Blaenau Ffestiniog – North Wales
“In 1940 when London was faced with intensive bombing by the Luftwaffe every night, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was very concerned for the safekeeping of Britain’s art treasures and he issued an order for them to be moved from the museums and art galleries in London. They must be taken to a safe place elsewhere in Britain and he was advised to have them sent to Manod Quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The priceless treasures were transported to a mountain which had been specially heated and ventilated to maintain the correct temperature. All the royal pictures from the palaces, the Tate and the National Gallery were transported to North Wales, among the treasures were 19 Rembrandts, Van Dykes, Leonardo da Vincis and Gainsborough’s, together with also the Crown Jewels. They travelled to North Wales in vehicles disguised as delivery vehicles for a chocolate company and were put in the care of the quarry manager, and were only ever seen by him. It is said that the worry of the responsibility shortened his life.
The caves were leased by the Government for 40 years, but when the lease expired in 1981, the Government refused to release the lease. For 40 years two brothers were employed to maintain the ventilation system, even though the works of art were returned to London and the wartime storage place was empty. Behind the large steel and timber doors was a tunnel 1,200 feet long and 1,000 feet below the top of the mountain. The caves themselves that were used for the safe storage are said to have stood over 200 feet high, as high as a cathedral.
The secret hiding place was eventually revealed but was many years after the end of World War II.