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Cold War Paranoia
Kelvedon Hatch 'Secret' Nuclear Bunker (Essex)
Member Name: MykReeve
Kelvedon Hatch 'Secret' Nuclear Bunker (Essex)
Date: 10/06/01, updated on 10/06/01 (845 review reads)
Advantages: Unique opportunity to look round the Government's nuclear bunker, Informative audio guide, Not too expensive
Disadvantages: Amateurish presentation at times, Cynicism of the audio guide
Located down in deepest, darkest Essex, the Kelvedon Hatch "Secret" Nuclear Bunker is an unexpected and astonishingly bizarre tourist attraction. I first came upon it when we were driving along the A414 towards Chelmsford in Essex, and spotted an AA sign proudly pointing out the location of a "Secret Nuclear Bunker", needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.
It turns out that the nuclear bunker is one of the largest in the country, and was specifically built just after World War Two, in 1952, to be the home of the Government in the event of nuclear war. It's a mammoth construction that was bought back, in 1992, by the family from whom the land was compulsorily purchased by the Government, who have wisely (and lucratively) decided to open the bunker up to the public.
TOURING THE BUNKER
The bunker's car park is a few minutes walk through woodland from the entrance to the bunker itself. The entrance to the bunker is a fairly nondescript looking bungalow, surrounded by trees. Upon closer examination, however, the bungalow looks considerably more suspicious. Every part of it is constructed from heavy brickwork.
When you enter the bunker, you pick up an audio guide. There are two types available – red for adults, yellow for children. As you walk around the bunker, at key points in the tour, signs will instruct you to listen to information using the audio guide. Much as it's a nice idea to have different commentaries for children and adults, because the dry details of the adult tour might not be so interesting for little ones, I noticed at several points during the tour, information was available for adults on the tour, but not for children. So, basically, the children are left looking bored, or causing mischief, while they wait for their parents to finish listening to a section of audio.
The audio tour was narrated by the Mr Parrish, the current owner of the nuclear bunker, and it would be
an understatement to say that Mr Parrish had anything other than contempt for the Government's decision to construct the bunker the way they did. At several points during the audio tour, Parrish goes off on vitriolic and damning tangents about how the building was constructed not just to keep the Government safe, but to ensure that you and I would not be able to gain access to the bunker.
For example, after picking up the audio guide, you head into a 120 metre long tunnel, which was the main route of access to the bunker. At the end of the tunnel is a sharp turn to the left, from which, Parrish assures us, a Government sniper could get a clear and easy shot of any members of the public who have broken into the bungalow hoping to access the bunker.
To be fair, I don't doubt that there was a heavy amount of cynicism on the part of the Government in the construction of the building. It's true that the building was specifically designed to ensure the continuation of the Government during the worst of a potential nuclear Winter, and inevitably any compromise of this would have had to be prevented by whatever means necessary – including ensuring that the public couldn't come in once the place had been sealed. However, Parrish seems to be excessively inflamatory in his damnation of the Government, which was at times amusing, and at times scarily close to conspiracy theory.
Other than this, however, the audio guide is absolutely excellent – offering some very useful information about how the secret bunker would have operated in the case of nuclear war. The bunker would have been able to run for three months, with 600 personnel, without any contact from the outside world, with its own tinned supplies of food, internal generators, and plant room with extensive air filtration units. It was constructed on three floors, with machinery on the bottom floor, Governmental administration on the middle floor, and accommodation and
canteens on the top floor. The entire building was encased in 10 feet of concrete reinforced with steel bars, and buried under a hill.
When the Government decommissioned the bunker in 1992, it removed all of the equipment, fixtures and fittings from the bunker, and so the Parrishes have had to reequip the bunker as best they could to try to recreate how it would have looked. They have been helped in this by local people who worked in the bunker for one reason or another, and who have given first-hand accounts of how the place looked and operated. Unfortuntely, the bunker has also been "staffed" by a team of mannequins that have been awkwardly posed behind desks and in beds around the bunker, which while illustrating that people once worked there, looks disappointingly amateurish.
The bottom floor also houses the bunker's communication equipment, including a fully-functional BBC Radio studio, from which the Prime Minister would have been able to communicate with what public remained above ground in the event of nuclear war. A mannequin wearing a Margaret Thatcher mask is unnecessarily propped in a chair in the studio to illustrate how this might look.
There is also a large "plotting room" on the bottom floor of the bunker, with large map tables and those large clear plastic maps you always see in war films and on submarines, upon which movements of aircraft would have been tracked, had the bunker ever needed to be used.
On the top floor, in addition to dormitories and washrooms (which still have official Government toilet paper, labelled with instructions to "use both sides" – toilet paper would have been in short supply had the bunker been closed off from the world for three months!), there is a small surgery and sick bay.
The canteen, where you end the tour, is kept running as a working canteen, where visitors can buy food and drinks. It is also here where you pay for the tour. Th
roughout the tour of the bunker, you don't see a single employee of the bunker, however, your progress is monitored by a series of security cameras which send pictures up to the canteen. So, when you get to the end of the tour – they know exactly what you've been up to!
You can also pick up souvenirs here – like a gas mask, or a reprint of the Government's advice to the public in case of nuclear war – "Protect and Survive". Actually, at points around the bunker, videos show original Government information films, made to show to the public in case of nuclear war, to inform them how to survive as best they could. Predictably, Mr Parrish is cynical of the likelihood of the Government's advice actually doing anything other than make you feel ever so slightly more secure, as you die slowly of radiation poisoning.
To leave the building, you walk through a tunnel carved in the hillside, through several metres of soil, and the 10 feet of concrete surrounding the bunker – which allows you to see just how much effort went into the bunker's construction.
FINDING THE BUNKER
The easiest way to get there is to take the M11, and head to junction 7 (for Chelmsford). Head along the A414 towards Chelmsford, and turn right onto the A128 towards Kelvedon Hatch and Brentwood. The turning for the bunker is less than a mile along that road on the right hand side.
If you decide to head out there by train, rather than car, your best bet is to go to Brentwood or Shenfield train stations and take a taxi (it's about seven miles journey). Alternatively, you can get there by Underground from Debden, Theydon Bois or Epping stations, again taking a taxi.
The Kelvedon Hatch bunker is not the only nuclear bunker in the United Kingdom – in fact the country is peppered with a network of them, built to ensure we would retain a reasonably robust communication networ
k in the event of nuclear war – however, it is one of the largest. It is also interesting to see the measures put into place to ensure that the wheels of Government could continue to turn, while the public received the full force of a nuclear holocaust.
The audio guide, while perhaps a little paranoiac at times, is extremely informative, and really adds to the experience of touring the bunker. The presentation of the bunker is, at times, slightly amateurish, with its jerry-rigged equipment and staff of mannequins, but it is enough to reveal something of what it would have been like in the bunker while it was operational, and really can't detract from the oppressive atmosphere of the place.
Admission is not excessive, at £5 per adult (£3 for children). If you want a guided tour, Mr Parrish operates them by prior arrangment for groups of four adults or more, which will allow you to ask any questions you might have. The bunker's official website is at http://www.japar.demon.co.uk and includes a virtual tour.
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