The Cold War Post on Your Doorstep
Overlooked by houses and just next to a bus stop in Whitchurch is this strange piece of concrete. It’s a remnant of the Cold War.
Built in 1957, it’s the entrance to an underground observation post, to be used if we ever came under atomic attack. Under the locked hatch is a shaft and a fixed ladder that leads down to the three man post.
Over 1,500 posts were built across the UK, all spaced around eight miles apart. Some still remain. In the event of the Soviet Union attacking, volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps would man each post and report the direction and intensity of atomic blasts.
When the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991 there was no more need for these posts, and they were all closed.
What’s There Now?
On the surface you can see, (above) left to right:
Remains of the air vent (covered by a small square slab); this would have been as tall as the access point, with similar louvres.
The wider pipe with a flange carried a metering probe for the Fixed Survey Meter below in the post, which measured radiation.
Just in front of it is the pipe for the Bomb Pressure Indicator. That measured the blast from an atomic weapon, on a dial calibrated for “Peak overpressure”.
The access point, with louvred air vent. During an attack, the air vents would have been sealed off from below. The men inside had rations for three weeks, then they had to come out. Of course, the observers never had to receive the terrible phone call to “Man the post”
Inside the Whitchurch post in February 2017. This is the main and only room. Through the door is the bottom of the shaft. You'll find more photos here.
I visited this post over twenty months ago, when it was overgrown and concealed behind shrubs. It was unlocked so I climbed down and took photos inside.
Then, the post was in quite good condition; I got the impression that the locals treated it with respect. One artifact I saw that day was a fun size pack of M&Ms, left behind unopened in 1991. I wrote about it in a NBW blog post.
I didn’t want to say exactly where the post was at the time, but it’s clearly visible now. It seems that it’s being looked after. The shrubs and undergrowth have been cleared, the area has been grass seeded, and the hatch is now locked and secure.
Olney Royal Observer Corps post.
The separate air vent (left) is still present at the Olney post.
There were seven other posts like this in North Bucks. Three still exist. There’s one at Sherington near Newport Pagnell; it’s in the middle of a field and I saw it this week, but I wasn’t about to walk across a ploughed field to get a closer look. It has (above) a fairly intact air vent, though the louvres are hanging off.
Another is at Cheddington, but the last report of it is from 2012. I’ll take a trip out to have a look one day.
Other posts at Buckingham, Brill, and Weston Turville are now gone; demolished. The fate of the Bletchley post is unknown, but it’s believed to be lost under later roads and houses. The grid reference puts it in the middle of the Lakes Estate, South of Bletchley.
Remember, the posts were all manned by volunteers. You can't get more uniquely British than that.
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Was in the R.O.C. for over 20 years until stand down, and remember being on exercise in them twice a year. Many a cold week end I remember spending down them, interspersed with a frantic half an hour reporting the supposed dropping of an atomic bomb before spending the rest of the time reporting fall out from the weapon. Never thought I would see the end of the cold war, and we were only told it was over by the news. We didn't have an inkling until then.
Posted by: Peter Hastings | 10 December 2020 at 05:03 PM
Are all these underground posts now closed? We might still need them if Putin goes any further! How far underground do you need to be to be safe from a nuclear explosion?
Posted by: Max | 25 February 2022 at 11:05 PM
Max, All the Royal Observer Corps posts of this type are closed. It wasn't expected that the men inside would have lived very long, even underground. They would fairly quickly succumb to radiation poisoning.
Posted by: Roger Bradbury | 28 February 2022 at 09:41 PM