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Cold War Era Bunkers Under Corsham

The fear of nuclear apocalypse immediately after the end of the Second World War, caused many westerns countries to invest heavily on underground bunkers where important government officials, decision makers, as well as the general populace could hide should there be a Hiroshima-like attack over ground. In the United Kingdom, the panic-stricken government built hundreds of shelters across the island. They ranged in size from small tunnels to vast underground cities equipped with hospitals, canteens, laundries, stores, and bakeries.

The network of tunnels inside the bunker mapped out with an American-style roadmap system. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

The bunker in Corsham, Wiltshire, was one of the latter. And aside from its enormous dimensions, the Corsham bunker held strategic importance—it was supposed to be the hub of the country's alternative seat of power outside London in the event of a nuclear war. It was the place where the Prime Minister, his cabinet and the Royal household could seek shelter. The site’s official name is Central Government War Headquarters, but it was known by its codename “Burlington”.

The massive bunker is located inside an abandoned stone quarry just outside the sleepy little town of Corsham in south England. Corsham’s limestone, known as Bath Stone, is famous throughout southern England and is notable for its warm, honey colors. After the quarry became defunct, in the early 20th century, it was used as an ammunition dump during the two World Wars, and later as a subterranean aircraft factory. During World War 2, artist Olga Lehmann was invited to grace the walls with colorful murals to lift the sprits of those working in the drab and gloomy conditions.

The elevator connecting the bunker to the ground level. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

In the late 1950s, the quarry took on the new role of a nuclear bunker. Built nearly 40 meters underground, the 35-acre sprawling complex was completely self-sufficient, and could accommodate up to 4,000 people in complete isolation from the outside world for up to three months. The underground city was equipped with all the facilities needed to survive, from hospitals, canteens, kitchens and laundries to storerooms for supplies, accommodation areas and offices. An underground lake and treatment plant could provide drinking water and twelve tanks could store the fuel required to keep the four generators in the underground power station running for up to three months. Power air-conditioners and dehumidifiers kept the air at a comfortable 20 °C.  The bunker was also equipped with the second largest telephone exchange in Britain, a BBC studio from which the prime minister could address the nation, and a pneumatic tube system to relay messages and documents throughout the complex.

The complex remained top secret for nearly fifty years, long after the threat of nuclear war had passed. In 2004, the existence of the bunker was officially acknowledged for the first time. Within a year, the complex was emptied of its supplies, from food to fuel, and the underground reservoir was drained. Then it was decommissioned.

The massive bunker still sits under Corsham unused. It has gained considerable interest, both locally and nationally, from various groups of people as well as the media. Access to the bunker is still restricted, and requires permission from local authorities to visit.

A huge butterfly valve within the ventilation system was designed to shut off the circulation of outside air in the event of a gas attack or nuclear fallout. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

The telephone switchboard. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

The BBC broadcasting studio, which was maintained until 1991. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

A row of sinks, located near an area designated for staff bedrooms. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

The sluice room in the site's hospital. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

Photos of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and wartime actors and celebrities plastered the walls of the wartime factory. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

A record player that forms part of the bunker's public address system. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

Ovens in the kitchen. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

A chalk menu board outside one of the canteens. Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright

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