The Secret Nuclear Bunker in Kelvedon Hatch, Essex has been open to the public for almost twenty years now, and in that time I have visited it twice. This review is based on my most recent visit in the summer of 2012. The bunker was built on land requisitioned from a local farmer, and (amongst other things) was a Regional Government Head Quarters during the Cold War, where both civilian and military personnel would be based if it was thought a nuclear war was imminent. It is also possible that the prime minister and senior cabinet officials would be based here too, as this was the closest bunker to London.
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
We decided to visit after seeing it mentioned in a book of days out.
Upon arrival at the entrance bungalow,you find that there are no staff to greet you,but instead there are lots of paper signs stuck to the walls everywhere telling you what to do.First everyone must take an information "wand",which our two children,both well over 5 years old and therefore too old for the child ones,didn't really want 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 threatening manner,that once you went through the first doorway,there was no way back out unless you paid a fine (higher than the admission cost).Really!There were no staff there to stop your retreat so how did they plan to enforce this?
Next were more intimidating signs telling you that if you wanted to take photos then you would have to buy a permit for £5.00.Where could you get this from?
All the way around the bunker these signs were repeated over and over.Even in the dressing up area you were free to take souvenir photos - using their camera at a cost of £2.00 each.Woe betide if you wanted to use your own,as Big Brother is watching you everywhere you go via an endless chain of cameras (made obvious by the incessant notices and the array of tv screens in the canteen at the end).
The actual place felt tired and cluttered,and was filled with dreadful dummies,many without limbs.The background droning noise made listening to the wand info very difficult which resulted in my coming out after two hours with a banging headache.
To summarise,I felt that this place was very impersonal,as we didn't see a single staff member until we got to the canteen.You were constantly aware of being watched,the signs everywhere were intimidating and the whole place had a sense of eeriness about it.I do not feel that this is suitable for a fun family day out,and would not recommend it to anyone.
Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker is well worth a visit just see the building and to get some idea of what the political atmosphere was like in the middle part of the 20th century. It is quite impressive to see the resources were plowed into preparing for a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. This bunker and many other facilities like it are scattered through out the UK. The vast majority are closed to the public and slowly deteriorating so I personally jumped at the opportunity to see inside a preserved one.
Firstly the good parts. The bunker tour was interesting and it was obvious that in the past a lot of effort went into preparing the place for people to visit considering that there was very little left of the original equipment when the new owners took over. The owners had to buy in whatever vaguely relevant stuff they could get and it shows. The recorded guide you get via the 'wand' that you carry with you throughout the tour was very informative. Video presentations at various points along the tour were very interesting. One in particular was fascinating. It was a training film made about 1960 and shows Kelvedon Hatch bunker as it was then. You will recognise parts of the bunker you have just passed through. Other films address the thinking throughout the cold war period of what the effects of a nuclear war will be and how the general population should cope.
Unfortunately the bunker tour is let down by the constant background noise from a tannoy system that adds nothing to the tour and makes hearing the good information in the wand difficult. The place is also extremely untidy and quite rough in its presentation. A little effort above ground to clear away the apparently abandoned non military vehicles and some time spent with a broom and a power washer on the guard room exterior would help. Below ground the tatty signs made from gaffer tape, cardboard and black marker need improvement. There is junk of questionable relevance piled up in the corners of many rooms.
The Nuclear Bunker is worth visiting because it is quite unique but the place suffers from being not very well looked after by the current owners and needs some effort to bring the tour up to a reasonable standard. As a museum it falls well below par apart from the recorded guide. The content is there to make it outstanding its just that the place is left down by lazy management.
I can honestly say I did not meet a single person in the whole two hours I was in there. There are cameras everywhere and signs saying that you are being watched in every room. At the end of the tour in the canteen there was nobody. I eventually found where to put the wand and where to pay for the tour and a couple of curios from the gift shop into an 'honesty box'....
I popped into Kelvedon Hatch (an old regional government nuclear bunker) over the weekend. This was the government nuclear bunker for London from 1972 (though the bunker was built much earlier than that). Apparently the Prime Minister would have stayed there in the event of nuclear war. Look, um, sorry, but this place is rubbish. In more ways than one. It's run by people who seem to think it's clever writing little notices everywhere. Not of the "This is the telephone exchange and this is what it does"-type. The "Parents! Don't let your children write on the walls! You wouldn't let them do it at home SO WHY HERE?" type. In scrawly handwriting. The bunker is full of interesting old bits of equipment, which at first glance looks interesting and authentic, but the more you examine stuff (surely the whole point), the gaps become glaringly obvious. For example, in a typical officer's room, there were six telephones. One 1990's "Property of the MoD" Plessey telephone. One 1980's RAF telephone from some Welsh base, complete with stamp on the front. (Kelvedon Hatch had little to do with the RAF). One old office extension phone, unique in the building. One Bakelite 1950's phone. This place is, sadly, little more than a collection of junk. True, the building's interesting: an underground bunker, entered by the faux-bungalow you see in the picture above. (It's not a bungalow: the windows in the roof are blacked out, because the roof itself is entirely for show: it's got a thick flat concrete blast-deflecting roof to it, not that they bothered telling you. To demonstrate what a collection of junk this place really was, one room had an early 1990's mobile phone in it - it wouldn't have worked; it couldn't have worked; they wouldn't have used an analogue, clear, mobile phone for communications even if it had. Another room has a
Bakelite 50's AM radio in it. You're underground, surrounded by 10 feet of reinforced concrete, and a Faraday anti-blast cage. You *really* think you'll get Virgin Radio in there? Um, no. It's rubbish. As someone who knows his broadcasting bits and bobs, I popped into the BBC studio - a place where the government would have tried broadcasting to anyone that was still alive up top. Among the things in the racks of equipment were three signal processors for processing the audio to make it nice and loud - two AM Optimods, and one FM Optimod. Even if there was a radio transmitter on the bunker, there is absolutely no need for three units which all do roughly the same thing, and are mainly designed for music broadcasting. Absolutely no need. Again, I say, it's junk. There's no thought for historical accuracy. Mid 1990's fax machines live beside 1950's bakelite telephones and 1940's packets of panel pins. A fax machine which printed onto plain paper sat beside rolls of thermal fax paper which wouldn't have been used by that machine. An operating theatre, for treating people who were injured by the blast, was two floors up from the entrance (you enter at the bottom), and in a corridor. You'd have to walk past the operating theatre to get to bed every night. Sorry, it's just not even believable. To give them their due, they've done some work. There's an audio "wand", which plays you interesting commentary by a bloke with a boring voice who droned along so long and so pointlessly that my other half and I lost patience with it almost instantly. Standing in front of a badly-drawn photocopy of a "not to scale" plan of the base, the bloke wittered along about well, you know, some people might have survived on the surface, but really nuclear war would have been pretty terrible, and look at this badly-drawn photocopy and the scrawly signs telling you that you're on camera and
that you'll be fined if you go the wrong way. A much better example is Anstruther, in Fife - around an hour's drive from Edinburgh - decommissioned in 1993 and opened in 1994 - where a good attempt has been made to restore the place consistently. Even the BBC studio in there makes sense. By all means, pop into Kelvedon Hatch to look at the building. But please, don't think anything that you see is in any way authentic. It's not.
When we first went to visit my sister and her partner and drove around the countryside of Essex I was amazed to see the signs directing me to the ‘Secret Nuclear Bunker’. I thought this was pretty funny really – it’s hardly a secret if it’s so well signposted! Well last weekend we down there again and we all decided to pay it a visit. Our party consisted of mom, dad, my sister Helen, her partner Richard, my partner Dave and myself. Richard and Helen had looked on the website at www.japar.demon.co.uk for any relevant information before we left home and then off we went to Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker. To get there by car you need to be on the A128 Ongar to Brentwood road. This can be reached either by taking the M11 and then the A414 Chelmsford to Ongar road, then the A128 or by taking the M25, leaving at the interchange with the A12 (junction 28) and then the A1023 to Ongar. The nearest railway stations are Brentwood or Shenfield, which are about 7 miles away from the bunker and taxis are available. It is open every day from 1st March to 31st October from 10am until 4pm on weekdays and 10am until 5pm on weekends and Bank Holidays. From 1st November to 28th February it is open from Thursday to Sunday each week from 10am until 4pm daily. It costs £5 for adults, £ 3 for children from 5 to 16 and £12 for a family ticket admitting two adults and two children. You do not pay to get in, you pay to get out. There are CCTV cameras throughout the entire building and you are constantly reminded that you are being watched, especially when it comes to putting your money in the honesty box at the end. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, we all put the correct money in the box so we had no need to find out! We drove down a track from the road, passing the paint balling buildings and on to the car park, and walked a few yards along a woodland trail to a bungalow, which p
rovides the camouflage for the entrance to the bunker. The bunker itself was built in 1952 concealed 75 feet below the Essex countryside. The building was top secret and even the locals and the contractors knew nothing of what was being constructed, and high fences were erected all round the site during the construction. It was originally built to be the base from where the overall tactical control would come if Britain were ever to suffer an attack by nuclear bombs. It later became the Regional Government HQ where there could have been up to 600 personnel, including the Prime Minister, organising the survival of the civilian population in the aftermath of a nuclear war. There are other bunkers around the country, some of which are now open to the public, which would have been in contact with the HQ bunker in the event of nuclear war. It is now privately owned and although the Government took all its equipment out before it was sold it has been reconstructed to show how it would have looked. It is ‘staffed’ by a series of dummies which I have to say are not very lifelike at all! I’ll give you a few facts and figures before I go any further. It took 40,000 tons of concrete to build and houses various rooms on three levels. It was made to hold 110 tons of equipment and up to 600 hand picked Government personnel behind outer walls, which are made from ten feet thick reinforced concrete. To begin the tour we entered the bungalow and collected a wand. No, we weren’t auditioning for the pantomime! The wand was part of the audio trail. It was a device about the size of a large TV remote control and had a speaker in the top and a set of numbered buttons, together with buttons for play, stop etc. At various points around the tour there were signs on the wall instructing us to press a certain number and press play to hear the commentary. There was also a wrist strap on each wand making it easier to carry. <
br> There were different coloured wands for adults and children. I can’t comment on the usefulness of the children’s wands, as we were a party consisting of all adults. I found the commentary on the adult wands very useful if a little wordy at times. It does mean that each person can go at their own pace, but it does limit conversation between members of the group. The information given by the wands not only included the factual but also gave an insight in places as to how people would have felt. For example it was mentioned how much psychological pressure the people in the bunker would have been under knowing that their loved ones were still outside. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that! Guided tours are available for groups of more than four adults but have to be pre booked. We began by walking down the entrance corridor designed to protect the bunker from any blast and also making it easier to defend against civilians who tried to get in to safety. Now there’s a creepy thought to start with. Along the corridor there were various points at which we listened to our commentary wands and there were diagrams on the walls to show the plan of the bunker. These also showed the reinforcements around the outside edge of the bunker. We were then told that we were at the bottom of the bunker and would be taking our tour and climbing up stairs to the other two levels. The tour took us round the plant room where there were electricity generators, a water supply and an air purification system. There were various rooms where the different sets of people would be based. There was a Scientist Centre where the experts would monitor any nuclear blast and predict the fall out patterns. The Civilian Operations room was where the Prime Minister and other ministers would be based. Any retaliation to the nuclear attack would come from the Military Operations Command Centre. Also in this
room was a large safe to contain any Government documents, which were not available for general viewing. It would also contain guns to be used to defend the bunker against any civilians trying to get in and cyanide for consumption by the personnel inside the bunker if they realised that there was nothing left to go back outside to. Now there’s a horrible thought for you! The bunker also holds a fully equipped BBC studio from where the Prime Minister could speak to the nation and all emergency broadcasts could be made. People were told to wrap their radios on tin foil so that they would survive the blast and then they would be able to unwrap them and listen to the broadcasts after the event! This made us smile as mom pointed out how large the radios would have been in 1952 – they must have taken up a lot of tin foil! There were five dormitories to house the 600 personnel on constant ‘hot bed shifts’. As one lot got out to go on duty the next lot would get in to the already hot bed. Yuck! The sick bay was equipped for emergency medical treatment and the people staffing the bunker would have included a surgeon and nurses. The canteen operated around the clock providing hot food to the two messes located in the bunker. The canteen now signifies the end of the tour and has hot and cold food and drinks for sale together with gifts and memorabilia. This is where we handed back our wands and paid the admission fee. There were toilets on each level and again outside near to the car park. One word of warning though – the design of the bunker and wartime conditions mean that there is no lift so movement between the three levels is via wide shallow stairs. It is recommended that sensible footwear be worn. The temperature below ground is pretty much the same as it is above due to the air filtration plant so wear something suitable. The whole thing was very interesting for people of all
ages, ad certain of the exhibits evoked memories of the Second World War for mom and dad. It wasn’t quite as creepy as I expected it to be, partly due to the unreal dummies used to denote the people working down there – the Prime Minister looked more like a Spitting Image puppet! It took us over an hour to walk all the way round and it was well worth it!
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. CONCLUSIONS 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.