By Mark McConville


EERIE IMAGES have revealed the abandoned remains of an underground factory where the Merlin engines that powered the iconic Spitfire planes were made during World War Two.

The haunting pictures show the dark, dank tunnels that would have been navigated by munitions workers during the war as well as industrial equipment left behind and forgotten office furniture.

Other striking shots show ladders leading down long shafts, flooded sections filled with water and an exterior doorway that provides an entrance to the hidden factory.


The spooky snaps were taken in Birmingham, UK by an urban explorer who wished to remain anonymous.

“This place is widely renowned in the urbex world for The Shadow Factory Tunnels,” they said.

“These are the remnants of Lord Austin’s secret plans that were hatched to bolster British military might in the face of German military aggression in the arms race that led up to the start of the Second World War.

“These images show you the bare bones of what used to be a necessary secret and a thriving employer for the people of Birmingham, a truly British industry. This was where munitions workers produced the Merlin engines that powered the Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes used to regain control of the British skies during the Battle of Britain in 1940.


“You can see toilets, batteries, work spaces and air shafts; Air conditioning machinery, old storage boxes and the car parts, industrial graffiti, mould and empty packets of park drive.”

British shadow factories were the outcome of the Shadow Scheme, a plan devised in 1935 and developed by the British Government in the build-up to World War II to try to meet the urgent need for more aircraft using technology transfer from the motor industry to implement additional manufacturing capacity.

The term ‘shadow’ was not intended to mean secrecy, but rather the protected environment they would receive by being staffed by all levels of skilled motor industry people alongside (in the shadow of) their own similar motor industry operations.


Many more factories were built as part of the dispersal scheme designed to reduce the risk of a total collapse of production if what would otherwise be a major facility were bombed. These were not shadow factories, though some now use that name believing shadow refers to attempts to achieve a level of secrecy.

“This is my favourite type of place to explore as it gives you a chance to see something you would never normally get to see and how it works,” added the urban explorer.

“The Shadow Scheme involved two parts – building nine new factories and extending existing factories – including the Longbridge plant.

“Australian-born industrialist and Conservative MP, Lord Austin – also the founder of Austin Motors – had already contributed to the war effort in the First World War, turning his factories to munitions and engine production.


“After the war, the factory returned to producing automobiles and the tunnels were abandoned. By the late 1960s, the Longbridge plant was the second largest car plant in the world.

“But since the collapse of MG Rover, part of the site was redeveloped for housing and commercial purposes. It’s sad to see yet interesting.

“The last mini of Longbridge was sold at auction to a motor museum eventually, the back seat of the orange Mini Clubman 1275 GT can be seen in my images.”

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