Updated – Housing will replace former council offices but what will happen to Ludlow’s nuclear bunker?

I really don’t know much about Ludlow’s nuclear bunker. I’d like to know more.

Stone House, the former offices of South Shropshire District Council and Shropshire Council, has been sold and is to be demolished. It will be replaced, if planning permission is granted, by terraced housing in the modern Georgian style (15/05509/FUL). But what will happen to the nuclear bunker below the former offices?

We built a lot of these bunkers around the country in the 1960s and 1970s. The idea was that civic leaders would squirrel themselves into a shelter and command centre. They would then emerge after the madness of mutually assured destruction and take charge of whatever was left of our world.

I remember my parents talking about four minute warnings in the early 1960s. I have learnt since that people across the country were advised to hide under tables and put newspaper on windows if the missiles came. I am too young to remember the word tipping towards destruction in the Cuban missile crisis but I’ve explored Upper Heyford air base in Oxford. It’s a true cathedral to Cold War terror. The vast scale of that airbase is a stark testimony to how nuclear war had been built into the consciousness of our nation.

The Cold War is a big and sometimes forgotten part of our modern heritage. It is nevertheless a bit of a surprise to find a small piece of it in Ludlow.

Despite the antics of North Korea, nuclear war has faded from our daily thoughts. We are not scared in the way that my parent’s generation were in the 1960s. The council offices at Stone House were rebuilt in 1989. I can’t recall being very scared then. So why was this bunker built?

I haven’t seen the bunker. I’ve asked for a site visit early in February with Shropshire Council’s heritage team and the developers. I want to ensure that it is fully recorded before the site is developed.

But mostly I am intrigued. Why did we build this nuclear bunker in 1989?

Update 10 January 2015: Plan of bunker released

Purcell, the developer, has provided me with this plan of the basement below Stone House. The plan is annotated with structural specifications (EDB01, EDB03, EDB05). Shropshire Council says these are believed to be a Ministry of Defence standard.

This is not what I was expecting. My idea of a bunker would have some seating and bedding, even if it did not have any command and communications systems. Half of the 124 square metre Ludlow basement (49.8%) is taken up with storerooms. It has a toilet and shower, and also a plant room – presumably for a diesel or electric generator, not an aspidistra. The rest of the space is taken up with corridors and stairs. This seems to be little more than storage bunker with loo and shower attached.

So what did this bunker contain? Iodine tablets? Emergency rations? Did it store official papers to ensure that, even if nothing else survives, our bureaucracy outlives mutually assured destruction to await the archaeologists of the future?

Any memories or local knowledge will be very welcome.


8 thoughts on “Updated – Housing will replace former council offices but what will happen to Ludlow’s nuclear bunker?

  1. Why build the nuclear bunker in 1989?

    Moot point as to why build one after the Cold War ends, perhaps it is indicative as to the speed of the thought process of our rural mindset.

    Sometime in the future, perhaps 5 years or so after the Syrian issue has been resolved I am sure Shropshire will start talking about how many refugees we will help.

    1. I think the rural mindset may be part of it but we have refugees arriving about now. I’ll update later in the week after I have been to another meeting of the refugee cross working party.

  2. I think you’ll probably find that it’s three kitchen tables bolted together by some ip&me barrow-boy firm for many hundreds of 1970s inflated pounds. Gullible councillors were as common then as you must know they are today. Keep at it, Andy. You’re doing a fine job, for a Liberal!,

    Alan Harley

    Sent from my iPad


  3. It was one of the local Regional Centre of Government bunkers . Built about 1991, it must have been one of the last to be completed. Why Ludlow? The reason was that the radar station on Clee Hill was, I think No 80 or thereabouts on the Soviet hit list in a nuclear war. It would have been targeted by a tactical nuclear weapon. end of radar station, a large chunk of Clee Hill, and most of Ludlow. The bunker was designed to be staffed by half a dozen or so local officials. They were to go down there when war was thought imminent. Their job as to report via radio links , or, very optimistically, the public phone system, to the Regional Centre of Government under Shire Hal, Shrewsbury, on damage and radiation levels . They had radiation monitoring equipment, and, rather ludicrously, a periscope which emerged in the flowerbed outside. They had supplies (according to legend, mainly baked beans!) for a fortnight, after which, they were told the radiation would have dropped enough for them to come out. Except, that the entrance was from the ground floor of the office block above, which would have collapsed with the nuclear blast. I visited the bunker a while back. Store rooms, separate dormitories for males and females (standards had to be preserved 🙂 bath room, control room, kitchen, separate office for the person in charge. And whiteboards, still there, on which details of “incidents” were to be marked up. Reports were to be sent to HQ in Shrewsbury, whose staffing, ominously, included a civil servant, judge and senior police officer, with authority to declare martial law. It would have included provision for police and troops to shoot those injured or sick deemed untreatable. It was one of the shelters closed after “glasnost” or perhaps on the realisation how pointless it would have been anyway. At least the ones closed were the ones admitted to! Well worth a visit, in a chilling kind of way. The bad dreams afterwards come free…

    1. Thanks John. This is very useful and interesting. I’ve got some more information by email too. Its interesting that Shirehall doesn’t seem to have records on this – though there may well be material in archives. I’ll write up more on this once more comments have come in and I have the necessary consents.

  4. Forgot to say that power was to be supplied by a diesel generator. Not clear how its exhaust fumes were to be disposed of, and any outlet would have been blocked by falling debris. So if the after-effects of the baked beans hadn’t suffocated all those inside, the diesel fumes certainly would. The whole thing was total madness.

  5. Andy, I am sure you will recall that our glorious Mrs T was not that keen on rapprochement. She loved the Cold War, and wanted to up the stakes (unless, of course, Gorbachev threw in the towel, which he did). So we were all told to shut the windows, draw the curtains, stick a brown paper bag over our head, and kiss our a**e goodbye.

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