National secrets

by Helen Hooker November. 07, 2015 2476 views

A couple of years ago I saw a puzzling sign near the village of Kelvedon Hatch, showing the way to a 'Secret Nuclear Bunker []' - surely something of a contradiction! It turns out that a non-descript looking bungalow nearby hid a big secret from 1952, first as an RAF tracking and early warning station. In the 1960s it briefly became a civil defence centre before taking on its most crucial role as a potential Regional Government Headquarters if a nuclear bomb was dropped on the UK. If the worst had happened the three floor bunker beneath this apparently unassuming bungalow would have become home to up to 600 people, including government ministers, and even the Prime Minister, for up to three months in order to maintain their essential governmental duties. It was decommissioned in 1992 when it was felt that the danger of nuclear war had reduced enough for it to become redundant. It was then bought by the Parrish family who now open it to the public so visitors can learn more about its history. Looking around the bunker today was a sobering experience, knowing that the people down here would have been safe from radiation and nuclear fallout, while their friends and family above ground could have been in dire straits.

The metal gates and barbed wire hint that something secret lies beyond them…

This may look like a simple farm house to the uninitiated eye but beyond its front door lies the entrance to a 100 foot deep bunker.

A 120 yard tunnel leads down to the lowest of three levels. If it had been needed during a Cold War nuclear attack the bunks on the right hand side of the tunnel would have been slept in by some of the 600 staff.

Geiger counters hanging on the wall ready for use

A plan of the bunker. It had ten foot thick steel reinforced concrete walls and a faraday cage around the outside to protect the electronic equipment inside from damage by the blast. Those living inside could survive without access to the outside world for three months.

The solid blast doors at the end of the corridor weight a 1.5 tons each

The bunker has its own water tank, containing some 24,000 gallons but with up to 600 people living there water would have been carefully rationed to avoid wastage.

The communications room was full of equipment, including switchboards for 2000 telephone lines and a full blown BBC broadcast studio so the government of the day could communicate with any survivors in the outside world.

When the bunker closed it was installed with state of the art optic-fibre communications equipment but these were removed when it was decommissioned and the ones here are the previous generation of switchboards which would originally have been there.

The Prime Minister may have ended up at the Kelvedon Hatch bunker. We found this rather spooky recreation of Margaret Thatcher sitting at the microphone in the BBC broadcast studio!

Air from the outside world was carefully filtered and then sent through this refrigeration system to provide clean, cool air to those inside.

The middle floor is the government level, with work stations for each government department

More geiger counters - vital equipment for the day when the bunker doors are opened and those inside need to find out what the radiation levels are outside.

When the bunker was decommissioned this jumble of paperwork was left behind, although I doubt it contains any classified information these days.

On the top floor is a sick bay, equipped with a basic operating theatre for medical emergencies.

The dormitories are very basic. These would have been used on a ‘hot bed’ system, 24 hours a day, with people sleeping in them for eight hours before giving them over to the folks who had just finished their own eight hour work shift.

This additional exit tunnel, leading from the canteen, was added before the bunker was opened to the public, at the request of the fire brigade. It must have been a major exercise cutting through ten feet of reinforced concrete to install it. I asked Kevin to pause at the entrance to the tunnel and it was only when I got it onto my computer that it struck me there's something vaguely James Bond-esque about it - it reminds me of the opening titles of the Bond films!

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There are 10 comments , add yours!
Antonio Gil 4 years, 9 months ago

Amazing visit. TFS

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
G B 4 years, 9 months ago

fascinating and creepy at the same time!

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
Angela Anderson 4 years, 9 months ago

17 18 and 21 were my favs lovely set all together. An interesting piece of documentary.

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
John Wright 4 years, 9 months ago

A fascinating story.

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
Dan Ravasio 4 years, 9 months ago

Fascinating and terrifying too...

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
Larry Nelson 4 years, 9 months ago

Great information, Helen! Many of us remember the tension of those days, and how uncertain future seemed.

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
Larry Sample 4 years, 9 months ago

I can hear the music intro now. Great report.

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
Marilyn Grimble 4 years, 9 months ago

Thanks so much for sharing - I had no idea this existed so close to home!

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
Gillian Parsons 4 years, 9 months ago

Informative post and excellent photography on this Remembrance Day, an eerie experience.

4 years, 9 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess 4 years, 9 months ago

WOW! Remarkable series! Personally, I hope I'm at ground zero, if a nuke comes in.....
I'd rather be instantly vaporized, than slowly die of radiation sickness.......

4 years, 9 months ago Edited