Everyone knows about Churchill’s bunker in Whitehall, particularly now that it has been converted into the ‘Cabinet War Rooms‘. However, it was never safe to have only one option, particularly since this site was not bomb proof. In fact, there was another bunker built for WWII. This bunker, codenamed Paddock was built further out from the centre. Although Churchill only once hosted a war meeting there as a trial run, as he thought it was too far and didn’t like it. Nevertheless, the site was very much kept a secret throughout, that Churchill only described it as “near Hampstead” in his memoirs.
Since the war, the site was first taken over by the Post Office (who originally owned the site). After a number of years of neglect it passed into the hands of Stadium Housing, a community based housing association. As part of the deal, Stadium Housing has to open the bunker twice a year, in May and in September, in collaboration with Subterranea Brittanica.
Today was one of such opening days. I had seen it advertised some time ago and, as the site is within walking distance of our house, I jotted it down in my calendar. I asked for tickets earlier this week and luckily enough they still had some availability. So this afternoon saw Michael and I meeting at the site eager to be taken round. After being given a number and a hard hat, we descended down into the bunker with the others in the group.
It not being laid out as a tourist site, the most valuable thing we had in there was definitely the guide from Subterranea Brittanica, who made sure that he brought the place to life. He showed us around the main rooms, indicating the use of them. In particular we got to see the generator room, the air conditioning plants, the Map Room, and of course the War meeting room. Other members of the same group were also present, making sure that everyone was safe and showing us the way.
The bunker has not been recreated similar to other bunkers and war rooms to show how it would have looked at the time. Instead, it has been left empty. The work that the housing association has put in has mainly been work to pump out the water that constantly builds up in such a site due to damage to the membrane system over time. In fact, there is still water on the ground (don’t visit in flip-flops!), and stalactites hanging from the roof. Nevertheless there is still quite a significant number of equipment which is still there, including air conditioning systems, generators, and a telephone exchange system.
This site is not one you commonly hear about, mainly as it is not open much. However, it will again be open on the 18th of September for the Saturday (18th) of the Open House weekend here in London. If you are in London, I would definitely encourage you to visit then, though we were advised that if so we would need to book early, as normally it is fully booked at least 2 weeks before the event!