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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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yes

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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Mushroom

Re: yes

Even Dick Cheney was shocked.

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

//http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=116x17298

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Mushroom

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!

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!

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Mushroom

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?

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@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.

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Mushroom

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.

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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"

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Mushroom

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 :-)

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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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vejorfkdgwU

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

That's progress

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Happy

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...

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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!

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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.

So

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Happy

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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Meh

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.

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Mushroom

Re: 600 warheads on Moscow

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

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Mushroom

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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..

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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.

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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!)

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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..

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Mushroom

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!"

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Mushroom

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 ;)

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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:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-YiBNWc1sk4w/UWcASBbq5kI/AAAAAAAAAss/lcQFuKzdD2M/s1600/DSCF0870.JPG

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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.

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Anonymous Coward

stationary room

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

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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."

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Mushroom

Guess it would read something like this http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/09/scottish_bunker/

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A local agent

was advertising 'deceptive accommodation' in their window recently.

Pretty much, yes.

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Re: A local agent

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

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>"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:

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/wiltshires-secret-underground-city-the-burlington-nuclear-bunker

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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.

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Mushroom

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

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Useful...

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

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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?

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Go

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.

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Happy

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

Agreed...

...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.

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