Central Government War Headquarters

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The Central Government War Headquarters is a 240-acre (97 ha) complex built 120 feet (37 m) underground[1] as the United Kingdom's Emergency Government War Headquarters – the hub of the country's alternative seat of power outside London during a nuclear war or conflict with the Soviet Union. It is located in Corsham, Wiltshire, in an old underground Bath Stone quarry known as Spring Quarry.

The complex was known variously as "Stockwell", "Subterfuge", "Burlington", "Turnstile", "Chanticleer", "Peripheral", and "Site 3". It was also nicknamed "Hawthorn" by journalist Duncan Campbell, who first revealed its existence in his 1982 book War Plan UK.[citation needed]

Construction began in the late 1950s. Despite the fact that it became outdated shortly after it was built, due to intercontinental ballistic missiles being able to target it, and the formulation of other plans (such as "PYTHON"),[2] the site remained in operation for thirty years.

Features[edit]

Over 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) in length, and with over 60 miles (97 km) of roads, the site was designed not only to accommodate the then Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, but the entire Cabinet Office, civil servants and an army of domestic support staff.[3]

Panels of a manual telephone exchange, with plugs, wires and sockets, receding into the distance
GPO Exchange, Central Government War Headquarters

Blast-proof and completely self-sufficient, the complex could accommodate up to 4,000 people in complete isolation from the outside world for up to three months. The underground city was equipped with all the facilities needed to survive, from hospitals, canteens, kitchens and laundries to storerooms of supplies, accommodation areas and offices.[4] An underground lake and treatment plant could provide all the drinking water needed whilst twelve huge tanks could store the fuel required to keep the four massive generators in the underground power station running for up to three months. And unlike most urban cities above ground, the air within the complex could also be kept at a constant humidity and heated to around 20 degrees Celsius. It was also equipped with the second largest telephone exchange in Britain, a BBC studio from which the PM could address the nation, and an internal Lamson Tube system that could relay messages, using compressed air, throughout the complex.

To maintain the secrecy of the site, even during the countdown to war, it was envisaged that 4,000 essential workers would assemble at an outlying destination known as Check Point. Warminster fulfilled this function, and from there a fleet of army lorries would have transported staff to the CGWH site. About 210 senior Whitehall officials and their staff, similarly unaware of their destination, were to assemble at Kensington (Olympia) station on the West London Line, before setting off by special train for Warminster, changing there for a short trip by motor bus to Warminster Infantry Training Centre. There they would be broken up into small groups to conclude their journey with a 23-mile (37 km) lorry trip.[5] The Prime Minister was to remain at Downing Street until the last moment, before being transported to Corsham by helicopter.[6]

Post–Cold War[edit]

At the end of the Cold War, in 1991, the still unused complex was taken over by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and kept on standby in case of future nuclear threats to the UK.

In December 2004, with the underground reservoir drained, emptied of fuel and supplies, and with a skeleton staff of just four, the site was decommissioned. In October 2005,[1] it became public that the MoD was putting the site up for sale in a package deal that includes the CGWH, the military base above it.[1] Proposed uses include a "massive data store for City [financial] firms or the biggest wine cellar in Europe."[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d For sale: Britain’s underground city, an 30 October 2005 article from The Sunday Times
  2. ^ The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945–2010, by Professor Peter Hennessey, published by Penguin Books 2010
  3. ^ Wiltshire's Secret Underground City, from a BBC website about the facility
  4. ^ Wiltshire's Secret Underground City: Interactive Map, from a BBC website about the facility
  5. ^ Hennessy, Peter (2010). "London might be silenced". The secret state : preparing for the worst, 1945–2010 (2 ed.). London: Penguin. pp. 264–267; 275. ISBN 978-0-14-104469-9. 
  6. ^ Fox, Steve (April 2010). "Top Secret Acid The Story of the Central Government War Headquarters 1936 – 2008". Subterranea (22): 43,44,45. ISSN 1741-8917. 

External links[edit]