Central Government War Headquarters
The Central Government War Headquarters is a 240-acre (97 ha) complex built 120 feet (37 m) underground 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. It was also mentioned by Peter Laurie in his 1979 revised edition of "Beneath the City Streets".
Construction began in the late 1950s. Despite becoming outdated shortly after it was built, due to intercontinental ballistic missiles being able to target it, and the formulation of other plans (such as PYTHON), the complex continued to have a role in war plans and the site remained in operation for thirty years.
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.
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. 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. The Prime Minister was to remain at Downing Street until the last moment, before being transported to Corsham by helicopter.
The facility was divided into 22 areas. Some areas were repurposed over the years but the allocation of space in 1981 was as follows:
- Area 1: Air filtration plant (originally the General Post Office area including the telephone exchange).
- Area 2: Royal Air Force Operations Centre (originally offices and dormitory for the Board of Trade, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, Office of Minister for Science and Lord Chancellor’s Department.)
- Area 3: Royal Air Force offices and dormitory
- Area 4: Dormitory area
- Area 5: Dormitory and stores area
- Area 6: Kitchen and bakery
- Area 7: Canteen
- Area 8: Telephone exchange
- Area 9: Hospital and stores (originally a dormitory area)
- Area 10: Ministry of Transport offices
- Area 11: Water treatment and stores
- Area 12: Canteen and laundry
- Area 13: Ministry of Power and Ministry of Agriculture offices and dormitory
- Area 14: Prime Minister, War Cabinet, Cabinet Secretariat and Chiefs of Staff offices and dormitory
- Area 15: Camp Commandant, Establishment offices and Lamson room
- Area 16: Central Office of Information, Ministry of Health, Home Office, Ministry of Housing and Local Government and BBC studio
- Area 17: Ministry of Labour offices and "special accommodation" suites
- Area 18: Admiralty, British Army and Ministry of Defence offices
- Area 19: Workshops and power generation
- Area 20: Stores
- Area 21: Communications centre
- Area 22: Foreign Office offices and dormitory
In addition there were water and fuel storage areas adjacent to the water treatment and power generation areas respectively, not officially numbered but sometimes referred to as Areas 23 and 24.
The "special accommodation" suites in Area 17 were much larger than all other accommodation, finished to a much higher standard and each had private bathroom facilities rather than the communal facilities elsewhere in the bunker. These suites are believed to have been intended for the Royal Family.
||Parts of this article (those related to the proposed 2005 sale of the complex) need to be updated. (February 2010)|
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, 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. Proposed uses include a "massive data store for City [financial] firms or the biggest wine cellar in Europe."
In October 2015 certain areas of the complex including the Telephone Exchange were put on the Historic England "At Risk" register due to their immediate threat of being lost or damaged beyond recognition.
- Civil Contingencies Secretariat
- RAF Rudloe Manor
- Corsham Computer Centre
- Continuity of government
- Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker
- For sale: Britain’s underground city, a 30 October 2005 article from The Sunday Times
- Campbell, Duncan (24 November 1983). War Plan UK: The Truth about Civil Defence in Britain (Rev ed.). Paladin / Granada. ISBN 0-586-08479-7.
- Laurie, Peter (1 November 1979). Beneath the City Streets (Rev ed.). HarperCollins. ISBN 0586050558.
- Hennessy, Peter (2010). The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst, 1945–2010 (2 ed.). London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-104469-9.
- Wiltshire's Secret Underground City, from a BBC website about the facility
- Wiltshire's Secret Underground City: Interactive Map, from a BBC website about the facility
- 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.
- 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.
- Jane Phimester (November 2008), Joint Support Unit (JSU), Corsham - A Characterisation Study Of The Quarries, Their 20th-Century Defence Uses And Related Above-Ground Infrastructure, English Heritage, Oxford Archaeology
- Nick McCamley (2013). Cold War Secret Nuclear Bunkers: The Passive Defence of the Western World During the Cold War. Pen and Sword. p. 271. ISBN 1844155080.
- Corsham Bunker Added to At Risk Register Britains Cold War
- Wiltshire's Underground City - a BBC website with galleries, videos, and an interactive map - November 2014
- Burlington - Corsham, Wiltshire at burlingtonbunker.co.uk
- To Burlington and Beyond - by Steve Fox at burlingtonandbeyond.co.uk
- Burlington - The Governments Cold War Headquarters at britainscoldwar.uk