England is home to a fascinating network of underground bunkers. Some date back to World War Two, when military tactics had to be kept top-secret, whereas others were constructed during the Cold War, when the threat of mutually assured destruction loomed over the world.
Though most of these bunkers remain off-limits for the general public, a few have been preserved as museums. Here’s our pick of some of the most fascinating former military bunkers you can visit in England today.
Churchill’s Secret Bunker – also known as Paddock – was designed to be used as the nerve centre of the British government during World War Two, in the event of Britain being unable to defend itself from air attack. Far more fortified than its Whitehall equivalent, the Paddock Bunker was built in the late 1930s in Neasden, north-west London, and would have been able to survive a direct hit from the Luftwaffe.
While closed to the public for much of the year, Churchill’s Secret Bunker is open twice a year for guided tours run by the Subterranea Britannica group. Located 40ft below ground and comprising over 40 rooms, Paddock is now in a semi-derelict state but still boasts original equipment once in operation. Inside can be found the original map room, kitchen and Churchill’s War Cabinet room.
The Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear bunker was designed to house up to 600 civilian and military personnel, including the Prime Minister and other high-ranking cabinet officials during the Cold War. In the event of a nuclear attack, the centre’s tasks would have consisted of supplying protection to nearby Ministry of Defence workers, coordinating the survival of the local population and continuing the operations of the government.
Today, the Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker has been converted into a fascinating, privately owned museum, with three-stories extending 100 metres below ground level and walls made of 10-foot-thick concrete. The structure contains roughly 80 tons of genuine Cold War-era equipment, including original plotting boards, telecommunications apparatus and 1980s computers.
A mile outside of the city centre, York Cold War Bunker tells the story of a country on the brink of nuclear warfare. Built in 1961, the bunker served as the regional headquarters for the Royal Observer Corps until 1991. During operation in the Cold War, it was home to 60 volunteer members of the ROC, including a 10-man scientific warning team.
York Cold War Bunker is now managed by English Heritage and remains incredibly well preserved. Entering through the blast door, a guided tour runs every hour and walks guests through the building’s operations room, canteen, dormitories, decontamination room and communications centre. A large illuminated perspex map of Yorkshire sits in the operations room, with landline and radio communication equipment and specialist 1980s computers also on display. A short film follows with testimonies from ROC volunteers themselves.
Hidden beneath the streets of Westminster, the Cabinet War Rooms are part of the underground bunker complex now known as the Churchill War Rooms in London. It was from the Cabinet War Rooms that Churchill, his cabinet and some 500 civil servants worked, and sometimes slept, throughout World War Two.
Entry to the Cabinet War Rooms allows visitors to follow in the urgent footsteps of those directing Britain’s war effort. Not all rooms are open to the public as the complex is believed to have around 200 rooms in total. Those which are open to visitors include the Cabinet War Room, Churchill’s office and his bedroom. The underground office block also included a canteen and a hospital.
5. Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker, Nantwich
Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker was originally built in the 1950s, but was developed further in the 1980s when the threat of nuclear war became more pressing. It was designed to serve as the home of regional government in the event of war.
Today, it is open to the public, and houses the largest public display of decommissioned nuclear weapons in Europe, as well as plenty of original equipment. A small cinema also plays once-secret films, while a simulator recreates the conditions of a nuclear attack in the bunker.
6. Battle of Britain Bunker, Uxbridge
The Operations Room in Uxbridge’s Battle of Britain bunker was an integral part of controlling fighter aircraft operations and the Luftwaffe during World War Two. Most notably, the site played a pivotal role during the Battle of Britain and D-Day. Still laid out as it appeared during the war, the original maps, pointers and board have all survived and are now available for the public to view.
Above ground, a fascinating museum which opened in 2018 serves as an essential accompaniment to the bunker, outlining the details of the war and the role the bunker played during it.
Also called the Liverpool War Museum, this bunker located under the streets of Liverpool was a key operational site for the Battle of the Atlantic during World War Two. From the Operations Room, the 300 staff members who lived and worked there monitored strategic elements such as convoy routes tracked enemy assets.
Today, the bunker offers a trip back in time since the site has been preserved just as it was in 1945. The museum is similarly informative, hosting many history-themed events.
8. RAF Radar Museum, Norfolk
An underground bunker forms part of Norfolk’s RAF Radar Museum, which is housed in a Grade II listed radar operations building. Established during World War Two when the first secret radar system was installed, the three-storey bunker was added in the 1950s as a response to the threat of nuclear attack.
The museum is home to numerous objects which cover all aspects involved in RAF radar operations, and is staffed by a team of volunteers, many of whom have worked for the nearby RAF themselves.