Heading underground into the Midlands’ best preserved nuclear bunker feels like a daunting affair. Climbing through a small hatch and down a confined ladder, it took only around 15 rungs to reach the concrete room hidden from sight or sound under Broadway’s stunning countryside.
Here in this secret hideaway in Worcestershire remains a cold war relic packed with pre-digital equipment, including an original radiation meter. They are stark reminders of heightened fears over a nuclear fallout, right up to 1991, when it was shut down amid glasnost with the Soviet Union.
The fascinating bunker, just an hour from Birmingham, is open to the public for 45minute guided tours from Broadway Tower Museum. It gives a chilling once-in-a-lifetime experience for all ages of stepping back in time to an era reminiscent of a John Le Carré spy thriller.
Opened at the height of strained relations with Russia in 1960, the Royal Observer Corps used the bunker and trained regularly. If nuclear missiles were launched, the volunteers would have been the ones to alert residents across the pretty town with a siren of an impending attack.
They would have then headed into the bowels of this nuclear bunker for three weeks to take daily radiation measurements. Looking at the wires and archaic equipment in front of me, it’s jaw-dropping how they would have reported back to HQ over systems that predate the internet and mobile phones.
Immediately below the short entrance ladder is this protected concrete cell, just 18ft long by 8ft wide. There’s a basic toilet in a separate room next to it that would have had to be ‘sloshed out’, but with three Corps members down here, it would have no doubt been a somewhat confined and smelly space.
I’m short at just over 5ft tall, so for me, the bunker felt surprisingly spacious with a high ceiling. There’s room for a bunk bed, desk and communications equipment.
There would also have been a portable cooker to enable the volunteers to eat rations of meals including steak and kidney pudding, pilchards in tomato sauce, corned beef and apple pudding.
“After three weeks down here, it would have felt claustrophobic,” knowledgeable tour guide Wayne reminds me. “Volunteers would come underground to train about once a month, but if an attack happened, they were seen as expendable.
“They were the ones who would alert everyone else and report back on radiation levels from the fallout. The Royal Observer Corps motto was forewarned is forarmed.”
There used to be hundreds of these nuclear bunkers nationwide but 600 were closed. Only a handful have been opened up again beautifully preserved, like this one in the Cotswolds, and it feels extremely special to be standing in it.
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Getting down the bunker is all part of the experience. The area is sealed off in a gated area, protecting the age-old ventilation system, radiation checker and shaft entrance to the bunker that you get a tour of first.
Then you head down the ladder. I’m not the most strong or flexible but it really wasn’t difficult and only a short distance down. After all, the volunteers would have frequently been up and down this ladder to do some surface checks, which seems like a flaw to the system.
Luckily, it never came to the point of needing to be used in a real attack but recent hostility between Russia and NATO make this Cold War experience all the more relevant and exciting.
The Nuclear Bunker Museum at Broadway Tower, in Middle Hill, Broadway is open from April to October on weekends and bank holidays. Tickets cost £12 and can be booked through the Broadway Tower website or at the site’s museum on the day.