Newest Review: ... to do.Next there was a sign telling you the admission costs (fair enough),and another stating in what I can only describe as a threateni... more
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Kelvedon Hatch 'Secret' Nuclear Bunker (Essex)
Advantages: Interesting and informative
Disadvantages: Poorly maintained
The bunker is quite remote (I suppose it would defeat the object of it being 'secret' if it was too easy to find) situated on farmland just off the A128 between Ongar and Brentwood, which is not far from the M11 or M25. You can also get taxis from Brentwood or Shenfield mainline stations or Epping Underground station, where it is approximately 7 miles in a cab. As I am fairly local I drove, and you will spot the brown tourist signs as you get closer. The site also offers Quad Biking and a children's activity play area which are managed seperately. There is a short walk on uneven ground to the bunker from the car park. Outside you will spot an old Green Goddess military fire engine that has seen better days, and a missile of some sort. There was no signage to indicate what sort of missile it was (or even that it was a Green Goddess, but I was with a military history fan who knew what it was). All you see is an innocuous looking bungalow which you enter to start your visit. There is no human greeting you, just signs saying that you pay at the end and that you must take a wand for the audio tour. They do children's wands too. The signs are quite strict about you being obligated to pay once you start the tour, and being fined for coming back out the wrong way to avoid it. Admission for adults is £7, and £5 for children aged 5-16. Family and group discounts are available. Admission must be paid for in cash, as cards are not accepted. If you wish to take photos you must purchase a permit from the canteen (around the back of the bunker) for £5.00. I decided not to bother.
Once in the bunker and with your audio wand in hand and playing, you walk down a 120 foot tunnel to the blast doors. Along here you will see some bunk beds and some plans of the bunker; you are actually about 80 foot down. This level was used for the communication equipment as it is thought to be the safest. It also holds the plant room, where the air was kept cool and safe. You will walk through this room as well as a number of communication rooms, with switchboards and a BBC radio studio capable of broadcasting to the nation if necessary. The room I found most interesting on this level was the plotting room, which kept track of all planes flying in and out of the UK. There was also a small area dedicated to the Royal Observer Corps, a voluntary organisation I was unaware of, whose members, in times of nuclear war would measure air quality and radioactivity and send the information back to the bunker. These people would live in a small basic bunker by themselves with enough food to last three-four days (it is wasteful to feed people with radiation sickness, as death was inevitable, and these volunteers would probably not last a week if the situation was very bad).
The second level was government level and a representative from each ministry and the armed forces would be here, as well as at least one cabinet minister who would act as commissioner. The top level would be for the sick bay, dormitories (staff 'hot-bedded' so there were only 200 beds for up to 600 personnel) and canteens. The bunker was able to be self-sufficient for three months, which made me wonder how quickly the radiation would clear and if they could potentially be faced with the dilemma of death by radiation or starvation.
Around the route you take there is an area where you can try on uniforms and gas masks as well as a number of old videos. Most of the footage was 30 years old so was of poor quality and we couldn't get all videos to work. When I was last here about 8 years ago, I do remember them being informative and showing government advice for preparing to 'survive' nuclear fallout which was basically living under your dining table for two weeks with water and tinned food and surrounded by sand bags and heavy furniture. By which time I suspect you would be dead, but at least you wouldn't be looting in the streets...
Some of the room displays use mannequins and they look like they have bought a job lot of shop mannequins and posed them in old clothes. They don't really add any credibility to the experience. I did find this attraction interesting; I am especially interested in the human aspect and would have liked to have learnt more about the people who would have lived here. MOD and some forces staff did work here on a day to day basis and there were some exercises done here where the staff stayed below for two weeks, however as the UK (fortunately) did not receive a nuclear attack the capability of the bunker was never fully known. I didn't hear the children's audio tour so I cannot comment on its suitability. Unfortunately, as interesting as this is, I am not sure how relevant it is to today's children. The attraction looks like it has seen better days (I know most of it is coming up for 60 years old and that it wasn't designed with aesthetics in mind) but the place looks a bit shabby and dusty and needed some TLC. For example carpet tiles were uneven and paper signs were tatty around the edges with yellowing tape.
When you finish you come out by the canteen and they sell a few related gifts. It is apparently part of the original canteen area and it looks a bit like a school or village hall with plastic chairs and Formica tables. There is signage asking you to put money in an honesty box for your tour or cakes. I assumed this was for days when it is quiet and they don't have many staff in. The 'special' of ham, egg and chips for £4 didn't really appeal so we decided to go somewhere else for lunch and just have a sit down and drink here. They also sell cakes, crisps and chocolate as well as the usual range of cold drinks, teas and coffees. There were two members of staff on and I approached the counter to hand my audio wand in and order the drinks. The girl behind the counter just plonked the honesty box in front of me. As it seemed to be too much trouble for her to speak to me or take my order we decided to go elsewhere for our drink.
Overall I think this is a unique attraction for modern or military history fans. The audio tour was included and generally informative. Whilst I do recommend this attraction I think it is worth noting that it can look a bit run down and unloved in parts which is a real shame. We were here about 90 minutes; this could be longer if you watched all the videos and tried costumes on. They also do occasional special events like a military vehicle show, details on their website: http://www.secretnuclearbunker.com/index.html
The bunker is open daily in the summer months (March 1st to October 31st) from 10am - 4pm (5pm on weekends and Bank Holidays) but only Thursday to Sunday in the winter (except school holidays) for 10am to 4pm. Disabled access could be limited as there are a few flights of stairs and quite a bit of walking - I suggest contacting them regading your requirements.
From journals Things to do in Essex
Summary: A must for fans of military or Cold War history