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News Every Day |

Homeless dubbed ‘cave people’ live in dark tunnels used as war shelter – putting themselves at risk of horror injuries

THE dangerous life of homeless cave-dwellers who lived in dark tunnels once used as WWII air raid shelters can be revealed.

The Brinksway Caves close to Stockport, Greater Manchester, are a treacherous system of sandstone hideyholes.

Andy Kelvin / Kelvinmedia
These dark caves were once used as air-raid shelters[/caption]
Andy Kelvin / Kelvinmedia
The dangerous caves overlook the Mersey[/caption]
Andy Kelvin / Kelvinmedia
The caves are hidden behind a fence which borders a main road[/caption]
that's brad
The Brinksway Caves close to Stockport used to house homeless people[/caption]
that's brad
Rough sleepers sought shelter there, putting themselves in grave danger[/caption]
MEN Media
Emma Vellino fractured her spine after falling into the River Mersey from the caves[/caption]

They take their name from a nearby road that stretches a small portion of the A560 to Cheadle Hulme.

Until a few years ago, rough sleepers had been seeking shelter there as a last resort.

And while being less exposed to the elements, the cave life was particularly dangerous – several dwellers have fallen into the River Mersey, including one woman who broke her spine.

Some reports also suggest inhabitants suffered with Victorian ailments like trenchfoot.

They’re just a health hazard, people were having to almost mountain climb to get there and they were falling into the river. They were building fires in the caves and it was sucking the oxygen out, and they were unaware that they were slowly killing themselves, basically

Edward LeachStockport's Homeless Project co-founder

While the site’s close proximity to the town centre means they are vulnerable to raids by thieves.

Reverend Edward Leach, who co-founded Stockport’s Homeless Project 12 years ago, would regularly go down to the camp for outreach work.

And to persuade dwellers to move elsewhere, due to the hazards.

He told the Sun: “They’re just a health hazard, people were having to almost mountain climb to get there and they were falling into the river.

“They were building fires in the caves and it was sucking the oxygen out, and they were unaware that they were slowly killing themselves, basically.

“I would try to persuade them to move and get out of there, because back then we could offer them better accommodation.

“It was an acquired taste. A woman tried to climb on the cave and fell into the river. She’s lucky to be alive.”

Mr Leavy estimated Stockport Council closed off the caves nearly three years ago, and said at the time just three people lived there.

He recalled one of the previous inhabitants was a Romanian man, and he and the Homeless Project helped to repatriate him with his family around a decade ago.

He said the drugs filling the streets of Stockport include spice, amphetamines, heroin and pills.

While he said he suspects such substances were probably taken in the caves, those who he knew of generally drank alcohol.

“You have to be quite compos mentis to go down to the caves because it’s really dangerous there,” he emphasised.

Asked generally about life in the caves compared to rough sleeping on the street, Mr Leavy said: “They could build fires there, but it’s vulnerability and the loneliness in the caves.

“When you sleep rough you sleep in a little community, but when you’re down there you’re completely isolated.”

The artificial cave system dates back to at least 1670 and the main section consists of seven arches, alongside various nooks and crannies.

They could have been initially dug by local corn mill workers or river wideners, both of whom would have had the tools and skills for such excavation.

The network was likely later extended by ‘navvies’ – workers employed across the UK to build the railways and canals during the Industrial Revolution – contracted to build the Stockport Viaduct.

The navvies lived in them as their poor pay meant they couldn’t afford proper lodging.

SECOND WORLD WAR

After the viaduct was completed, the caves began to be used for manufactory and by the 1850s as a distillery for purifying gas tar to produce naphtha.

A pipe-worker is even said to have worked from them.

In 1938 – months before the outbreak of the Second World War – sections of the caves were excavated to construct air raid shelters.

The first of which opened on October 28 1939.

The threat of bombing had subsided by 1943 and the shelters were no longer open every night, then in 1948 were sealed off from the public altogether.

In modern times, rough sleepers frequented the caves for shelter.

In 2015, a woman fractured her spine after plummeting 30 feet and needed rescuing by firefighters during an arduous three-hour ordeal using a dinghy.

Emma Vellino fell down the muddy slope beside the River Mersey, used to access the caves, which lie near Stockport Pyramid.

The then-31-year-old was rushed to Wythenshawe Hospital.

She had been living in the rough sleeper-hotspot for 18 months with a friend, but had been there “on and off” for years, she told the Manchester Evening News.

Emma said people had begun invading her makeshift camp, trashing her belongings.

She said: “I do have problems with drink and drugs, but I wasn’t drunk when I fell. I was just at the edge and slipped.

“I grabbed on and managed to hold a branch or a tree, but it went and I went flying down right to the bottom. It was terrifying and I was in agony.”

Jonathan Billings, of local Wellspring homeless charity, said Emma was not the first person to tumble into the water from the caves.

“If there were better services for homeless people, things like this wouldn’t happen. Investing in homeless provision is vital,” he said.

Mr Leach, meanwhile, said while the caves were open he could offer the homeless people of Stockport – which currently number 36 – more suitable shelter.

But now, ironically, there is none left in the town and many are people paid for to move to Birmingham. But, he said, they often find their way back “because it’s all they know, it’s where their ties are”.

They take their name from a nearby road that stretches a small portion of the A560 to Cheadle Hulme
MEN Media
Jonathan Billings visited Emma while she was in hospital[/caption]
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