Civil Defence Project

For almost half of the twentieth century has been taken up by a war that never was. With two of the biggest nations rattling sabres and pointing nuclear missiles at each other (US and USSR), the Government of the UK decided that a network of Government and Regional bunkers and hardened radar stations were needed to ensure the continuity of government in the event of nuclear war, and to provide warning of incoming Russian Bombers.

The bunkers were built as a means for the Government to survive and continue to function in the aftermath of a nuclear war, the aim being effective control of the recovery period. Bunkers were built by local authorities for their localised emergency planning and Civil Defence and Utility providers of water, gas and electricity also built scores of bunkers and hardened stores all round the country to house engineers and supplies that could ensure essential infrastructure services were able to be repaired and supplied during the recovery period. Many of these bunkers were converted from suitable World War Two sites, (especially the WW2 radar stations and Anti-Aircraft Observation Rooms), but many were built from scratch at a great expense from the 1950’s right up until the late 1980’s to early 1990’s.

At the time, the government envisaged a network of sites that all gathered information and disseminated it to other sites to be acted upon. For example the Royal Observer Corp were tasked with plotting fallout patterns and triangulating bomb detonation coordinates, which they would have fed back to group control, which would have been passed on down the line till it reached the highest level of government for action, and the RAF were tasked with operating Radar stations to ensure the security of the sky over the UK and to provide warning of incoming bombers.

This idea of ‘bunker’ building had begun in the Second World War to enable the government to be protected and to continue to function in the heart of London during the blitz. The plan in a conventional war was to have Central Government delegating responsibilities  for Civil Defence and Rescue through the various regions of the UK, down to the local authority and finally to parish levels. During the Cold War it was realised that in a nuclear exchange this would be impossible to do as communications and infrastructure would be so wholly destroyed that society would become fragmented, especially as some areas would be more heavily damaged than others depending on their strategic importance.

Regional Bunkers

The decision was taken during the 1950’s to build Regional bunkers for the local Government to manage their area after a nuclear strike. These bunkers started as the Regional War Rooms with a staff of about 45 which operated at a local level to coordinate Civil Defence corps. Mistakenly it was envisaged that even though nuclear weapons had been developed, the next war would be one of saturation bombing over a period of years. It was quickly realised however that a nuclear war would be short – maybe only a matter of days but the recovery and rebuilding period would be years. The Government decided that these ‘Regional War Rooms’ would not be suitable for a long drawn out recovery period after a short atomic war as they lacked the communication and scope for expansion to enable them to restore order to their much devastated region over a great period of time in isolation. For more information on the War Rooms of the 1950’s click HERE

A typical bunker entrance

As a result of this realisation Regional Seats of Government (RSG’s) were devised in the late 50’s, with a much larger staff of around 300 and greater, more sophisticated communications. Due to economic crisis of the 50’s plans were scaled back and no new bunkers were built but rather existing War Rooms and other suitable structures were utilised. At the same time the Regional Commissioner changed from being a local authority appointee to a central Government appointee – their responsibility became primarily to Whitehall and their role would be to assume the mantle of central Government authority should communications with London be lost. This new role gave the Regional Commissioner supreme power over the local military commanders and they could use the forces and assets at their disposal as they saw fit. All the branches of the Military and Civil defence and Utilities services were represented in the Regional Seats of Government. These RSG’s were again abandoned in the mid 60’s and replaced by Sub-regional Headquarters (SRHQ) to maintain the link between Central Government and Local Civil Defence Controls as it was realised that there was nothing to bridge the gap between RSG and localised civil defence controls as there had been with the War Room model. Eventually  under the Thatcher government these RSG’s morphed into Regional Government headquarters (RGHQ’s) either in refurbished sub-regional control buildings or in entirely new purpose built bunkers. The RSG’s that weren’t reused were refurbished as Regional Sub Controls (R-SC’s).

Essential Services

The utility companies also got in on the act in the 1980’s and with 100% loans promised by the government to finance bunker building and emergency nuclear planning, many ‘Essential Service’ bunkers were also constructed. The government of the 1980’s particularly wanted provision made for 2 litres of drinking water available for every survivor of the next nuclear war, and approached the water companies to build bunkers were the water supply could be controlled and coordinated; and in case of disruption restored. Many water companies were not keen on this as it was obvious to all that the cold war was drawing to a close by the end of the decade and they did not want to go through the sheer hard work and hassle of building a score of bunkers. Despite this a number of bunkers were built in order to meet the Governments requirements. A particularly good example is the Southern Water bunker near Chatham in Kent.
prior to this, during the 1950’s several hardened warehouse type buildings were constructed to house essential maintenance and repair for GPO and the National Grid. This was to enable them to maintain the phone and electricity networks in the event of a nuclear bomb detonation. They commonly are mistaken for aircraft hangers or ammunition stores as they are of a similar design. They were built for each region of the country in countryside ‘safe’ areas.

Surrey County Hardened GPO Store


BT Protected Repeater Bunker
BT Protected Repeater Bunker

Below are specified how the UK was divided into regions, where they were located over the years and what kind of structure was utilised.

The Regional War Room network during the early to late 1950’s

No 1 – Newcastle
No 2 – Leeds
No 3 – Nottingham
No 4 – Cambridge
No 5 – London Group Controls (Cheam, Wanstead, Kemnal Manor, Mill Hill, and Southall)
No 6 – Reading
No 7 – Bristol
No 8 – Cardiff
No 9 – Birmingham
No 10 – Manchester
No 11 – Scotland
No 12 – Tunbridge Wells

RGHQ 6.1 Blast Doors

Regional Seats of Government (RSG’s) network during the late 1950’s – 60’s (mainly re-used ROTOR stations, WW2 sites and War Rooms due to Budgetary cutbacks)

Region 1 – North – Catterick Camp, Yorkshire RSG1
Region 2 – North East – York Castle RSG2
Region 3 – North Midlands – Nottingham War Room RSG3
Region 4 – Eastern – Cambridge War Room RSG4
Region 5 – London – Original War Rooms retained RSG5
Region 6 – Southern – Underground WW2 Aircraft Factory (Warren Row) RSG6
Region 7 – South West – Bolt Head ex ROTOR Station RSG7
Region 8 – Wales – Brecon Barracks RSG8
Region 9 – Midlands – Underground WW2 Aircraft Factory (Drakelow) RSG9
Region 10 – North West – Preston Barracks RSG10
Region 12 – South Eastern – Tunnels under Dover castle RSG12
Northern Ireland – Gough barracks, Armagh RSGNI
Scotland was subdivided into:
North Zone- Anstruther underground ex ROTOR station
Western Zone – Torrance House former Anti-aircraft operations room
Eastern Zone – Kirknewton regional war room
with the Headquarters being at Barnton Quarry near Edinburgh (ex Rotor Station)

Stoughton Barracks SRHQ 5.1, Guildford

Sub Regional Headquarters (SRHQ)  Network during the mid 1960’s

Region 1 – North:

Hexham (WW2 Cold Store) SRHQ 1.1
Shipton (ROTOR Bunker) SRHQ 2.1

Region 2 – North East:

Ilkley (Hotel basement)
Conisbrough (AAOR)

Region 3 – North Midlands:

Skendleby (ROTOR bunker) SRHQ 3.1
Loughborough (WW2 Cold Store)

Region 4 – Eastern:

Bawburgh (ROTOR bunker) SRHQ 4.1
Hertford (Office block basement) SRHQ 4.2

Region 5 London:

Kelvedon Hatch (ROTOR bunker) SRHQ 5.1

Region 6 – Southern:

Warren Row (WW2 Underground factory) SRHQ 6.1

Region 7 – South West:

Ullenwood (AAOR) SRHQ 7.1
Hope Cove (ROTOR bunker) SRHQ 7.2

Region 8 – Wales:

Bridgend (converted magazine at Brackla ROF) SRHQ 8.2

Region 9 – Midlands:

Swynnerton (Converted magazine at former ROF) SRHQ 9.1
Drakelow (WW2 underground factory) SRHQ 9.2

Region 10 – North west:

Southport (basement of new office block) SRHQ 10.1

Region 11 – Ulster:

Mount Eden Park SRHQ/RGHQ

Region 12 – South East:

Dover (tunnels below Dover castle ‘Dumpy’) SRC 6.1
Guildford (Stoughton Barracks) SRHQ 5.1

Kingstanding RGHQ 6.1, Sussex

Thatcher era Regional Government headquarters (RGHQ’s)  by region

Region 1

Scotland South and Scotland Central Control – Purpose Built RGHQ at Cultybraggan in 1990
Scotland North – Ansruther (Upgraded SRHQ within the shell of an Ex-ROTOR bunker)

Region 2 North East

Shipton RGHQ2.1 (upgraded ROTOR Bunker) and Hexham RGHQ 2.2 (upgraded WW2 Cold Store)

Region 3 North Midland

Skendleby RGHQ 3.1 (upgraded ROTOR Station) and Loughborough RGHQ 3.2 (upgraded WW2 Cold Store)

Region 4 Eastern

Bawburgh RGHQ 4.1(upgraded ROTOR Bunker) and Bedford RGHQ 4.2 (Ex-ROC Group Control Bunker)

Region 5 London

Kelvedon hatch RGHQ 5.1(former ROTOR Station)

Region 6 South East

Purpose built RGHQ at Kingstanding Nr Crowborough – RGHQ 6.1

Region 7  South West

Bolt head RGHQ 7.1 (ROTOR Station) and Purpose built bunker RGHQ 7.2 at Chilmark built in 1985

Region 8 Wales

Brackla RGHQ 8.1 (ex S-RC Bunker) and Wrexham RGHQ 8.2 (Ex ROC Control Bunker)

Region 9 West Midlands

Swynnerton RGHQ 9.1 (ex SRHQ 9.1) and Drakelow RGHQ 9.2 (ex SRHQ 9.2)

Region 10 North West

Longley Lane RGHQ 10.1 (ex ROC HQ Bunker) and Hack Green RGHQ 10.2 (ex ROTOR Bunker)

Region 11 Ulster

Ballymena RGHQ 11.1 (Purpose Built in 1989)

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Modified: 23rd May 2022