shelters listening out for the bombers.

“But I had no idea that some of these shelters still existed here in Wigan. and that they could now be lost forever because of development.”

Jordan is now trying to trace anybody who may have worked at the Pagefield Iron Works during the war years to ask about details of the air raid shelters in the complex.

He has already researched the subject on the Internet and found a number of pictures and maps.

But the chance to speak directly with any retired workers who may have used them during the 1940s would be a “great help.”

They are also eager to ascertain, if possible, how many bombing raids took place in the area. He says he has asked for permission to enter the air raid shelter with Elliot but the land owners haven’t, as yet, replied.

He said: “These bunkers should not be destroyed and should be kept for Wigan’s schoolchildren to learn about the war and make the old entrance open again with steps going down.”

Heritage experts were consulted over the house building at the application stage and didn’t see any great historical importance in the tunnels, especially when the entrance would hamper the renaissance of the listed building nearby.

The Metro also points out that access to the tunnels is already prohibited, although a number of people are known to have gone down there, both with and without permission.

A spokesman for land owners MCR said: “Planning permission has already been granted in respect of the conversion of the property into mainly residential use and, unfortunately, this requires the removal of the shelters as this area will be required for foundations for the new build townhouses.”