Site Records

Site Name: Kenton Bar - 13 Group Fighter Command Headquarters and Region 1 Regional War Room

Kenton Lane
Kenton Bar
OS Grid Ref: NZ216674

Sub Brit site visit 1st December 2004

[Source: Nick Catford]

The Kenton Bar site was placed on the surplus list in 1947 and the land surrounding the operations room was used for offices by the Ministry of Agriculture with a number of single storey brick buildings being constructed for the purpose. Many of the above ground buildings associated with the Group Headquarters were demolished at this time.

The sites of the two bunkers were subject to intense attention from competing interests. The emergence of the military threat posed by the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states in the late 1940s led to the realisation that the civil defence infrastructure which had been so quickly run down after the end of the war was necessary again. The Civil Defence Act of 1948 and later regulations made under that act, required local governments to make provision for an infrastructure capable of carrying out the functions of the wartime ARP units; at the time, any future war with the Soviet Union was expected to be very similar to the previous war with Germany, though the additional damage caused by atomic bombing was seen as a major new threat.

Photo:The main entrance to the bunker is inside this small surface guardhouse
Photo by Nick Catford

In 1950 the Kenton Operations Room was proposed as a Sector Operations Centre for the Northern Sector in the Rotor scheme but discarded in favour of purpose built one near York (This was later built at Shipton but at this time only the area of York had been decided). At the same time the former Group Headquarters bunker at Langley Lane Preston (RAF Longley Lane) was refurbished as a Rotor Sector Operations Centre. The Kenton Bar bunker was selected for reuse as the Regional War Room for Region 1

Kenton Bar was unique amongst Regional War Rooms of this period in that it occupied an earlier structure, rather than a purpose-built facility: it seems likely that the existence of two suitable structures with existing secure communications links was too good an opportunity to miss.

Contemporary painting showing the two level operations room of the WW2 13 Group Headquarters

In plan, the purpose-built regional war rooms were very similar to the fighter command Operations Room bunker, being focused on a central two level map room with observation galleries. The life-span of the original Regional War Rooms appears to have been quite short, though details are sketchy.

By the time that most of the purpose-built structures were nearing completion in 1955-6, the advent of nuclear weapons had led to an enormous change in the perception of the threat posed by the Soviet Union, and the needs of Civil Defence.

The threat now was of complete breakdown of central government with the Regional War Rooms being were superseded by Regional Seats of Government, fully autonomous regional command centres, hardened against nuclear attack. Some of the purpose built Regional War Rooms were adapted as Regional Seats of Government, but this was not the case with Kenton Bar which did not have the room for expansion required for the increased number of staff.

The exact date of closure of the regional war room is uncertain although it is thought that most of these facilities had been supplanted by Regional Seats of Government by around 1960.

After its use as war room ceased it was used as a training centre for RSG and later Sub Regional Control staff in Region 1. The presence of materials related to Exercise ARCADE confirms the continued use of the bunker.

Segment of the War Room plotting table
Photo by Nick Catford

It was deemed too near the City centre target area for use as War HQ for the Newcastle Sub Region remaining dormant with occasional staff training until about 1965, after that date it was used for storage for the government offices on site. In 1968 it was considered for use as a temporary Sub Regional Control until a purpose built one could be built in Hexham however nothing came of this.

In 1974 it was designated by the Home Office as War HQ for the new Tyne and Wear County Council. However it was never fitted out as the county which was a left wing stronghold refused to pay rent to the Home Office. They used the sub basement of Sunderland Civic Centre instead. Its final use was for storage for MAFF and other users of the government offices.

Photo:Looking into the operations room from the controllers cabin
Photo by Nick Catford

In recent years the government offices have been occupied by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Driving Standards Authority and the Inland Revenue. Recently the offices were vacated by these government agencies and all the 1950's office buildings and some later 'temporary' buildings, were demolished. At the same time a former Royal Observer Corps underground post in the north west corner of the site was also demolished. The site is being developed for residential use.

The plan is to retain the bunker in a compound, which will form a park for residents of new development; the two bunker entrances will be in secure compounds. There are no funds available to restore bunker, but limited visits will be arranged from time to time. The original plan was for a northern branch of the Imperial War Museum, but the council zoned the area as residential and there was no provision for parking etc which stopped the plan being implemented. It has been suggested that a trust might be formed to finance restoration, but so far nothing has happened.

For further information and pictures of Kenton Bar click here

Click here for Blakelaw Filter Room

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated 15th September 2005

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