Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Code name: Paddock

Saturday. Afternoon. Dollis Hill, a very residential area of Wembley.

Shoe protectors

Hard hat and camera in hand.

Code name: Paddock

Paddock was the name of a now disused and derelict Cabinet War Rooms from the second World War. The visit was a one-off. Open doors day as a celebration of the Archaeology Weekend with a free 30 min tour around it carrier out by Subterranea Britannica.

According to the very enthusiastic guide (volunteer, by the way) this was an alternative Cabinet War Room to the one in Central London. Apparently Churchill didn't fancy much coming to these premises for a couple of reasons: first and principle: the plae was very far away. If you think about it, Wembley really is and specially was by that time, a London suburb. For him, coming all the way here, inconvenience apart, felt like letting down London, as being hiding far away. He kept sheltering in the Central one. The second reason: it was quit damp.

Unlike the Central London CWR, this was a purpose built facility. Well engineered with amazingly thick concrete walls and ceilings, and alternative staircases and built just underneath the Post Office Research and Development station of Dollis Hill.

The bunker was just just for barely three years, as I was always kept as an alternative, in case the central London was heavily damaged during the bombings. In fact, althought it was a purpose built facility, there's no documentation about it: no drawings, no maps, nothing. Nobody knew that Paddock was a bunker until years after it was determined that it really has been.

The result of so much secrecy about the site lead to the sale of the land above. A series of construction works unfortunately damaged the waterproof membrane that protected the underground bunker and hence the current state of it right now; in constant need of pumps to remove the water and the puddles, and indeed, it is in a very decaying state.

The guide showed us a room, barely lited, paved with ceramic orange tiles and a chair in the middle. He was playing to confuse us on trying to guess the purpose of that room. It was indeed the battery room. Tiled in case the acid of the batteries spilled, it was easily cleanable. Barely lited to avoid sparks and basically because I didn't need much maintaince.

Fun fact #1: The construction works of the site lasted 3 years (on time), on budget and un-noticeable. 

Telephone communications rack

Fun fact #2: there is a tiny little inscription in one of the hubs that writes CWR what actually confirms this place to be a bunker (apart from the minutes of the War Cabinet that took place in 1940).

The room used as a social club in the 60's, hence the funky ceiling tiles for a resting area. Pretty sure the blokes had fun there.

Althought Churchill dislike the place, it had state of the art technology. High-end air conditioning and high quality galvanized conducts (according to the guide, underground buildings need to be cooled down, not warmed up. Fun Fact #3) and what was even cooler, fluorescent lights to light the rooms and specially the maps covering the walls during the war. Apparently, the now common white tubes were ridiculously expensive and rare at that time. England had them in war times.

It really was an air bomb shelter, not a long term facility, and hence, it mainly consisted in rooms for meetings and equipment and just a little cantine. We all asked the same question to the guide: where is the toilet? Where is Churchill's bedroom? The truth was that; non existent.

In the main plant, a room with the stand-by generator for the production of electricity. Quite rusty.

A small canteen was the only sign of long stay on the underground secret spot. Just two sinks, signs of a counter and a little serving hatch form which to pass the foot to the corridor. They most probably just prepared tea there.

Stalactites and stalagmites

Mould. Damp. Mushrooms...

Steel door frames

There is just one document: some minutes from a meeting held there, found in the National Archives, that describes the location of the place and Churchill siting in this room, in the middle of the big table, facing the door. Even though damp had destroyed most of the flooring and surroundings, very well pointed by the guide, that room still had sound proofed panels. The sound was surprisingly dead; perfect for super secret meetings and discussion.

Below the actual room with the War Cabinet took place the 3rd of October in 1940. Where the lady stands on the left, is the supposed Churchill's position on the table that date. It cannot be seen, but across the room, there was a hatch in the wall to pass the teleprinter messages.

Fun fact #4, the room had an independent ventilation system (now on the floor) for 1: keeping the resonance independent from the rest and 2: to smoke and not get it circulated to the rest of the bunker.

Fun fact #5: Famous Flower's Colossus computer was actually assembled inside the bunker. 

The bunker was locked and abandoned by 1944.  

Again, from here, I really want to thank greatly the guys from Subterranea Britannica for their brilliant enthusiasm and great tour. I had a really good time underground. 

I hope to visit more dark things like this in the future. But that's another story

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