The Cold War

The primary purpose of the Central Government War Headquarters was to direct the survival and restoration phases following the commencement of a nuclear attack on the UK. The vast bunker’s role was not static but adapted to the changing political environment of the Cold War, and the development of policies in response to the threat of nuclear attack. From here the Prime Minister and a nucleus of officials would have made the ultimate decision such as whether to authorise nuclear retaliation. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the superpowers came closet to nuclear conflict, the facility stood ready. During the Korean War, the Berlin airlift, and throughout the Cold War, the Central Government War Headquarters was stocked, upgraded and improved, ready for the worst.

Completed in 1961 and fully operational for some 30 years, it had the capability to survive independently from the outside world for 30 days. The bunker was designed to accommodate the Prime Minister and a nucleus of Ministers and Senior Officials as well as 4,000 staff. The striking feature of the bunker is the immense planning involved in its construction, illustrating the intensity of the political stand-off at this time. The facility is also remarkably basic, with none of the comforts of Whitehall.

Shut off from the outside world, all welfare facilities had to be contained below ground including a canteen, a hospital an industrial scale laundry and bakery. Communication with the external environment was of paramount importance, and large areas are dedicated to this including a BBC studio and telephone exchange. Vast areas were also dedicated to plant and the storage of necessities to sustain life. Fortunately, the bunker never came into operation that has also led to a remarkably high level of survival both of the structural fabric and historic artefacts.

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