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Security at the decommissioned subterranean shelter has gotten a lot more lax since the Cold War days, but the bunker retains its eerie, apocalyptic feel.
Conditions were relatively comfortable: VIPs tasked with running a nuked nation could do so with the help of air conditioning and heating, a self-contained water supply, generators, radio equipment, and protected telecommunications systems. Ella Morton is a writer working on The Atlas Obscura, a book about global wonders, curiosities, and esoterica adapted from Atlas Obscura.
Kelvedon Hatch is accessed by from the A128 Chipping Ongar to Brentwood road at Kelvedon Hatch. Built in 1953 to stealthily house hundreds of military and civilian personnel in the event of nuclear attack, the Kelvedon Hatch bunker is accessed through an ordinary-looking bungalow in the woods. The collapse of the Soviet Union removed the nuclear threat, rendering the Kelvedon Hatch hide-out obsolete.
This was a massive redevelopment of the UK’s radar early warning system in response to Russia’s successful test of a nuclear bomb and deployment of heavy bomber aircraft capable of reaching Britain. With GPS use the postal code CM14 5TL and look out for the brown Tourist signs, which is the first indication your trip will be fun, for they are marked "Secret Nuclear Bunker". A tour reinforces this view as the experience now is as enjoyably peculiar as the history behind the place.
The telephone exchanges – both manual and automatic – are in-situ as well as examples for radio communications and telex. There are also chemical toilets for when the base was closed to save precious water, and worst of all, cardboard coffins for those who didn’t make it. A few rooms feature an unusual sight: battered shop mannequins in cheap wigs, posed in typical bunker scenarios such as resting and performing minor surgery.
Boxed and bagged, the corpses could be pushed into corridors to wait the all-clear.Only at the end of the tour do you see any of the usual tourist paraphernalia.
As this was being prepared, the bunkers were constructed.Kelvedon Hatch was built to be the Metropolitan Sector SOC bunker, of the largest "R4" design consisting of three underground levels.

Racks of old uniforms for dressing up, a few war-themed items for sale and a restaurant for lunch or refreshments. It is today the only complete R4 bunker still in existence and one of only two bunkers from the programme that can still be visited, the other being Anstruther in Scotland.The construction project was a massive undertaking. The red telephones were used to inform police stations and council offices to sound the air raid warning once the bombs were on the way. Right at the end you’ll find the honesty box for your entrance fee so even here it’s a happy help-yourself system.The entrance charge is ?7 for adults, ?5 for children with group discounts available. After the hill was dug away, shock absorbers were first sunk 200ft (60m) into a bed of gravel. There’d be no happy reason to pick one up and no wonder they were kept under cover, someone would get a shock if accidentally used!Moving up a level you reach the main offices and control centres, plus accommodation rooms for the government chiefs. They may be safe but looking at the prime minister’s bedroom you hardly feel that life was good, even for them.The rest of the bunker spans the impressive, to the mundane, to the pitiful. The power generators and air conditioners are great, huge rooms full of piping and engines and Geiger counters everywhere remind you of the risks. Entrance tunnels were lined with 3ft (1m) of concrete and hidden behind massive blast doors, bore holes were sunk and water tanks built. Judiciary, Home Office, Social Security, the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries and Fire Service all have desks.
Then the earth was replaced.Lastly, to "disguise" the site, a little bungalow was built over the entrance tunnel so no one would notice what it was. So do the Navy, Air Force and army but nothing for builders, doctors or farmers to actually start rebuilding the country.Most mundane in the extreme has to be the stationery room where you had to justify the requisition of staples and paper. Presumably the 150 foot (46m) communication mast was not considered a complete giveaway.So how long was Kelvedon Hatch usefully operational for? About 12 months.The newly developed Type-80 radar started to be installed in early 1953 and was found to be much more efficient than expected, with range doubling in some instances.

This meant CEW and GCI sites could be combined, so massively decreasing the complexity of ROTOR.With many fewer sites it was found that responding to alerts could be handled more quickly without referring up to the SOCs.
From 1967 this was as a Sub-Regional Headquarters and finally from 1985 it became the Regional Government Headquarters (RGHQ) for London.In the event of nuclear war, the role of the RGHQs was to house the key government and military staff needed to run the country after the bombs had finished falling. Up to 600 personnel would be shut in and left completely isolated for up to three months or until it was safe to emerge. Everything they needed for food, water, power and air conditioning was provided in the complex while multiple communication networks linked them to the other centres and hopefully the remaining population outside. At a closed auction, the Parrish family - who had originally sold the land for the base and still farmed the surrounding fields - bought it back.
The family later opened it as the eccentric tourist attraction you can visit today.The tourThe bunker is tucked away in the gentle Essex countryside, set a little way outside the small village of Kelvedon Hatch. How much the villagers knew about the facility I’m not sure, but it cannot have made them too happy to have such an sensitive government site next door.Turning off the Ongar Road, you make your way along a long winding access road through fields to the parking area. Keep going past the paintball arena, ropes course and quad bikes track that have sprung up around the complex and on to the bunker entrance itself, which is a nondescript bungalow.Like all similar underground Cold War bunkers, it was disguised with a small bungalow to cover the entrance way. My guess is a "committee" thought it a good idea.Proceed up to the bungalow door and you’ll find a small notice telling you to go right on in.
What you won’t find is any actual people; no entrance booth, no ticket collector, no tour guide, no security guard. The audio guide is now the only way of finding your way about the complex and quite possibly the only way of ever finding your way out again, so pay attention and do what it says.

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