Beneath the pretty cotswolds countryside between Box and Corsham lies a secret city. 37 metres below ground, this vast 35 acre complex is more than a kilometre in length and boasts 60 miles of roads. Blast-proof and completely self-sufficient, with the ability to house up to 4,000 people in complete isolation from the outside world for up to three months, the site was designed to be the operational headquarters for the British Government, in the event of a nuclear war or conflict with the Soviet Union.
The bunker was built in a former Bath stone quarry known as Spring Quarry. Bath stone (Oolite limestone) had been quarried in the district since Roman times and was used for many fine buildings in the locality. The arrival of the Great Western Railway and the building of Box Tunnel afforded easy access to the deep stone beds in the area, as well as providing a convenient mode of transport for the cut stone. Consequently, the underground quarry flourished in the period 1850-1910, the ‘golden age’ of quarrying at Corsham.
During the Second World War, the site was acquired by the Minister of Aircraft Production and used as an ammunition sub depot as well as a subterranean factory for the Bristol Aircraft Corporation, hidden away from the prying eyes and destructive capabilities of the Luftwaffe.
In the 1950’s and with the threat of the Cold War looming, work began on part of the site for the possible relocation of some 4,000 Central Government personnel – including the Prime Minister, his cabinet and the Royal household – in the event of nuclear war. The site’s official name was Central Government War Headquarters, but it was known by its codename “Burlington”. The site was fully equipped in all respects – from medical facilities to kitchens, canteens, offices, storerooms, living and sleeping accommodation, and an enhanced communications system – so that personnel could be supported there for a prolonged period, safe from the nuclear devastation above ground.
This underground city came equipped with all of the facilities necessary to survive, including a telephone exchange which was the second largest in Britain.
Drinking water was provided by an underground lake and treatment plant, while twelve tanks of fuel kept the city’s four generators running in the underground power station for up to three months.
The air was kept at a constant humidity and heated to around 20 degrees celsius; it even boasted a BBC studio where the PM could address the nation and an internal Lamson Tube system that could relay messages throughout the complex using compressed air.
A complex this big, an ‘underground city’ in itself, needed a quick and easy way of transporting people from one end of the site to another. After all, this was meant to be home to some of the most important people in the country and they each had jobs to do and places to be.
Road signs, crossroads and other ways to make it easy for people to travel within the bunker were created, with electric buggies for speedy access.
In December 2004, the Burlington Bunker was declassified. Parts of the site were sold off, including a section to Octavian Wines, a wine storage company who use their piece of the bunker to store some of the world’s most expensive wines for their wine merchant customers.
More information on the history of the Burlington Bunker can be found in this Ministry of Defence booklet.