The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

The Lamson Message Tube.

The route taken by the bottom end of the Lamson Message tube from the SDO towards the Eastern Airlock.

There was a considerable and constant stream of 'paper-traffic' between the HMS FORWARD surface offices and the SDO (Signals Distribution Office) in the tunnel that was some 100 yards (M) distant and 70 ft (21 M) below with 122 steps in 3 flights of stairs between them. A Lamson pneumatic message tube system was installed between the surface Despatch Office and the SDO to overcome the difficulties this presented. This, being a single tube system, must have required a means of pre-selecting 'suck' or 'blow' at either or both ends before inserting a carrier into the tube. For those not familiar with this once-familiar mode of 'transport' used in pre-1940s departmental stores, it was a means of carrying small documents (and money in the case of departmental stores) from 'A' to 'B' in small openable carriers (about the size of a torch handle) that were 'blown' or 'sucked' through 2.125 ins (54 mm) diameter tubes by a high-powered electric blower. The carriers would arrive at their destination with considerable speed and much commotion!

The first picture shows the limit of the tube as discovered in 1993. A previous fire had dislodged its support bracket above the SDO Annexe doorway. The second picture shows the tube passing through the Eastern Airlock and up the first flight of 27 stairs; and the third shows the tube wending its way past the Battery Room, and the grenade/man trap to ascend the second flight of 51-stairs .


The tube can be seen ascending the second flight of stairs through the 1943 split gate where there is a Maintenance Joint (shown in close-up in the middle picture). This allowed the tube to be dismantled for servicing should it be necessary. The third picture shows the bend at the top of the 51-stair flight where it passes along a level landing.


The tube continues on its way along the landing past the original 1941 security gate towards the third and last flight of 44 stairs. The last picture shows the tube as it was left dismantled to build the wall to seal the tunnel in November 1945. This was one of the first pictures taken in January 1993 when we obtained GT permission to breach the wall for historical research purposes.


This was the roof space above the corridor leading to rooms 14, 15 & 16 in 1993. In the first picture a long curve length of tubing can be seen in the distance. This probably connected the tube in the roof space with room 16 and the tunnel, and was abandoned after disconnection. The tube ran along the rafters above the corridor and continued as shown in the second picture rising in elevation as it left the bifurcated roof, passing above rooms 10 & 11 towards the raised roof space above the first floor in the middle of the building. We will never know how the tube reached its destination in the Despatch Office (the Guest Room) to the east of the front door because the remainder of the tubing was removed to fit some post-war water storage tanks leaving no visible evidence.

Here the tube passed above rooms 10 & 11; the tube turned through a 90 degree arc in front of the wall in the first picture (which was the west-most room of the first floor (front)). As it did so, abandoned remnants of Don-8 Army Field Telephone wires hung haphazardly over the tube, silent witness to an unknown purpose. Once round the corner the tube ended suddenly with absolutely no indication of where or how it continued towards its destination from this point.


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All illustrations and text on this site are 1941-2021 Geoffrey Ellis, or The Friends of HMS Forward, or Nick Catford.