Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker
Hidden deep beneath the Essex countryside near the sleepy picturesque village of Kelvedon Hatch lies a secret. A Secret Nuclear Bunker to be precise. Well, it’s not that much of a secret these days due to the signposts pointing it out, but during the cold war the site was the location for Britain’s command centre in the event of nuclear war.
Having grown up in Essex I was always vaguely aware of its presence but it wasn’t until I had long moved away that I decided to finally have a look when returning home for a visit in 2018. A month prior I had visited Chernobyl with a friend and roped him in as I thought it might be of interest.
My friend picked me up from Shenfield Station which I knew well, and we made the short drive through the pleasant East Anglian countryside to the site under a bright blue early summer sky. Upon following the signs we made our way off the road and onto a dirt track across a couple of fields. There was nothing to indicate that this was one of the most important sites in the country during my childhood.
We arrived at a small field which doubled as a car park which wasn’t very busy. A large chimney appeared through the undergrowth in front of us, but aside from this there was still nothing to indicate we were near a cold war command centre.
We followed a path to what looked like a small bungalow or office building in the woods. Outside were a couple of military vehicles and an old V2 rocket or similar. A sign on the front of the building declared a state of emergency! We entered the building where you could collect a headset which gave a commentary of the building and exhibits. We then made our way down a long corridor that lead deeper and deeper underground.
About Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker
The bungalow with its protective blast screens is the entrance to a labyrinth of rooms and stairways built into a small hillside. The complex is reinforced with 10ft thick concrete walls and descends to 125ft (38m) below ground. In the event of the government needing to leave London, this is were they would come to assume command of any act of aggression from the former Soviet Union.
The bunker was constructed in 1952 as an air defence station but as the cold war heated up its use changed to a regional government headquarters. The construction of the bunker was so secret that neither the villagers nor the workers knew what it was for.
The complex was built to house approximately 600 people and includes its own air conditioning and heating systems. There are 3 floors beneath the hillside which contain an operations room for the central devolved government, a science lab to track radiation, a BBC studio to broadcast important news to the population, a canteen, dormitories and a sick bay.
Inside the Bunker
After descending the 100 yard long entrance tunnel to the bottom of the three floors and passing a small armoury, we entered a series of small communication rooms with radio and computer equipment dating from the 1960s onwards. There was a short public-service video about what to do in the event of a nuclear strike (duck and cover) which some might remember from their childhoods.
We then made our way past the large generators up to the next floor which housed a large control room and sick bay. There were displays of equipment and different NBC outfits and gas masks. I’m not sure if it’s allowed to try them on, but no one stopped me from donning some of the gear!
The sick bay contained a few beds and cabinets filled with medical equipment. Posters on the walls reminded staff about secrecy and security. Next we made our way to the barracks which included a room for the prime minister which contained a dummy with the face of Margaret Thatcher!
The spaces inside aren’t huge and it’s hard to imagine 600 people living down there for a period of up to 3 months as it was designed for. Thankfully though, the complex was never used as the cold war dissipated after the fall of the Soviet Union.
We left the bunker and exited through a tunnel in the hillside where we entered a small gift shop and canteen. This is where you must pay at the end of your visit. The gift shop sells a few books and posters about the cold war.
Opening Times and Entrance to the Secret Nuclear Bunker
Summer (March 1st to October 31st)
Weekdays: from 10am to 4pm
Weekends: 10am to 5pm
Winter (November 1st to the end of February)
Thursday to Sunday 10am to 4pm.
Adult entry is £7.50
Child Entry is £5.50 (5 to 16 years)
Family Entry is £18.00 (2 adults and 2 children)
Cards are not accepted so make sure to bring enough cash for entry and souvenirs you may wish to buy.
There are no guided tours of the bunker but the headphones provided will guide you round the exhibits. Allow one to two hours to complete it.
How to get to Kelvedon Hatch
Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker
Tel: 01277 364883
Train: Due to the bunker’s location in the remote Essex countryside there is no direct service by public transport. From London it’s relatively easy though. You can take a train to either Brentwood or Shenfield and then take a taxi the final 7 miles.
Bus: Take bus 21 from Brentwood or Harlow and get off at Kelvedon Hatch.
Underground: Take the Central Line (red) to either Debden, Theydon Bois or Epping and take a taxi.
Road: Access is from the A128 Ongar to Brentwood Road.
If you want to discover more unique places in and around the UK capital, check out this list of 10 hidden gems in London or for more dark tourism destinations, check out this list of dark & unusual things to do in London!