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13 November 2014

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You are in: Hampshire > History > Local History > In the bunker

Entering the nuclear bunker

Entering the nuclear bunker

In the bunker

Hidden reminders of the Cold War are dotted around Hampshire - nuclear bunkers built to house essential workers in the event of a nuclear attack. It's now possible to glimpse inside these impressive structures which, thankfully, were never needed.

For more than four decades of the 20th Century, the spectre of nuclear war hung over Europe as the Soviet Union and the West pointed vast arsenals of nuclear weapons at each other.

The bunker hidden in the Hampshire countryside

The bunker hidden in the Hampshire countryside

Away from the public eye, a secret infrastructure was set up to deal with the aftermath of a devastating nuclear explosion and the resulting radioactive fallout.

BBC One's Inside Out programme gained access to the old nuclear bunker near the village of Twyford, near Winchester shortly before it was sold.

The bunker was created out of an old reservoir, and was designed to act as a communications base for Southern Water staff to restore a safe water supply in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK.

In the 1980s, water was considered a priority to maintain, especially the deep underground wells which would have been uncontaminated by fall-out.

The old reservoir

The old reservoir

Twyford was chosen as a location as it was considered far enough away from Southampton, which would have been a major nuclear target (the bunker itself could not have survived a direct hit from even a small nuclear device).

The building has 8ft (2.5m) thick concrete walls and a 6in (15.2cm) thick steel door.

Sixty workers would have food, clear air and water for up to two weeks while a nuclear winter reeked havoc above ground.  They would be on a eight-hour rotation of working, recreation and sleeping - surviving on dried and tinned food.

A sophisticated air-conditioning and air-locking system would have protected the staff from the extreme effects of radioactivity in the outside atmosphere.

Network

A network of bunkers was created around the country to provide secure bases for the military, local government, transport authorities and utility workers.

They were constantly maintained ready for use.  If international tensions rose high enough to make nuclear war a possibility, the essential staff would have left their families and retreated to the bunkers ready to deal with the awful consequences of a nuclear attack.

Official advice

Official advice on surviving a nuclear attack

The general public would not have had access to these bunkers.

Instead, a leaflet entitled 'Protect and Survive' provided advice on what civilians should do in the event of a nuclear strike - creating an 'Inner refuge' inside their homes.

The Twyford bunker was completed in 1990 when the Berlin Wall had already fallen.  As the engineering contract had already been committed to, it remained fully operational until 1997 but, of course, was never actually used.

Subterranea Britannica are a team of volunteers dedicated to documenting all aspects of underground structures - including mines, tunnels and nuclear bunkers.

Researcher Nick Catford explained that even though it was operating at the very end of the Cold War, it wasn't completely futile as the international climate was still uncertain: "It could all have gone horribly wrong, and this bunker could have been ideal for the purpose - but luckily it was never needed."

Heritage

The Twyford bunker has been used by computer security companies for data storage since it was decommissioned in 1997. It has recently been sold for £240,000.

Nick Catford

Nick Catford

However other bunkers did not survive very long after the end of the Cold War.

Other sites around Hampshire which were used as bunkers included a Royal Observer Corp bunker in Winchester which would have monitored the effects of a nuclear strike around the country, and a stand-by local authority bunker in Bitterne, Southampton. Both bunkers have since been demolished for housing developments.

Although English Heritage has recently restored and opened a bunker in York to the public, Nick Catford insists it is vital to document and preserve at least some of these underground relics of the secret history of the Cold War:

"The Cold War is disappearing from memory very quickly - bunkers are being demolished and people are forgetting what went on." 

last updated: 26/01/2009 at 15:49
created: 20/01/2009

You are in: Hampshire > History > Local History > In the bunker



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