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The Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker is an enormous Cold War-era subterranean shelter and former operations centre in Brentwood, Essex.
Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker history
In 1952, the spectre of the Cold War loomed ever-more menacingly over Britain. With Europe already firmly divided into two hostile and ideologically opposed camps, and with the Korean War raging in East Asia, the nuclear arms race became increasingly frenetic. In October 1952, Britain became the third country to test successfully an independently developed nuclear bomb after strategically and ideologically aligning itself with the United States.
It was against this terrifying backdrop that construction work began on the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker. The subterranean space, just 25 miles northeast of London, was first used as an RAF ROTOR station. ROTOR, a project initiated by the British Government in the early 1950s, was a complex air defence radar system which sought to repel potential attacks from Soviet bombers. The bunker then briefly became a Regional Seat of Government (RSG), before finally being turned into Essex’s Regional Government Headquarters (RGHQ).
The Kelvedon Hatch bunker was designed to house up to 600 civilian and military personnel, including the Prime Minister and other high-ranking cabinet officials. In the event of a nuclear attack, the centre’s tasks would have consisted of supplying protection to nearby Ministry of Defence workers, coordinating the survival of the local population, and continuing the operations of the government.
In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the geostrategic realignment of Europe, Kelvedon Hatch nuclear bunker was decommissioned. The local Parish family, whose land had been requisitioned by the state in the 1950s in order to construct the site, bought the fields back from the Government.
Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker today
Today the Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker has been converted into a fascinating, privately owned museum, with three-stories measuring 27,000 square feet and extending 100 metres below ground level and walls made of ten-foot-thick concrete reinforced by tungsten rods.
The structure contains roughly 80 tons of genuine Cold War-period equipment, including original plotting boards, telecommunications apparatus, and 1980s-era computer equipment. It is also replete with its own BBC studio, office space, living quarters, kitchen and medical room, as well as a canteen, where refreshments are served to modern-day visitors.
It is an ideal site for those looking to explore Britain’s fascinating Cold War history, and offers visitors a glimpse into one of the globe’s most volatile periods.
Getting to Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker
Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker is located in Brentwood, Essex and can be reached via the M11 and M25. From the M11 take the A414 to Ongar, then take the A128 to Brentwood, and from the M25 interchange with the A12, Junction 28, take the A1023 to Brentwood then take the A128 to Ongar.
The nearest train stations are Brentwood and Shenfield and the nearest Underground stations are Debden, Theydon Bois, and Epping, which are all around a 7 mile taxi journey to the site.
Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker
The Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch, in the Borough of Brentwood in the English county of Essex, is a large underground bunker maintained during the cold war as a potential regional government headquarters. Since being decommissioned in 1992, the bunker has been open to the public as a tourist attraction, with a museum focusing on its cold war history.
The name is recorded variously as Kelenduna, Kalenduna and Kelvenduna in the Domesday Book with the latter meaning Speckled Hill. From its early days in the Mediaeval period until the mid-20th century the main activity in Kelvedon Hatch was agriculture. Records from 1871 show 82 households, of which showed only 3 'white collar' households and 4 landowners or of independent means, with the majority of the rest engaged in a local agricultural economy. During the Victorian years, however, many younger people gravitated towards the main towns, encouraged by railway links at Ongar and Brentwood and the decline in the local 'agriconomy' has its roots in that exodus.
Kelvedon Hall and other mansions Edit
First mentioned in the Domesday Book, the main estate building of the village was Kelvedon Hall. The manor was sold to John Wright, a yeoman from South Weald, in 1538 and it remained in the family until the early 20th century the manor house was rebuilt in the 18th century by the seventh John Wright. In 1937 the property was bought by Sir Henry 'Chips' and Lady Honor Channon who restored the house and built the entrance gateway and lodges. In World War II it was used as a Red Cross convalescent home. 
Other mansions in the area of Kelvedon Hatch are Brizes, originally built in the late 15th century with the current building on the site dating back to the 1720s and Great Myles, named for Miles de Muntenay, dating back to the Domesday Book but was largely demolished in 1837 although a few subsidiary buildings remain today.
The medieval parish church of St Nicholas was replaced by a Victorian one in 1895.
Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear BunkerView all photos
The Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch, in Essex, England, is a large underground bunker used during the Cold War as a Regional Government Headquarters. Since being decommissioned in 1992, the bunker has been open to the public as a tourist attraction, with a museum focusing on its Cold War history.
Built in 1952–53 as part of ROTOR, a program to improve and harden Britain’s air defense network, the bunker was a hardened Sector Operations Center (SOC), meant to provide command and control of the London Sector of the RAF Fighter Command.
The bunker was able to hold hundreds of military and civilian personnel, and could sustain them for up to three months. In the event of a nuclear strike, the RGS / RGHQs etc would be tasked to organize the survival of the population and continue government operations. The area they chose had to be off the main road, behind fields and forests, to prevent civilians from finding it.
The bunker is built 125 feet (38 meters) underground, and the entrance is through an ordinary looking ‘bungalow’ (a standard ROTOR ‘Guard House’) set amongst trees. Once in the bungalow, a 100-yard-long tunnel leads down to the bunker’s lowest floor. Above are two more floors, the “hill” which covers it, and a radio mast.
The bunker has air conditioning and heating, its own water supply, and generators, and was equipped with many types of radio equipment, protected telecommunications, teleprinter networks, and various military systems.
The bunker was eventually decommissioned in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the nuclear threat was seen to have diminished. The bunker was turned into a museum and the land was sold back to the family that had originally owned it in the 1950s. Locals now appreciate the irony of the many brown tourist signs, clearly directing people to the “Secret Nuclear Bunker” in the area.
Know Before You Go
If you visit, you need to park up, then head into the bungalow - you pay on exiting, but if you want to take a few snaps, then you need to buy a permit before you head in. There are a LOT of signs to that effect, but it's all run on honesty. By Road Access is from the A128 Chipping Ongar to Brentwood road at Kelvedon Hatch. If you have GPS then use CM15 0LA and look out for the Brown Tourist signs. From the M11: Take the A414(Chelmsford) to Ongar then take the A128 to Brentwood. From the M25: Interchange with the A12, junction 28, take the A1023 to Brentwood then take the A128 to Ongar. Rail: There are services to Brentwood and Shenfield Mainline Train Stations, where you may either take a 7 mile taxi ride, or from Brentwood you can also catch the 501 Townlink bus. For train times ring National Rail Enquiries on: 0845 748 4950 Underground: Take the Central Line to Debden, Theydon Bois or Epping, and then a 7 mile taxi ride. There is also a bus service from Epping, which is the 501 Townlink bus.
A Bit About Britain
Scattered about Britain (and, presumably, the world) are a number of sites, some open to the public, which had a role in the Cold War. The “secret nuclear bunker” at Kelvedon Hatch in Essex was built in the early 1950s as an operations centre for a huge radar and command/control project known as ROTOR. It subsequently became a designated “Regional Centre of Government” in the event of a nuclear strike on Britain, and allegedly would have housed about 600 civil servants and military personnel. Most of us, of course, would have fried.
The Cold War was a feature of the state of the human race post-Second World War (see A Bit About Britain after 1945). Briefly, it was a stand-off between the USA and her western allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on the one side, and the Warsaw Pact countries led by the former Soviet Union, plus/or communist China and her allies, on the other. Occasionally, and usually in other people’s countries, it flared into open conflict. In Britain, and in nations on all sides from the 1950s to the 1980s, people grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation. Indeed, I remember seeing instructions in comic magazines about what to do if you happened to be caught outside when The Bomb fell. More frightening and realistic was the BBC drama-documentary, “The War Game”, depicting an attack on the UK, made in 1965 and judged so frightening that it wasn’t shown on TV until 1985 (though it could be viewed privately).
British skies were once patrolled by bombers of the RAF’s V-Force, from which a nuclear strike could be launched against (presumably) the Soviet Union, until the aerial option was phased out by submarines of the Royal Navy equipped with Polaris missiles in the late 1960s – in turn replaced by Trident in the 1990s. Officially, the Cold War ended in 1989 or 1991. Since everybody is friends now, it was promptly decided that we no longer needed all of the expensive paraphernalia associated with perceived nuclear threats, or protection from the risks of imminent destruction…
Which brings us back to this bunker it sounds intriguing doesn’t it? And so it should be – but you may be disappointed.
Her Majesty’s Government divested itself of the place into private ownership in 1992. I visited in 2013. It was kind of amusing to follow road signs to “the secret nuclear bunker” – partly because of the obvious irony and partly because there’s an expectation of getting killed in the rush to get in. Anyway, off the by-ways of Essex, a concrete track wound across the fields until I eventually found myself in a car park, surrounded by screaming children. They were not under attack it appears that the Nuclear Bunker Experience had been enhanced by an impressive (and scary looking) Rope Climbing and Swinging Experience – as well as a Quad Bike Experience (which helped explain the Shouting and Screaming Experience). Anyway, undeterred I set off through the trees in search of the bunker and stumbled upon a ramshackle bungalow. This was once the innocent entrance and guard room to the complex far beneath everyone’s feet. There was no one around and the place was dirty and unkempt. A notice said that it cost £7 to do a tour, with an ‘audio wand’, payable on exit. The ‘wands’ looked distinctly grubby and unhygienic. It was emphasised that a permit, available from the canteen, should be obtained before taking photographs. The canteen was located, via one of the most disgusting loos (the Disgusting Loo Experience?) in Britain, along another path, through a chain-mesh gate, at the end of a pleasant corrugated iron tunnel cut into a hillside. The place was run-down, depressing, reeked of grease and an extremely large family was enjoying the relentless demolition of unrecognisable things at a table.
The owners of this place were fond of notices. One reiterated the honesty policy regarding payment, which is fair enough, but continued in a rather aggressive vein to suggest everyone was under surveillance and there was no escape for rule-breakers. If it was intended to intimidate, it succeeded. Is the Essex mafia behind Kelvedon Nuclear Bunker, I wondered? At the counter, two pimply, deathly pale, and youthful male assistants carefully ignored me. “Excuse me?” I eventually said. “Y’awlright?” replied one of the charm champions, resplendent in anciently stained clothes. On enquiring about a photo permit, I was told the cost was £5 and a copy of something fierce and legal-looking was waved under my nose this, apparently, was an agreement that the images were for personal use only. Featuring on a website? He’d have to ask his manager. I finally realised I was bored and offended by the whole grotty place so I told him to forget it and left.
In fairness, Kelvedon Hatch Bunker receives mixed reviews some people think it’s excellent. And my visit was several years ago. If anyone’s interested, here is the website – but I won’t be going back unless and until I’m convinced the owners have decided to welcome and respect their visitors, and offer value for money. You can avoid temptation by not travelling on the A128 between Brentwood and Chipping Ongar – unless you fancy the rope, quad bike and loo experiences, of course.
There are several alternative bunker attractions in Britain, including the York Cold War Bunker, Hack Green in Cheshire and Scotland’s Secret Bunker in Fife.
Take cash as they don&rsquot accept cards.
Don&rsquot be put off by the slightly intimidating signage at the beginning, I think its bark is worse than its bite.
Warn kids in advance of what to expect.
About The Author
I am a travel obsessed bookworm with a passion for history and archaeology. I have a degree in Philosophy and an MA in Archaeological Theory from the University of Southampton. I spend a great deal of time planning historical trips that I don&rsquot always have the time to take, or reading about early 20th century social history. My secret mission is to get my children as keen on history and travel as I am. Mixed results so far.
This is an interesting few hours deep into the earth. The place is quite unusual in its location but provides a fascinating look at the behind the scenes cold war preparations. It is quite old fashioned in its set up and the audio guides are long (and slow) but it gives further inspiration for seeing some more of the UK war defences.
You need to be a history buff to appreciate it.. those that are not may find it boring so be warned.. but if you want to see how tech has changed and what went on back in the day this is the place.
Meaning to visit this attraction the last couple of years finally got ound to going on Saturday afternoon..
You could drive right past the entrance if there wasn't a sign up on entry follow track around the edge of of fields to car park.
Walk down path to the entrance just like a bungalow in wooded setting. on entering you pass what is the guardroom to pick up handsets to hear the story about the site
Pass down a long passage past blast doors,
Various rooms radio /television studio accomadation rooms /wash facilitys. the heart of the hatch where water / air etc coes in and waste disposal etc the sick bay hospital.
The others rooms wall charts of the area involved control for various public sevices.
Plus the videos at different stages of the tour think horrifying of what could happen all those years ago.
Finally you come into a common room socializing etc then the canteen/sovenier shop.
Well worth visiting a good 2/3 hours looking around.
Plus other attractions around the site,
Visited here with my nine year son. From being brought up in the 80s it definitely reminded me of the threat we lived with probably exagerated by a child's mind.
My son himself found it interesting and question provoking.
An odd place to visit in the Essex countryside
This is a fantastic place for anyone interested in history, it also has an adventure playground for the kids outside, when you walk in down a long corridor to a step back in time.
We have wanted to visit for a number of years and finally got the opportunity last week.
Upon arriving we decided to go to the canteen before going into the actual bunker. Having eventually found it we were surprised to see the entire thing unmanned, with threatening signs saying something awful would happen to you if you didn't pay!
After that, we went round to the entrance picked up our 'wand' audio guides (which were pretty grubby but very interesting) and entered the bunker.
For the first hour I felt a little like we were trespassing, signs saying don't exit this way or you'd get fined (having to walk all the way beck to the canteen to pay it?), and saying you had to pay £5 to take photos. Also there would be a CCTV camera glaring at you round every corner!
After spending a little longer looking around, it was actually very interesting. If you could see through the lack of staff/funding, you uncovered a fascinating story of Cold War Britain.
Despite general grubbiness and lack of funding it was a very interesting day out, but not for the faint-hearted!
The first military use of the area was in World War II, when a Starfish site was established at Hack Green. Its purpose was to confuse Luftwaffe bombers looking for the vital railway junction at Crewe.
In the 1950s, the site was modernised as part of the ROTOR project. This included the provision of a substantial semi-sunk reinforced concrete bunker or blockhouse (type R6).
The station, officially designated RAF Hack Green, was also known as Mersey Radar. It provided an air traffic control service to military aircraft crossing civil airspace.
The site was abandoned and remained derelict for many years, until taken over by the Home Office. The R6 bunker was then rebuilt as a Regional Government Headquarters (RGHQs) - one of a network of 17 such sites throughout the UK - designed to enable government to continue in the aftermath of a major nuclear attack on the UK.
In about 1992, following the end of the Cold War, the Home Office abandoned its network of RGHQs and sold many of the sites. The Hack Green Bunker was purchased by a private company and subsequently opened to the public in 1998 as a museum with a Cold War theme.
The bunker is open to the public most of the year. It has a substantial collection of military and Cold War memorabilia, including one of the largest collections of decommissioned nuclear weapons in the world. It also houses Ballistic Missile Early Warning System equipment originally from RAF High Wycombe. 
The museum includes information about the function of the bunker during the Cold War. There is a simulator designed to simulate conditions in the bunker during a nuclear attack. Visitors can watch the BBC film The War Game, produced to inform the public of what would be likely to happen in a nuclear attack on Britain. Younger visitors to the museum can navigate the rooms in a game to find the "Cold War Spy Mice" (a large number of toy mice positioned in numerous rooms), the objective being to locate as many mice as possible and return their report to the desk for a prize this avoids the more disturbing aspects of the bunker, such as the medical room, where a mannequin is depicted with symptoms of burns and radiation poisoning.
Hack Green was featured in the British television series Most Haunted: Midsummer Murders episode two in which the team investigates the murder of a soldier. It featured once again in Series 11.
The bunker at the end of the world - in Essex
Geek's Guide to Britain Kelvedon Hatch is a superb example of absurdist geek life. Not only is the site technically very impressive, it is also completely useless and frequently prompts the question “what on earth were they thinking?”. A tour reinforces this view as the experience now is as enjoyably peculiar as the history behind the place.
The Kelvedon Hatch bunker was built between 1952 and 1953 as part of the ROTOR project. This was a massive redevelopment of the UK’s radar early warning system in response to Russia’s successful test of a nuclear bomb and deployment of heavy bomber aircraft capable of reaching Britain. The contract was given to Marconi Telegraph & Wireless in what was apparently the largest ever government contract awarded to a UK firm.
A little history
The project established a hierarchy of 66 sites for Centimetric Early Warning (CEW) radar and Ground Controlled Interception (GCI) radar, with fighter command re-organised into six sectors controlled from four massive Sector Operations Centre (SOC) bunkers. ROTOR would use an upgraded radar system called the Type-80. As this was being prepared, the bunkers were constructed.
Kelvedon Hatch was built to be the Metropolitan Sector SOC bunker, of the largest "R4" design consisting of three underground levels. It is today the only complete R4 bunker still in existence and one of only two bunkers from the programme that can still be visited, the other being Anstruther in Scotland.
The construction project was a massive undertaking. After the hill was dug away, shock absorbers were first sunk 200ft (60m) into a bed of gravel. Then, on top of this, they poured a 100ft (30m) high concrete shell with walls 10ft (3.5m) thick, reinforced with tungsten rods every six inches.
So as not to interrupt building, braziers were kept burning night and day through the winter to keep frost away. Around the concrete, a Faraday cage was wired to keep out stray radio signals. Then came brickwork and waterproofing. Entrance tunnels were lined with 3ft (1m) of concrete and hidden behind massive blast doors, bore holes were sunk and water tanks built. Then the earth was replaced.
Lastly, to "disguise" the site, a little bungalow was built over the entrance tunnel so no one would notice what it was. Presumably the 150 foot (46m) communication mast was not considered a complete giveaway.
So how long was Kelvedon Hatch usefully operational for? About 12 months.
The newly developed Type-80 radar started to be installed in early 1953 and was found to be much more efficient than expected, with range doubling in some instances. This meant CEW and GCI sites could be combined, so massively decreasing the complexity of ROTOR.
With many fewer sites it was found that responding to alerts could be handled more quickly without referring up to the SOCs. The need for speed was given further impetus with the introduction by the Soviet Union in 1954 of their new Tupolev Tu-16a high speed bombers, so Kelvedon as a useful command centre was finished.
It must have been obvious to everyone involved in the project that the massive cost of building the site couldn’t be wasted, so it was converted: first into a civilian defence centre, then, later, as part of continuity of government plans into a Home Office "Regional Seat of Government". From 1967 this was as a Sub-Regional Headquarters and finally from 1985 it became the Regional Government Headquarters (RGHQ) for London.
In the event of nuclear war, the role of the RGHQs was to house the key government and military staff needed to run the country after the bombs had finished falling. Up to 600 personnel would be shut in and left completely isolated for up to three months or until it was safe to emerge. Everything they needed for food, water, power and air conditioning was provided in the complex while multiple communication networks linked them to the other centres and hopefully the remaining population outside. It would be grim but you’d be alive.
In 1992, Kelvedon Hatch was finally closed. Running costs were still £3m a year and the site had never been used in anger. At a closed auction, the Parrish family - who had originally sold the land for the base and still farmed the surrounding fields - bought it back. The family later opened it as the eccentric tourist attraction you can visit today.
The bunker is tucked away in the gentle Essex countryside, set a little way outside the small village of Kelvedon Hatch. How much the villagers knew about the facility I’m not sure, but it cannot have made them too happy to have such an sensitive government site next door.
Turning off the Ongar Road, you make your way along a long winding access road through fields to the parking area. Keep going past the paintball arena, ropes course and quad bikes track that have sprung up around the complex and on to the bunker entrance itself, which is a nondescript bungalow.
Like all similar underground Cold War bunkers, it was disguised with a small bungalow to cover the entrance way. Why? Who knows? Would a passing army just give it a nod and not look through the windows? My guess is a "committee" thought it a good idea.
Proceed up to the bungalow door and you’ll find a small notice telling you to go right on in. What you won’t find is any actual people no entrance booth, no ticket collector, no tour guide, no security guard. No one. But they do have a lot of cameras pointing at you.
It’s a little disconcerting given the usual experience of tourist attractions, but this is the Kelvedon way, so get used to it.
Once inside there’s another notice saying to pay on the way out and just go pick up an audio guide, which you’ll find lying in a big pile in the guardroom. Hit 1 and you’re off. The audio guide is now the only way of finding your way about the complex and quite possibly the only way of ever finding your way out again, so pay attention and do what it says. Follow the arrows and hit new numbers when it tells you to.
If you were a child in Sweden in the 1970s you could be pretty sure that there was a place for you in a nuclear bunker. Indeed, underground shelters big enough for ten thousand people still exist in that part of the world. But what are the options if you are not in that part of the world?
Join Fiona Gruber on her personal journey through the cold war. She visits bunkers from her past and makes plans for the future. From James Bond lairs in Stockholm, to top secret military bunkers in the UK, to grand religious survivalist schemes in the USA, and then to the cheapest option . 'duck and cover'. Which would you choose?
CEO of Bahnhof, a Swedish internet provider located in a former nuclear shelter in Stockholm
Mike Parrish, owner of the Kelvedon Hatch Top Secret Nuclear Bunker
Deputy head of Training Co-ordination Section, Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) and the former head of Sweden’s Nuclear Shelters Division
Chair in Contemporary History, Deakin University. Co-Author (with Tony Joel) of Remembering the Cold War: Global Contest and National Stories (2013)