You probably know about the Cabinet War Rooms, an underground bunker beneath the streets of Westminster, used by Churchill and his staff during the second world war. You might even have been inside. But did you know that Churchill's government had a 'spare' underground bunker, to which they could decamp if the first one was destroyed?
The second bunker was built stronger than the first; the Westminster bunker wouldn't have survived a direct hit, but the spare was sunk so deep into the ground that it was completely bomb proof. It still exists to this day, 4oft below a residential street in Neasden.
The bunker's codename was 'Paddock', and it was built in 1938-39. Its entrance was concealed within a ground-level building being built on the same spot by the Post Office (not to be confused with the Post Office Research Station nearby). The building which housed the entrance has now been mostly demolished and replaced by a housing estate. The entrance to the bunker is still very inconspicuous, designed to look like the exterior of an electricity substation or similar — except on open days, when it looks something like this:
Floor plans show that the bunker included a Cabinet meeting room which could seat 30 people, a Map Room, a BBC Studio (from where Churchill could address the nation), a standby generator and a Battery Room, whose floor and walls were lined with tiles in case of acid leaks.
As soon as it was built, a 'skeleton' staff from Whitehall was posted there to ensure the bunker was ready to function immediately, should it be needed. No overnight accommodation was built into the bunker itself — instead, the government requisitioned some flats in nearby Neville Court, and was willing to requisition more from the same building if more Whitehall staff were relocated.
There's only one record of Churchill himself visiting the bunker; when the Blitz began in September 1940, he travelled to Dollis Hill to inspect it. Apparently he found it rather damp, and didn't want to leave central London, although he admitted it may be a necessity if the bombing continued. As it was, the necessity never arose, and the bunker was never used to its full capacity.
The site was sold to a property developer in 1997, with the condition that the bunker was opened to the public twice a year. Network Homes installed electricity and water pumps (the bunker had flooded in the intervening years), and holds the required open days — although it's been a contentious issue to locals, who want the bunker preserved further and opened to the public more frequently.
Fancy visiting? Find out when the next open day will be on the Network Homes website. We had a look inside back in 2009 — here's what we found. There's also a wealth of information on the excellent Subterranea Brittanica.
- The secret bunker below London's secret bunker
- Do you know all these secret bunkers in London?
- A snoop around London's hidden Battle of Britain bunker
- Secrets of the Churchill War Rooms
- 10 secret underground spaces in London
- Hidden London: the cavernous shelter beneath Clapham
- London's rumoured secret tunnels
(Yeah, so we have a bit of an obsession all things underfoot).