TPYF - project explores Cold War threat to York between the 1960s and 1980s

By Culture24 Staff | 05 November 2009
a poster showing a nuclear explosion

A 1950s recruitment poster for York Civil Defence Corps. All images © York City Archives

Young people have been investigating York's secret Cold War history to make a film for the Their Past Your Future project.

The film was created with the York City Archives, who opened up a whole range of resources unique to the city, including Civil Defence archives and the York Bunker.

Culture24 caught up with York archivist Sarah Prescott to find out more about the project and what secrets the TPYF team uncovered about the Cold War threat in York between the 1960s and the 1980s.

"We spoke to members of the Royal Observer Corps, peace protestors, and people who had been working for the council's emergency committee to get some really fantastic interviews and we have been combining that with lots of location shots of the bunker in York," said Sarah.

The team carried out a lot of filming at the York Bunker, interviewed curator Kevin Booth, and reconstructed some Cold War scenarios and experiments.

"We have an extensive civil defence collection in the city archives and that had been catalogued for the Second World War, so we knew all about the ARP wardens and the bombing of York - but nobody knew what was in it from 1950," explained Sarah.

"The city was trying to prepare for what would essentially be its destruction, and all of the people we have spoken to had worked in that context and were fully anticipating the total destruction of life as they knew it."

a pale blue book cover for a social experiment

Cover of the report on the first York Experiment - testing the practicality of government advice on how to build a home fallout shelter. 1965

The TPYF project recreated experiments conducted by the Civil Defence Corps in York in the mid 1960s, called the York Experiments.

"They constructed a fallout shelter as an experiment to see how people would cope, because following a nuclear blast you had to go into your fallout shelter for two weeks. "

"Three volunteers went into it for the weekend and they were completely cut off other than occasional emergency radio broadcasts. They wanted to judge how people would cope with those conditions."

"Reading between the lines, they didn't cope very well at all; the three volunteers found it very stressful and a very depressing experience and we have reconstructed that experiment for the film."

a pale yellow book cover for a social experiment

Cover of the report on the second York Experiment - testing to see if it was really practical to buy a stock of food quickly to enable a family to last 14 days in a fallout shelter. 1967.

The second was called 'Food for 14 days' and involved a group of volunteer housewives going as a group to a small supermarket that is still in York, to buy food to feed themselves and their families for 14 days.

"Everyone quickly realised that there would be a bit of a problem if everyone in York was panic buying and there was only one person on the till in Jackson's supermarket," joked Sarah.

"It didn't mean to, but the experiment undermined the advice being given to people by showing how impractical it was."

"It's been a really great project and everyone has enjoyed doing it. We hope the film will be taken into schools as part of the GCSE History curriculum - and we hope to release it online, as an awful lot of work went into it."

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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