Camberwell’s secret abandoned underground bunker where ‘important’ politicians would have hidden if a nuclear bomb had been dropped on London

In a secret location near Camberwell, just off Vestry Road, is a top secret nuclear bunker with a big metal door labelled The Nuclear Bunker. OK, it’s not so secret anymore. The Cold War era hideout was built to keep local government running in the event of a nuclear attack, but it closed in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Amid fears that Vladimir Putin’s twitchy finger is hovering above the big red button, the world appears closer to nuclear chaos than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 [although it is important to stress it still seems highly unlikely given Russia will know firing a nuke would be suicidal]. Sadly for those who are wondering if Camberwell’s bunker would be any use in an attack, it seems unlikely the dilapidated and flooded underground hole would be any use against Russia’s 800 kiloton warheads – over 50 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. They could destroy London in minutes.

MyLondon gained access to the bunker through a hidden emergency escape (it’s actually pretty well hidden), and climbed down a ladder into the first room. Local artist John Chaple, 62, gave us a tour of the site, revealing it had recently been flooded. Water marks could be seen well above head height and there was still around 10cm of water on the ground.

READ MORE: Map of all 46 of London’s nuclear bunkers including ones closest to you

The nuclear bunker is only accessible by a secret ladder after the stairs down from the main entrance were removed following its decommissioning in the 1990s

After years of neglect nature has taken over and the walls are covered in tree roots, while much of the plaster is cracked and peeling off. The bunker still has men’s and women’s toilets equipped with showers, but stepping inside them unearthed decades-old smells which were gut-wrenching. Thankfully the rest of the bunker smelt a bit better and it was like stepping back in time.

The main entrance has been filled in with concrete and the original staircase into the bunker removed. The bunker itself has become a dumping ground for burnt out motorbikes and other tat. However, it was fascinating to see typewriters, a vacuum cleaner, phone books, coat hangers and a map of London left untouched since the 90s. Unfortunately they were all wrecked by water damage and rust, but you could make out their skeletal bodies.

0 IMG 20220309 150930

The main L-shaped stairway was destroyed in the 90s but it still lets light in when the hatch is opened

The main command room still had signs up for the various desks which would have been used by Southwark Council officers to communicate with the main nuclear bunker site in Kelvedon Hatch. The deep 600-capacity bunker in Essex was built in 1952 as part of ROTOR, a Cold War plan to protect Britain’s skies from Soviet bombers.

0 IMG 20220309 145936

There are signs all around which show how the command centre might have worked. A map on the wall focuses on Southwark, indicating the bunker was intended for Southwark officials

According to historian Nick Catford, “during the Cold War London was divided into four (later five) groups, each reporting directly to Kelvedon Hatch, in turn each group was subdivided into the individual boroughs, each of them having its own control centre. The South East Group War HQ at Pear Tree House, SE19 had six sub-controls, Greenwich, Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Lewisham & Southwark”.

0 Untitled design 2

The remains of a map of South London on the left show where flood water rose to. On the right is the disused fuse box in the generator room. John Chaple told MyLondon there was a rumour the hand dryer still worked for years after but it didn’t work when we visited

Though the bunker wouldn’t stand up to Russia’s current weapons arsenal, it wouldn’t be much worse than the London Underground system. Andrew Futter, who is a professor of international politics at the University of Leicester and an expert in nuclear politics, said: “In theory you could go into the Underground and go as deep as you could and you’d have to think about taking enough supplies – food and water for one or two weeks. But the reality is this would depend on how much time you had. You probably wouldn’t get much of a warning.” In that case, the plans of local campaigners to restore it to better health might be a good idea.

They are hoping to turn the bunker into a community space which will allow people in South London to learn about its history. The idea is to tell Britain’s Cold War history in a way that relates to the collapse of the British Empire, bringing the voices of underrepresented communities into the story. There are also hopes it can be a space to share the work of artists.

MyLondon does not recommend entering the bunker as it is unsafe, but you can look at this 3D model here.

If you have a story to share, please email [email protected]

Do you want the latest news in your area sent straight to your inbox? It only takes a few seconds! Click here.

0 profile2

Hello, I am a news reporter for MyLondon. I cover stories across the capital every day.

I qualified as a journalist last year and studied English and History at university, with a special interest in medieval London.

I love London because you’ve never seen it all. Also – all the food.

Some recent stories I am most proud of are this report on the killing of a restaurant owner in Elephant and Castle, this weird situation a Kings College student found herself in, and my review of eating a pig’s ear salad in Bloomsbury.

Got a story? Get in touch by emailing [email protected] or WhatsApp me on 07580255582.

You can also follow me on Twitter @cudlum.

Read More
Read More

https://www.mylondon.news/news/south-london-news/camberwells-secret-abandoned-underground-bunker-23435256

Recommended For You