York Cold War Bunker To Open Its Bombproof Doors In May 2006

By Richard Moss | 13 March 2006
shows a man stood behind a see through control room map of england

Kevin Booth, English Heritage Senior Curator for the North looks at a radiation map. © Tony Bartholomew

English Heritage curators have been recalling the days of the Cold War as they prepare to open the bombproof doors of a nuclear bunker to the public on May 15 2006.

The once secretive, semi-submerged structure on the outskirts of York has been restored at a cost of £240,000 and will offer people an evocative reminder of a time when post-war tensions threatened Armageddon.

a photograph of a bunker with steel structures and a stairs leading to a control tower

The bunker is situated on the outskirts of York. © Tony Bartholomew

Now maps and charts, some of them used to depict fall-out zones after a nuclear blast, are being conserved in situ. About 300 period fittings, many original, are also being returned, including logbooks, telephones and a half-tonne device to shield switchboards from disruptive radiation.

“The bunker was the first in the UK to be designated as a scheduled monument, so we are treating the contents with the same care we would bestow on ancient artefacts,” said Kevin Booth, English Heritage Senior Curator for the North.

a photograph of a man sitting at a bench with headphones on it

Original fittings have been moved back into the bunker © Tony Bartholomew

“Using photographs taken when the bunker was stood down in 1991, we want to accurately reproduce its appearance, giving the public a real insight into the operation of a site with a rich, intriguing, and in many ways, poignant history.”

One of only 12 semi-sunken bunkers out of a total of 1,561 Cold War nuclear shelters built in the UK, the York bunker was built in 1961 at the height of the Cold War as a nerve centre for liaison with central Government and, if the worst came to the worst, to monitor the fall-out from nuclear explosions.

a photograph of a wall with a presssure guage and writing on it

© Tony Bartholomew

It also acted as the reporting centre for a cluster of sub-bunkers which, in the event of war, would have gathered data on the location and yield of nuclear detonations and radio activity levels.

Operated by the Royal Observer Corps – a mainly volunteer force of civilians – the York bunker could accommodate up to 60 people for two weeks in airtight and bombproof conditions.

a photograph of a man studying a see through map on a wall

© Tony Bartholomew

The bunker was put on top alert in 1962 at the height of the Cuban missile crisis but was eventually de-commissioned with the signing of a non-aggression treaty between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries.

“Although it is a rather unusual place to work, it is absolutely fascinating and we are looking forward to revealing its secrets to the public in May,” added Kevin.

a photograph of a mans eye peering through a spyhole in yellow door

© Tony Batholomew

The bunker will be open to the public from Monday May 15 2006 by pre-booked tour only. People interested in visiting can book by telephone on 01904 646940, by e-mailing yorkbunker@english-heritage.org.uk or in person by going to Clifford’s Tower in York.