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)

Visited Civil Defence Structures

Bexley Heath Council Emergency Control Bunker, London

Bexley Heath Council Emergency Control Bunker, London
This purpose-built bunker for Bexley Council was constructed in 1953 in the Broadway, Bexleyheath. When built it stood alone but the Bexley Civic Office has now been built on top of it although the only access is from an enclosed open square in the centre of the complex. The bunker is still extant but there...

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Chichester Borough Council Emergency Centre, Sussex

Chichester Borough Council Emergency Centre, Sussex
West Sussex County Emergency Centre at Chichester is not your usual council emergency bunker as it has no blast protection or fall out protection. It was built in the 1960's in the basement of County Hall during the height of the cold war. The basement is still used as the Emergency Centre for West Sussex...

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Crawley Council Emergency Control Bunker, Sussex

Crawley Council Emergency Control Bunker, Sussex
The Crawley Borough Emergency Control Bunker is located in the basement of the Town Hall. It was constructed in 1979 with the aid of a grant from the Home Office. TheTimeChamber was kindly shown round by the current head of emergency planning for Crawley Borough Council. The blast door is extant and in the entrance...

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Ex-Southern Water Emergency Control Bunker, Chatham, Kent

Ex-Southern Water Emergency Control Bunker, Chatham, Kent
In the 1980s southern water constructed three emergency nuclear bunkers, they were in Breade, Twyford and Chatham; this being the Chatham bunker. They were constructed for engineers to use as a control centre in order to allow them to reinstate safe water supplies after a nuclear war. The bunker was constructed in a disused reservoir,...

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Fort Widley, Portsmouth District Council Emergency Centre

Fort Widley, Portsmouth District Council Emergency Centre
With the threat of invasion and concerns over the strength of the French Navy during the Victorian Period, the then Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, authorised the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom in the 1860s. This culminated in a huge construction effort to defend the UK, with numerous Forts being built in key defensive...

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Gravesend Civil Defence Bunker, Region 6, Kent

Gravesend Civil Defence Bunker, Region 6, Kent
Gravesend's Cold War bunker is located within Woodlands park and was originally known as Civil Defence Region 6. It was an underground Civil Defence command post, built in 1954, from which Gravesend's rescue and emergency services were to be co-ordinated in the event of a nuclear attack. Its 13 rooms contained power and ventilation plant,...

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Lyndon Green PR1 BT Repeater Station

Lyndon Green PR1 repeater station was opened in 1953 and was one of a number of repeater stations built between 1951 and 1956 as a result of a Treasury paper entitled United Kingdom Telecommunications in War Published in 1949. This recommended that some £2.75 million be spent over five to six years on a scheme...

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RGHQ 6.1 & Aspidistra, Crowborough, Sussex

RGHQ 6.1 & Aspidistra, Crowborough, Sussex
In 1941, during the height of World War Two, a plan was hatched to broadcast black propaganda into Europe and the Third Reich.  It was to make use of the world most powerful transmitter, a 600kw transmitter built in the USA but deemed to powerful to use. Work begun on the site in Crowborough in...

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RGHQ Chilmark, Wiltshire

RGHQ Chilmark, Wiltshire
The Regional General Headquarters located at RAF Chilmark, Wiltshire, date back to the early 1980's when the Home Office initiated plans to replace the Sub-Regional Control bunkers in the southwest region. Plans were drawn up to decommission and replace both the RGHQ 7.1 near Ullenwood, Gloucester, and RGHQ 7.2 located in the converted ROTOR R6 RSG...

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Tandridge Council Emergency Bunker, Surrey

Tandridge Council Emergency Bunker, Surrey
In the centre of Caterham, underneath an innocuous looking building behind morrisons is a the remains of the nuclear emergency bunker for Tandridge Council. The building is Soper Hall and has stood in the centre of Caterham for over 100 years. The hall was originally built in 1911 as the offices of the Caterham Urban...

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Woking Borough Council Emergency Control Bunker, Surrey

Woking Borough Council Emergency Control Bunker, Surrey
In the centre of Woking in Surrey, is the Borough Council Office Complex. Hidden away in the basement is a 1980's era Nuclear Fallout Bunker. Woking Borough Council relocated to their current building in the early 1980's. As was the norm for the time the Home Office required Regional County and Borough Councils to make...

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Modified: 10th May 2023