back to article The bunker at the end of the world - in Essex

Kelvedon Hatch is a superb example of absurdist geek life. Not only is the site technically very impressive, it is also completely useless and frequently prompts the question “what on earth were they thinking?”... A tour reinforces this view as the experience now is as enjoyably peculiar as the history behind the place. The …


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  1. Tim Roberts 1
    Thumb Up


    It's very easy to be critical, even dismissive of these relics and why they exist. Being born in 1957, clearly I will not be able to remember the days that prompted "constructions" such as this. They remain important historical sites and imho should be preserved as such. Hopefully this site and others like it will be preserved for our children and grandchildren to get some perspective on why we are as we are now.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: yes

      In one way, preservation is guaranteed. As with the German coastal fortifications in France from WWII, they're almost impossible to destroy. So much reinforced concrete was used, that these things just won't blow up. So I guess it's a case of finding a use for them, or making them into interesting museums.

      It's interesting just how little effort the government put into civil defence. In the end they just decided that nuclear war would be so terminal, that there was little point in doing too much about it. This is a relatively small country, with a high density of targets.

      I was reminded of all this yesterday, as there was a piece on the radio about 'Protect and Survive'. Not a particularly cheerful memento of the Cold War either. I remember watching 'Threads' in the 80s, and there was one shot in Sheffield as well was it called 'The War Game' or something?

      I certainly remember having conversations in the 80s, once I was old enough to understand what it meant. Living under a mile from RAF Strike Command, in High Wycombe, surviving a nuclear war wasn't really an issue I had to worry about.

      1. Nick Gibbins

        Re: yes

        Threads was set in Sheffield. The War Game was set in Kent.

        Regarding civil defence, there *was* some preparation in the early 1950s, but the initial enthusiasm had declined by the end of the decade; the last month of my father's National Service were spent on a CD training course that (from his recollection) was mostly about rescuing people from buildings that had collapsed post-attack. The CD Corps itself was wound up by the Wilson government in 1968.

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: yes

          @Nick Gibbons

          Civil Defence, as such, continued after 1968; it was still going in the 1970s.

          After an extensive training course, my father was given access to a pistol and the key to the local bunker. His qualifications were that he had been an RAF aircrew Observer/Bombing Leader in WWII; and was at the time, the highest ranked (Commissioned volunteer reserve) Senior Local Government Officer in the area.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: yes

          "The CD Corps itself was wound up by the Wilson government in 1968."

          My father joined the Civil Defence. For him it was just a continuation of the civilian factory fire-watching tasks of the 1940s. Unfortunately as he was on shift work he missed a third of the training course. They still gave him a full certificate.

          Apart from that I have no memory of the real danger that the Cold War threatened. Certainly none of the "duck and cover" drills of the USA schools. Even the Cuban Crisis hardly registered. Cyprus and Kenya were places that cousins were serving their National Service. Pictures were sent home of them fitting out radio masts with a sten gun balanced on their lap.

          A left wing union member took some of us teenagers round a London Soviet Exhibition in the early 1960s. The manned space capsule was just a large steel ball. The circular hatch was locked down by 25mm diameter stud bolts and hex nuts. Nothing like the sleek USA Gemini craft.

          During my childhood there were still many remnants of the war: gaps between houses in a street; big "S" signs for shelters in pub cellars; the blackout paint on the station glass roof slowly wearing away; pill boxes by the canal and railway. It never registered on me what the war had been like - my parents rarely talked about it.

          Only in recent years have I realised the reality. A good description of the trials and excitement of the Home Front is in the diary of a teenage boy living and working in London. "Boy in the Blitz" the 1940 diary of Colin Perry.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Civil Defence was still going in the 80s

          (before I met her) but my wife applied for a job as a Civil Defence co-ordinator. That would have been the early 80s

          In 83 or 84 I had looked into joining the Civil Defence.


      2. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: yes

        Threads was the one in Sheffield - still some of the most terrifying TV ever made, and available in full on YouTube, as are the Protect and Survive animations. ('Save your family from death by incineration, flying glass and radiation poisoning by whitewashing your windows and hiding under bits of wood and soil from the garden - for at least two weeks.')

        The War Game was an earlier documentary, banned from TV but shown regularly at CND meetings. (And, inevitably, on YouTube.)

        London would have been hit multiple times, and it's unlikely the Russians didn't know about Kelvedon Hatch. The bunker is hard enough to survive a Hiroshima-level A-Bomb attack, but would have been useless against the multiple megatons of a full Soviet bombing run.

        I read recently that planners in the US had targeted Moscow with something like six hundred warheads.

        Even Dick Cheney was shocked.

        1. mmeier

          Re: yes

          Well Moscow has a working missile defence system (Galosh) after all so the only way to take it out would be to flood the defences until the (nuclear warhead) based system runs out of missiles

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: yes

            Except presumably before launching their nuclear war on the west the Soviet high command might have decided to move to a little place in the country. So targetting everything on Moscow is a little bit "operation stable door"

            1. wayne 8

              Re: stable door

              The strategy was Mutally Assured Destruction, M.A.D. Complete and utter destruction that no one could win in the end. The only way was not to play.

        2. Peter Simpson 1

          Re: yes

          Even Dick Cheney was shocked.

          Even more so, I expect, when he learned that the secret warhead enable code was "0000000"


        3. Charles Calthrop
          Thumb Up

          Re: yes

          the guy who did the protect and survive voice overs ended up doing the voice overs for E4.

          That's progress

          1. blokedownthepub

            Re: yes

            Patrick Allen. He was also in an episode at the end of the first series of The Blackadder, as The Hawk. Very distinctive voice.

        4. wayne 8

          Re: 600 warheads on Moscow

          USAF Gen. Curtis Le May on the issue of the megatonnage "I want the cinders to dance."

      3. We're all in it together

        Re: yes

        Strike Command has a staff canteen with fake windows and curtains and nicely drawn murals behind them.

      4. Amorous Cowherder


        I bought Threads on DVD about 6 months ago, pretty scary stuff and worse when you think we came pretty close it becoming a reality. Has a young Reese Dinsdale who starred in "I.D." another nutty role in another nutty film!

        Being a spotty 16 year old thrash metal fan in the late 80's we got a regular dose of being told that the end is coming whether you like it or not, so stop worrying and just get out and party just before you get wiped off the face of the earth!

        1. mickey mouse the fith

          Re: Threads

          "I bought Threads on DVD about 6 months ago, pretty scary stuff and worse when you think we came pretty close it becoming a reality. Has a young Reese Dinsdale who starred in "I.D." another nutty role in another nutty film!"

          The companion documentary to Threads, `Q.E.D - A Guide To Armageddon` narrated by ludvig Kennedy is also worth a watch. It really drives home the fact that in the U.K every single person would be fucked due to population density, landmass and fallout. There wouldnt be a single drop of water or patch of land uncontaminated. The last 5 minutes, where ludvig sums up the situation any survivor, emerging from their bunker would experience is absolutely harrowing. Very sobering documentary.

          Youtube Link:

          1. spl23

            Re: Threads

            I remember being shown "A Guide To Armageddon" at school at the age of 12, and I think it is still the single most terrifying experience I have ever had - I hardly slept for three months afterwards, thinking that every plane that passed overhead was an inbound warhead. Truly chilling.

            As I got older, I realised how irrational my fears were - and then, more recently, I found out more about incidents such as Able Archer back in 1982 - turns out my fears were not only rational, but that we came far closer to being annihilated on a number of occasions than most of us realise. Now that *is* chilling.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: yes

      Perhaps I'm being picky - but wouldn't a nearby nuclear blast vapourise or at least blow over that communications mast? So how exactly did the BBC expect to continue broadcasting unless they were going to draw straws about which unlucky producer would be going outside to nail up a half wave whip at the top of any tree that was left standing?

      More seriously - I'm assuming the government boffins must have considered this so there must be substantial cable based comms still buried away on the site?

      1. Peter Simpson 1

        Re: yes

        ...communications mast?

        Around here, they had underground ones that were supposed to rise up on hydraulics after the big boom.

        1. Assuming the hydraulics hadn't rusted from groundwater

        2. Good only until the second boom.

        1. jjk

          Re: yes

          When I did my stint in the (German) army 30 years ago, I was part of a unit whose task would have been to put up mobile antenna towers after the fixed ones had been blown away. These were painted green, so presumably the Sov^W^W Redland forces would not be able to find them :-)

          1. mmeier

            Re: yes

            Our sergeant (Oberfeldwebel) used terms like NEF - Nicht existierendes Feindbild / Non existing concept of the enemy for the Warshaw Pact since officially the Bundeswehr was ready to defend against enemies on all borders.

            Strangely the targets at the range showed russian soldier or tank silouettes and Force Red(1) always attacked from the east and always was reported to use WP vehicles and in the end the Amis nuked everybody on a line from Hamm to Hannover or Frankfurt to Fulda.

            (1) Red = Enemy and Blue = Own pre-dates NATO and WP by more than a century. Urban legend has Napoleon introduce it since some of his Marshals where illiterate

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: yes

              since officially the Bundeswehr was ready to defend against enemies on all borders.

              Well, you can't trust those French you know!

              And clearly Germany trembles before the might of Luxembourg...

      2. spl23

        Re: yes

        There were a lot of tests done on the survivability of structures like radio masts when exposed to nearby nuclear blasts, and it turned out that big steel framed radio masts actually do pretty well - not much surface area, so the forces are kept fairly low, and most of the blast just passes straight through them. A blast close enough to destroy the bunker would obviously take the mast out, but one a couple of miles away wouldn't necessarily have done so. The most fragile things on the radio masts were the microwave dishes that were used for secure line-of-sight comms between such installations, but they kept spare dishes in storage to replace the ones on the mast after the bangs.

        It's long out of print, but if you can find a copy of Peter Laurie's "Beneath The City Streets", he goes into a lot of detail about the secure inter-bunker communications network and its survivability.

      3. David 45

        Re: yes

        Thought about that as well. Reminds me of when I was a "Post Office Telephones" engineer and we had to periodically inspect certain kit in mini bunkers around the area (checking signal and batteries, etc) which were meant to be manned by the Observer Corps in the event of a nuclear attack. They were kitted out with rudimentary survival kits and, rather ominously, a bomb blast indicator. However, I often wondered how they were supposed to get on station from their main headquarters in town, which was a good 25 minutes drive away when the warning time was a mere four minutes (if I remember correctly). Also the feed carrying the signal for the electronics was just a good old bog-standard overhead telephone wire over several spans on the usual wooden poles. Couldn't see that lasting even milliseconds in the event of a bomb being dropped!

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: yes

      I can't remember the movie, but it had Charlton Heston as the pyramid builder and ummmmmm that King and I guy as the pharoh ?????? and the whole thing about this was building the Cheops pyramid and then setting off all the intricate internal locking and sealing mechanisms...

      Now the kings wife was a schemer, who wanted to get it all when he died... and

      The really scarey bit was the locking and sealing mechanism, which included the kings family and priests, all being seated in a sealed room inside the pyramid, and a HUGE rectangular stone block slide down an internal ramp, breaking off these clay cups, in the walls.

      As the clay cups broke, sand came pouring of the chambers behind them, and flowed down the slop and into some channels, that excited into the room where the queen and priests were... effectively and eventually, burying them alive inside it.

      The queen was rather non plussed when she discovered that she had in fact inherited the kingdom - his after life one, and that she got to join him in it - for eternity.

      And I look at all these concrete bunkers and underground chambers, and I think, "Well - these are all just underground tombs.... - and I hope to die, in the middle of a green grassy field under some nice trees."

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  3. Jemma

    Make doubly sure you...

    Put Kelvedon Hatch into the GPS not just Kelvedon or you'll end up about 40 miles out of your way at t'other end of the A12 feeling confused...its surprising how many times I was asked for directions to the nuclear bunker that isn't 2 miles or so from colchester... Not so surprising how rude some people got though.

    1. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Make doubly sure you...

      well it is supposed to be a _secret_ bunker :-D

      p.s. I live in Colchester and thought it was round here someplace!

      1. Phil Endecott

        Re: Make doubly sure you...

        > I live in Colchester and thought it was round here someplace!

        That's Mistly secret bunker, which is also worth visiting.

      2. Jemma

        Re: Make doubly sure you...

        When I first heard the name I thought someone was talking about a new Vauxhall. I've the joys of being a Colchestrian too. One good thing about colchester and environs, if the Russians do invade the road are so bad even a T72 commander would have second thoughts - I'm sure automatics shouldn't change gear via the pothole to roadwheel interface..

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And while you are there, you can enjoy the charms of brentwood. Especially the Sugar Hut and amy childs salon and boutique.

    I've never been prouder to be an essex boy.

    1. Steve Evans

      And get yourself spray painted Orange.

      On the bright side... The word on the high street is the owner of the sugar hut wishes to break his ties with the Orange vacuous ones, so with any luck TOWIE will be moving!

      (Also very proud to be an Essex boy!)

    2. Jemma

      Oh dont.. Belt skirts, boob tubes and 7 year olds just shouldn't mix - but they do. Every time I see it in town I shrivel up a little inside.. The worst is when the kid carries off slapper-chic better than mum.. It makes you wince.. Feels like an angelic Saville has crept up and stolen a bit of your soul..

  5. Julian Bond

    It's a deeply strange place and highly recommended. I half expected to see Gordon Freeman or a face crab round each corner. Especially with the sound effects playing constantly in the background. "skrrrsh skrrsh MEDIC!"

    1. Ian Yates

      In fact, during a games meet / LAN party in 2000 and 2001 (I believe) my mate rented the whole place out and we had ~30 people + computers in there playing various games.

      The best was during the Star Craft tournament when "Nuclear launch detected" was repeatedly broadcast throughout the war room ;)

  6. EnderXi

    If you liked this....

    Check out the Hack Green secret nuclear bunker which is another "ROTOR" station in Cheshire which is well worth the visit if your in the area, we first saw it from the canal where there is yet another fantastic sign right on the canal:

    1. richardcox13

      Re: If you liked this....

      Certainly worth a visit. They have a collection of cold war military equipment including a WE.177 case (well I hope it's empty).

      Lots of signs to it in the area... really must get a photo of a few on a visit to family in the area at some point.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    stationary room

    With a 30m high, 3.5m thick concrete shell, I should hope so....

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > At a closed auction, the Parrish family - who had originally sold the land for the base and still farmed the surrounding fields - bought it back.

    It would have been amazing to see it in the local estate agent's window.

    "For Sale: 2 bed bungalow, needs some renovation, very large wine cellar."

    1. Mattjimf

      Guess it would read something like this

    2. TheOtherHobbes

      A local agent

      was advertising 'deceptive accommodation' in their window recently.

      Pretty much, yes.

      1. Phil W

        Re: A local agent

        if it was in an estate agent's window then surely the word "deceptive" was unnecessary and could be assumed?

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >"For Sale: 2 bed bungalow, needs some renovation, very large wine cellar."

      I had believed the bunker outside Bath had been bought as a wine cellar, but it would appear that was only a proposal:

  9. Mannginger
    Thumb Up

    Loved this place but it was a little grim

    Really atmospheric, slightly comical at times due to the shop-window dummies but there was always this reminder of how terrible it would have been. Almost your first impression is that long corridor with 2x90 degree bends at each end and on the bunker side a Machine gun port - unlikely to be used in defence but to stop unauthorised citizens from swarming the place. A horrific thought and sets the tone for the rest of the excellent tour.

    1. tomban

      Re: Loved this place but it was a little grim

      I took the wife there for a visit one Valentine's day.

      Great place to visit.

      // hehe, nuke icon

  10. markw:


    It could still be useful if we could fill it with "top politicians and civil servants" and seal the massive blast-proof doors...

  11. Prof. Mine's A. Pint
    Thumb Up

    This could be the most visionary piece of forward planning ever.

    So, it can completely isolate 600 people for 3 months?

    Remind me; How many MPs do we have at Westminster?

    1. John Sturdy

      Re: This could be the most visionary piece of forward planning ever.

      They seem pretty thoroughly cut off from the rest of us already! Might as well complete the job.

      1. Prof. Mine's A. Pint

        Re: This could be the most visionary piece of forward planning ever.


        ...but in this space, no one could hear them whine.

        That alone has to be worth the (historic) tax spend.

        My only concern is how long it would take to re-stock the facility for their next 3 month stay.

      2. Ken 16 Silver badge

        shut in and left completely isolated for up to three months

        "chemical toilets for when the base was closed to save precious water, and worst of all, cardboard coffins for those who didn’t make it"

        The only flaw is that most of them wouldn't attend.

    2. Chika

      Re: This could be the most visionary piece of forward planning ever.

      I like your thinking!

      The problem is that there are so many that would probably want to take their places...

      1. Prof. Mine's A. Pint

        Re: This could be the most visionary piece of forward planning ever.

        So, why don't we replace the next general election with a pilot TV show called "Big Brother's Big Brother"?

        I'm happy to accept suggestions for inclusion/evictions rules (preferably more of the former and less of the later)

  12. billat29

    4 minute warning

    Two fellow visitors told me what they had planned to do in the four minutes between the warnings going off and obliteration - Just enough time to get to the local where they had arranged for the barmaid to have two pints waiting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 4 minute warning

      Did they know where their towels were?

    2. Lord-a-miytee

      Re: 4 minute warning

      Never mind the beer. If there's a barmaid to serve it I can think of something much more interesting to do with my last four minutes. In fact, in that time I could probably do it twice.

  13. Tom 7

    "Then the earth was replaced."

    I was wondering about that.

    Re Tim Roberts 1. yes... I remember my father staring out the window during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was about 3 1/2 at the time. Its one of the few images of him I could still paint after all these years.

    It may look mad now but it happened and was very very real at the time.

  14. jubtastic1

    Worth a visit

    Interesting to explore and easy to laugh at the dioramas but the reality behind this building is pretty sobering. Grim is an understatement, Its poorly lit, cold and musty with an undercurrent of rot.

    Hard to imagine what it would have been like to be shut in down there as blasts shook the ground and the world died above you.

  15. Alister

    Only in Britain...

    ...would you find a road sign saying "Secret Nuclear Bunker"**

    It brings to mind a certain Mr Chekov, asking in a strong Russian accent for "nooclear wesselz"

    ** Okay, i know it's a recent sign, and wouldn't have been there during the cold war.

    1. Richard Pennington 1
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Only in Britain...

      Not just in Britain ...

      On a visit to Washington DC a few years ago, I spotted a car prominently labelled "US Secret Service - Uniformed Division". There is also a turnoff from one of the Baltimore-to-Washington freeways, labelled "National Security Agency - Employees Only".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Only in Britain...

        I read that as "US Secret Service - *Un-informed* Division" :-)

  16. TheresaJayne

    I used to do re-enactments in the bunker, staying there at night and sleeping in the bunks.

    We used to do the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962.

    It is scary to think that on that day Russian bombers were coming down the north sea and if the secret talks had not succeeded in america the missiles in Norfolk would have been fueled and WW3 would have started.

    But that information is not commonly known with the standoff at Cuba being the more widely known incident.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "I used to do re-enactments in the bunker, staying there at night and sleeping in the bunks. We used to do the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962."

      Sorry - each to their own, and all that...but that just sounds weird

  17. frank ly

    Just wondering...

    What kind of run-off water stains concrete blue?

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Just wondering...

      I would guess it is caused by an ingredient in that type of reinforced concrete, not the water itself.

      On the other hand maybe one of the chemical toilets has been leaking... Alternatively the white balance on the camera was wonky.

      1. Phil W

        Re: Just wondering...

        perhaps copper pipes + sulfur either in the water or from somewhere else to make copper sulfate?

    2. Badvok

      Re: Just wondering...

      I never actually noticed that until you pointed it out, I guess that these days I'm too used to seeing poor quality pictures taken by mobile phones to expect any kind of realistic colour balance.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I visited some years back

    and the place had a delightfully ramshackle feel, seemingly also serving as the foundations of a museum of shop-window mannequins. One of whom, if I remember correctly, was sat in front of a microphone in a radio studio wearing a Spitting Image Maggie Thatcher mask. A thoroughly British day out.

  19. Mr Spock

    Waiting for Eadon

    ... to explain to us why they used Commodores and not Windows PCs.

    1. Isendel Steel

      Re: Waiting for Eadon

      Because Commodores hold a higher rank ?

      1. mmeier

        Re: Waiting for Eadon

        But Windows has a General as part of the OS. So the question is "How many stars does General Failure have?"

        1. TeeCee Gold badge

          Re: Waiting for Eadon

          Er, that's "General Protection" to you.

          For some reason, whenever anything went wrong in Windows it was always his fault.

    2. J P

      Re: Waiting for Eadon

      Of course there weren't any Windows; it's a concrete bunker 100' underground. And anyway, they'd have had to have been whitewashed, wouldn't they?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Waiting for Eadon

      Very little of the original contents of the bunker remained when the bunker was decommissioned. The Parrish family took anything and everything from the period as props to recreate the interior. So don't go looking too closely trying to deduce why HM Govt was using various bits of kit. The only thing you can deduce is that 15 years ago the Parrish family were given various bits of kit.

      As a local I can tell you, as expected, you can't build something like that and keep it a secret. Ever since I was a kid I knew about the military base in the woods. The signs on the fence rather gave that away. So those machine gun positions covering the corridor would have been for us!

  20. SuperHoopMango

    "It is scary to think that on that day Russian bombers were coming down the north sea and if the secret talks had not succeeded in america the missiles in Norfolk would have been fueled and WW3 would have started."

    Russian bombers have always been coming down the North Sea! That was what the QRA force were for. A quick scramble and escort the ruskies back out of our airspace.

    To nicely tie in with something else that has happened in these last few days...

    I was on HMS Ark Royal in the late 80's, on detachment from the RAF, and was able to stand on the flight deck and watch a Russian Bear bomber go overhead. This was around the north of Scotland on exercise!....Ahhhhh....happy days!

    <<< That's for "Channel night"!!

    1. Yag

      "watch a Russian Bear bomber go overhead"

      I thought you might have heard it more than watched it...

      1. mmeier

        Re: "watch a Russian Bear bomber go overhead"

        Very shortly after reunification two recently aquired MIG 29 visited the local Bundeswehr base. Quite a few peple, me included, had to fight the urge to take cover and call for the Flak when the "Iwan" came in fast and low with two smoke-free F4F(1) in hot pursuit.

        (1) Afterburners on and barely under the Mach. Man what a sound mix...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "watch a Russian Bear bomber go overhead"

          " Afterburners on and barely under the Mach. Man what a sound mix..."

          In the late 1960s an airshow in Wem had a Spitfire do the classic low pass over the crowd - followed by a steep climb to produce that iconic sound. The show commentator then said that the English Electric Ligntning was delayed. So everyone was unprepared as it imitated the Spitfire's low pass and steep climb - with the afterburners on.

          It wasn't so much a noise as your very insides being pummelled into jelly.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: "watch a Russian Bear bomber go overhead"

          I was on the deck of the Audacious class Ark Royal in the '70s at Navy Days when an F4K came over and did the climb with after-burners on. Flat metal surfaces and the flight deck reflecting the sound, it was deafening.

          I think it was the same visit that we took one of the Drakes Island boat trips, and saw Eagle (the Ark's sister ship) mothballed and anchored just off the Island. There's something strangely disturbing about such a large warship with nothing happening on it, although it was not as bad as watching the follow-on episode to the BBC first series of "Sailor", where they took the Fleet-Master-At-Arms who had served on the Ark for 20 years on-and-off to the graving dock where they were pulling her to pieces. Seeing such a 'hard' man crying was terrible to see.

      2. SuperHoopMango

        Re: "watch a Russian Bear bomber go overhead"

        As posted to the RAF Neatishead thread, on here some weeks ago, I was in RADAR, and thus we could "see" the paints of the bomber coming over. We knew where it was coming from so a quick run up to the flight deck and we could see the shape of it in the sky.

        Yes, you could hear it....but getting "eyes" on it was far more least to this, then, 19 year old scopie!

        < for the payload of the Bear-H!

  21. Conrad Longmore
    Thumb Up

    I'm not convinced..

    I'm not convinced that a lot of the vintage IT kit in the bunker actually *comes* from there, I think a lot of it was added when it was turned into a museum. Still, it's well worth a visit. The bit that got me was the three-shift system for the bunk beds. A cushy little number this was not.

    1. We're all in it together

      Re: I'm not convinced..

      Wasn't it 600 staff rotating or something like that? Been a while since I visited it.

  22. helicoil
    Thumb Up

    Excellent place to visit, very atmospheric, interesting and down right frightening at times. Most frightening was being told on the tour that the defences were mainly to keep the likes of you and me out not marauding Ruskies, it was expected that society would have returned to a more feudal like existence.

    After visiting the bunker we went home and watched "Threads", needed a damned good drink after that lot! ;-)

    Recently a couple of locals(Harlow) organised a zombie invasion/survival role playing type game based in the bunker -tickets were sold out before I managed to get any -gutted!

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Yes, interesting place to visit in the same way as Bletchley Park.

    Maybe in 50 years, the nuclear bunker allegedly under The Donut will be a open to the public?

  24. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    OMG. A Marconi radar *more* efficient than planned.

    Sadly IIRC the air defense computer system was a complete balls up.

  25. Richard Pennington 1
    Black Helicopters

    Perhaps they should have sold it ...

    ... via a classified ad.

  26. Mostly_Harmless Silver badge

    good to be able to look on this so light-heartedly

    As a child of the 70s/80s I remember when the idea of nuclear obliteration was more of an "when" than an "if". Good to have come out of the other side and be able to look at things like this and have a few light-hearted comments.

    1. mmeier

      Re: good to be able to look on this so light-heartedly

      In 1986 we had a Bundeswehr "Jugendoffizier" at school discussing (1) Natos Pershing2/cruise missile introduction. At one point the greeny blurbt about "chances of survival". The Bundeswehr guy sadly shook his head and started:

      Local powerplant, one SS20 warhead, 100KT, airburst,5 km from here

      Important part of the channel systen, one SS20 warhead, groundburst, 10km

      Bundeswehr airbase, multiple warheads, ground and airburst, 20km

      Major railroad and railyards for loading/unloading tanks prior to the channel crossing, airburst, 2km

      Your chances to survive: NONE!

      The class was a tad silent and Billy looked green...

      (1) Actually he showed us what a blabbering, clueless fool Billy Birkenstock was

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: good to be able to look on this so light-heartedly

        I recall seeing an interview fairly recently with a military type who was senior in NATO back in the day. He was asked what the plan was for a defence of Western Europe.

        "Well, the plan was we'd try to keep them on the other side of the Rhine until the Americans got their kit across the Atlantic."

        "Would that have worked?"

        "No, not a chance. They'd have overwhelmed us well before the Yanks could get their heavy stuff over in significant quantity."

        "Ok, so in that position what would have been done."

        "There was only one plan really. Fall back, get the tactical nukes released, nuke their armoured spearheads in Germany, then cross our fingers and see if they felt like escalating."

        "What? You mean the only plan was that NATO would use the first nuclear strike? You can't be serious."

        "I'm deadly serious. It was the only workable option we had.".

        "And what if the use of nuclear weapons was not approved?"

        "Ah, that would be a political problem and it would then be up to the politicians to discuss our surrender terms.".

        I'm guessing that the Germans weren't exactly delighted with this approach, which appears to me to revolve around either using Germany for nuclear target practice or handing it to the Soviets.

        1. Dazed & Confused

          Re: good to be able to look on this so light-heartedly

          The thing I never get is that everybody 'high up' seems to have made the assumption that all the little people would rather be sacrificed than live under the Soviets.

          Now, I really don't like the idea of living in he Soviet Union - but I like the idea of being dead even less.....

          If the Ruski tanks really had rolled over the border, would the politicians have thought, 'Well this is worse than death' and pressed the big red button?

        2. mmeier

          Re: good to be able to look on this so light-heartedly

          Some say the definition of a tactical nuke was: lt. exploded in germany. Our US "protectors" where a tad to free with both candy and nukes. Could not hold their alcohol or their release orders

          With the Brits you could at least have a brew or a beer while discussing compensation for the Chieftain sized hole in grandmas tulips...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: good to be able to look on this so light-heartedly

          ahem...there was another component to the plan at least in the early days.

          They intended to drop a TA Airborne Brigade - 3 battalions of Paras plus 1 regiment of heavy mortars - in between the first & second Russian echelons to slow everything up. The army had worked out how many men they would lose at each stage and how they would regroup into smaller and smaller units before day 5 attempting to break out in 5 man teams. I think we worked out they would have taken 97% casualties at that point.

          My source was told that in late 1962 when he was issued with his travel warrant and placed on 24 hours notice.

      2. Malmesbury

        Re: good to be able to look on this so light-heartedly

        Small towns in Germany are 20Kt apart....

  27. SW

    Don't forget the Mistley Anti Aircraft Operations Room

    Also in Essex...

    Used to play around the site when I was a kid, we lived in the village.

    Not as impressive as the Kelvedon Hatch one but still of interest...

    Was fun trying to get through the fencing around the facility.

  28. AlanBBoyd

    Scotland's Secret Bunker

    The Anstruther bunker has a similarly comical sign, but for anyone in the north it's definitely worth a visit. Distinctly sobering government information films of the time runnnig on a loop, advising on what you should do with the excess broken bodies cluttering up your nuclear shelter.

    Piles of ancient comms kit on display too.

  29. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Thankfully a relic

    growing up in the 70s, the threat of nuclear war was somehow "normal". So much so, that when the great hurricane hit London in 1987, for a few moments I was convinced the USSR had bombed us - howling winds, eerie darkness, and telephone and radio out. After frantically spinning the radio dial, I finally hit radio Essex - 5 minutes of which was enough to make me wish they *had* dropped the bomb ....

  30. We're all in it together
    Thumb Up

    As mentioned previously

    Driving through Chipping Ongar one day saw the 'Secret Nuclear Bunker' sign on the mini roundabout and made a note to visit it. It is indeed an interesting tour. Mind you whilst the sign is new I suspect the rather large mast probably gave the game away to the Russians. That and having a 'bungalow' with CCTV everywhere.

    And actually it's the only site I found using Apple maps....

    I know it's been a while but had to be done :-)

  31. Maikol
    Thumb Up

    Anyone else thought of Vaultec?

    For a moment I lost myself thinking I was walking about in the wasteland and seeing a radio tower and approaching it and finding a Vault!

    I would like to have seen more pictures though.

    1. andy mcandy
      Thumb Up

      Re: Anyone else thought of Vaultec?

      Give me a powerfist and i'll be a happy wandered :)

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Villagers?

    "How much the villagers knew about the facility I’m not sure ..."

    You do now - we all knew, at least in the mid 1970's - local children went to both Ongar and Brentwood Schools, so those towns would probably have an inkling as well. The original entrance is via a very narrow lane, and not the signposted route - check out Google street view! No parking via the original entrance though!!

  33. Craig Vaughton


    We could do with a real "Threads" in Sheffield city centre now. We'd get rid of the useless council and run down shopping area in one fail swoop!

  34. JaitcH

    Some 'Secret' bases

    I used to visit Princes Risborough a while back, leaving High Wycombe - a miserable excuse of a town - travel along the A40 and hang a right just before West Wycombe, on to the A4010.

    There was a RAF base above Saunderton (Lacey Green?) that was 'secret' except for years of convoys of trucks used to cart dirt down and later convoys of readymix concrete travelled up.

    It is hard to imagine that even the most short-sighted Russian satellite of those years could miss the desecration of the countryside. All these groundworks scattered around the UK installed at the greatest expense.

    In my early work days I worked for a notable company that used to bury VHF transmitter-receivers in the green fields of the UK, all fed through miles annd miles of underground conduits that carried comms and electricity between our underground chambers and the nearest "telephone exchange". These pits had emergency generators, air pumps and antenna - all designed for remote control.

    About 16 years ago I happened to be in an area I had worked in and decided on a small diversion. Took some hunting but finally I located the steel doors of one site and the rusted manual release switch and peeped in. All the equipment, even the pneumatically raised mast/antenna, was there but it was obviously powered down.

    I wonder just how many other millions/billions pounds lie buried across England? All wet dreams of government done for nought.

    You should see RAF Latimer, a few miles away, they didn't even clean the mess up!

    1. Dave Bell

      Re: Some 'Secret' bases

      There was a lot of effort spent on photo-recce of the Soviet Union, with various high-flying aircraft such as the Canberra and the U-2 demonstrating that it was hard to intercept high-fling aircraft. Whether the Soviet Union even managed the same over the UK, I've never heard anyone say. But once satellites could do the job, both sidescould fix the locations of what was visible, and Moscow wasn't quite where the official maps said.

      Rough rule of thumb: any bunker completed before 1960 might not have been on enemy maps. And how would those bungalows have looked on the photo-recce images? Google Earth shows it as rather hidden among the trees, almost too hidden, and the radio mast is in the sort of place a radio mast might be put for all sorts of reasons.

      There were always more targets than bombs anyway. And you could never be sure that any bomb would arrive where intended. And it wasn't a good idea to have two missiles aimed at exactly the same location. Some of the odd-seeming targets were just locations chosen so that several missiles were close enough to the "real" target. Do you drop one warhead on Parkeston Quay, or do you lay out an overlapping pattern to cover Harwich and Felixstowe? Shotley Gate Post Office might be as good an aiming point as any.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some 'Secret' bases

      "There was a RAF base above Saunderton (Lacey Green?) that was 'secret' except for years of convoys of trucks used to cart dirt down and later convoys of readymix concrete travelled up."

      Having worked there, I dispute the idea that it was secret. The signs outside were something of a giveaway that this was RAF High Wycombe, headquarters of RAF Strike Command.

      Regarding that both Western and Eastern HQ's were all known locations, that was irrelevant - the strategy was detente, in that you had an escalation if you were going to be over-run by conventional means, as well as time to launch an MAD retaliation against an attempted pre-emptive strike. So the protection of the sites was primarily against conventional weapons, where you couldn't justifiably launch a nuclear attack in reponse. Should High Wycombe and Northwood be targeted by nukes big enough to take them out, we'd have launched our submarine based missiles before the incoming arrived.

      The hippies always hated MAD, but it actually worked rather well in avoiding conflict. A vast combined waste of money of course, and one that bankrupted the USSR, but only two real questions arise:

      1) Was the USSR a credible threat in term of an unprovoked invasion across Europe?

      2) Better Red than dead?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Some 'Secret' bases

        "Having worked there, I dispute the idea that it was secret. The signs outside were something of a giveaway that this was RAF High Wycombe, headquarters of RAF Strike Command."

        Indeed, the Strike Command bunker was very public mainly as a result of a huge fuss when the National Trust allowed it to be built on their land against the wishes of a fair proportion of the membership. Plus the signs as mentioned - in pre Sat Nav days they were jolly useful for finding the place if one had to visit.

  35. Test Man
    Thumb Up

    How timely an article - I passed this on the way to Brentwood a few weeks ago.

  36. Senior Ugli

    Loving the communications history segments on here. This bunker and the BT tower articles were very interesting.

    There is the remains of an early warning defence system in Maidstone in Kent, which is a fun visit. see

    Also for more info on derelict buildings view in particular the military section

  37. Andy

    i went recently with my kids who were about my age at the time of the stuff in the 80s.. i made them watch the videos shown that we used to see on tv and we had to stop watching them as they got scared. i said this is what we had to live through at your age.. great to visit and will do again without the kids so i can read everything properly.

    p.s does anyone remember the other series that was on tv of a dad built a bunker in his house and tricked the family into thinking nuclear war had started? eventually the kids found out it hadnt at all and thats how it ended...

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "p.s does anyone remember the other series that was on tv of a dad built a bunker in his house and tricked the family into thinking nuclear war had started? eventually the kids found out it hadnt at all and thats how it ended.."

      I think you're thinking of a one off TV play. Possibly with Sheila Hancock in it.

  38. Dr?


    I know of this place only because it was the set of a dreadful film called S.N.U.B. (Secret Nuclear Underground Bunker). The only reason I watched this straight to video garbage is because my old boss (think a fat, bald version of David Brent with neither the wit or charm) was in it. He was some zombie type thing and he got repeatedly shot and smashed over the head. Who wouldn't want to see that happen to their cretinous boss?

  39. Tim Worstal


    Those tungsten reinforcing rods in the concrete are worth some £40 a kg these days. Anyone fancy digging them out?

    No, no, you do the work, I'll do the selling then we'll split the cash, right?

    1. wayne 8

      Re: Hmmm Tungsten worth its weight in gold

      Sell it as Tungsten? gold plate it and use it as collateral for a securities swap or sell it to the Chinese.

  40. NoOnions

    Maidstone - 1 Group ROC HQ

    In the late '80s, when I was an Air Cadet, I visited the Maidstone bunker as they were simulating a Soviet nuclear strike on the UK - happy days! ;-)

  41. JB

    The Hole in the Ground

    There's a wonderful film available on one of the excellent BFI COI collections called "The Hole in The Ground", made in 1962, and I believe it was filed at Kelvedon Hatch. It's available on YouTube as well, but broken up into 6 10-minute pieces. Well worth a watch (sorry if it has been mentioned already, but my lunch hour is precious!)

    I'd love to visit a place like this, but I doubt it would fly with the missus, who is the driver in the household!

  42. Lukin Brewer

    Disguised as a bungalow...

    As previous posters have touched on, this was probably down to a token, "we might as well - we ought to do something," effort to fool the USSR, plus a more concrete desire to fool Joe Public. Ideally, we weren't supposed to notice all those lumps, bumps, concrete structures and masts that were scattered around the country, let alone worry about what they might be for.

  43. Wayland Sothcott 1

    WISP - Wireless Internet Service Provider

    The tower is now used by two wireless broadband companies, Skyline and County Broadband. From that height they get vast coverage, far more than your average BT Home Hub, but they put out about the same power.

  44. Nathan Price

    The construction seems identical to the bunker / house-on-top that I gave serious thought to purchasing up in Inverbervie a couple of years ago..

  45. Anonymous Coward

    The B-Ark

    "In the event of nuclear war, the role of the RGHQs was to house the key government and military staff needed to run the country after the bombs had finished falling."

    So that they could do...? Fuck all, basically. A concrete bunker to preserve a bunch of morons who's few skills would be totally obsolete if they ever left it.

    I still can't get my head around how stupid people are.

  46. Alistair

    Nifty history things that were once secret

    I LOVE the road sign. That alone is worth the read. And since I live 3 blocks away from it, have a link:

    (yes its a tad cheesy and plain, but I have to give the fellow credit, since no one else is really trying to preserve the knowledge, including the gummint)

    There were quite a number of bodies passed through there, more than a few from 'over 'ome.

  47. Lone Gunman

    Seriously creepy place

    I went there a couple of years back with my mum as something to do one quiet afternoon. Whilst the place is indeed fascinating, we both got a serious case of the creeps as I think we were the only people there, the smell, bad lighting and the odd noises the place makes. Add in the mannequins and we were seriously glad to get out of there.

    Growing up with the threat of nuclear attack should have really bothered me but I don't remember it freaking me out particularly. But then I suppose it was because it was always there, in the same way that we were always alert to the IRA attacks.

    1. mmeier

      Re: Seriously creepy place

      Growing up in the 1960s-80s was a time where "Worldwide Thermonuklear War" was always in the back of the mind. But like IRA / RAF / <Insert local terrorist organisation blowing up political figures>, the occasional "PLO flight to Afrika" and other elements it was background. The Red Army could be on Kurfürsten Damm in 15min and in Bonn in 6h (4 driving, 2 in a jam at Kamener Kreuz) but you could not change it if you where in "panik mode". So we lived on and lived with it.

      In many ways the world was easier back then when the game of "Cowboys and Cossaks" where played on a global scale.

  48. Vetinari
    Thumb Up

    for more of these places :

  49. Mark #255

    The Faraday Cage

    I would think the primary purpose of the Faraday Cage would be to protect the bunker from the nuclear EMP blast.

    Post-apocalypse, who's going to be getting close enough to snoop on you?

  50. Clive Galway

    Brilliant place - I once spent a whole weekend there doing an Airsoft (Paintball without the paint) event. Realistic looking weapons and mag caps, "time-in" for the whole weekend (As in an attack could come at any time) - was very cool.

    The public liked it too as they got to see "soldiers" walking around the place making it look lived in.

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