Site Records


Southampton: Bitterne: Eastern Sub-Control.

Somerset Avenue
Southampton

Photo:The bunker `at the bottom of the garden'.
Photo by Nick Catford

CITY OF SOUTHAMPTON
CIVIL DEFENCE 1948 - 1968
A BRIEF HISTORY: Eastern Sub-Control, Bitterne


[Source: Michael White]

Civil Defence HQ

The Civil Defence Act 1948 placed new responsibilities upon local authorities to make adequate arrangements for civil defence. The County Borough of Southampton set up a Civil Defence Department, which was originally based in room 106 at the Civic Centre. On the 28th February 1951 the department moved to accommodation at the former Fire Department premises, 15 Hulse Road. The building was refurbished to provide a lecture room and was re-opened on 1 June 1960. The Civil Defence Department ceased operating on 31 October 1968 when it's responsibilities for planning were transferred to the Town Clerk's department.

Control Centre, Bassett

Home Office Civil Defence circular 3/1952 dealt with the provision of local authority control centres and advised that they be provided on the basis of population numbers as follows:-

  • Up to 100,000 = 1 Control Centre
  • Over 100,000 = 1 Control Centre + 1 sub control
  • 250,000 - 300,000 = 1 Control Centre + 2 sub controls
  • Over 400,000 = 1 Control Centre + 1 sub control for every 100,000 persons

Home Office approval for the building of a control centre was granted on 11 April 1953. The site chosen was on the north of Bassett Green Road just to the west of the junction with The Avenue. No information is available as to why this site was chosen but the fact that it was on the northern edge of the city and thus at the greatest distance from the perceived target of the docks, was no doubt a contributory factor. The centre was handed over by the builders on 5th August 1954 and officially opened on 7th August 1954 by the Deputy Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, Sir Arthur Hutchinson. As the centre was built on Forestry Commission land an underlease from the Ministry of Agriculture was needed and a 99 year lease was signed on 19th June 1957. The centre comprised a liaison officer's room, senior intelligence officer's room, three operations rooms, three communications rooms, a kitchen and a motor room with all accommodation at ground level. The control centre was retained on a care and maintenance basis as agreed with the Home Office (letter dated 21 August 1968) with responsibility for its upkeep passing to the City Engineer's Department.

By the early to mid 1960's, Home Office advice on the provision of control centres stated that such centres should be located at the local authority's administrative headquarters. This, together with guidance on the suggested number of staff required to operate within centres, meant that the Bassett control centre was inadequate. Planning for the provision of a new control centre was slow with suggestions that a new centre be built under the police station and magistrates court wing, or under the south-east wing of the Civic Centre, or that various basement offices within the Civic Centre be adapted. With the decision to stand-down most elements of civil defence in 1968, it was apparent that the Home Office would not fund the provision of a new centre and so the Bassett control centre remained as Southampton's only local authority control centre.

Eastern Sub-Control, Bitterne

As will be seen above, by Home Office standards the City needed one sub-control centre. The Civil Defence Committee felt that this was inadequate and had already identified a number of locations on the western side of the city for a sub control (see below). On the eastern side of the City it was decided that a new sub-control would be built on land adjacent the junction of Somerset Avenue and Bitterne Road. Planning permission was granted on 8th December 1953 and it was officially opened on Thursday 1st September 1955 by Councillor A J Guard, Chairman of the Civil Defence Committee. As with the Bassett control centre, the Bitterne sub-control was retained on a care and maintenance basis with the stand-down of Civil Defence in 1968.

Western Sub-Control

For reasons, which are unknown, a western sub-control was never established. A number of locations for such a centre had been identified including:-

  • Oatlands House, Winchester Road, Shirley
  • Day Nursery, Tremona Road
  • Freemantle Common
  • Day Nursery, junction Northlands Road and The Avenue
  • Shirley Recreation Ground (west-side)

Other Premises

A training rescue ground was established at the Corporation Yard, Kent Road, Portswood. This replaced a previous facility in war damaged properties in Blechynden Terrace, adjacent to the railway station. Stores of civil defence equipment were held at the former Ambulance Station in West Quay Road and the former Police Station, Paynes Road, Shirley. There were a number of wartime ARP (air raid precaution) posts which, upon Home Office advice, were retained as sector posts. These were located at:-

  • Merry Oak Green
  • Furzedown Road, Highfield
  • Shirley Recreation Ground
  • Golf Course Road
  • 14 Queen's Park
  • Deepdene (where there were also 2 public shelters)
  • Junction of Castle Road and Dell Road
  • Waterworks site, Butterfield Road
  • Junction of Thornhill Park Road and Upper Deacon Road (where there were also 3 public shelters)
  • Northam School, Kent Street
  • 3 Stoneham Lane
  • Path from Brookvale Road to Orchards Way

Michael White
Emergency Planning Unit
Southampton City Council
June 2001


RSG Site Visit report: 28th March 2001

[Source: Nick Catford]

On Wednesday 28th March, 15 members of Subterranea Britannica descended on the South Coast to visit two fascinating local authority bunkers including a post war Sub-Control in Southampton (Our first port of call was Fort Fareham in Hampshire SU573049 ).

Southampton had one post war sub control centres reporting to the main control centre at Bassett. This sub control is located in the rear garden of a house in Somerset Avenue, the owner having bought it when the strip of land at the rear of his property was offered for sale some years ago. When it was sold, the site was heavily overgrown and the owner of the house hadn't even noticed the building at the bottom of his garden. The bunker is not visible from the road and the owner would not welcome casual visitors.

It consists of a custom built surface blockhouse (opened in 1955) which last saw active service as a control centre in 1968; it is in amazingly good internal condition. Passing through the main entrance, the passage turns right into an airlock. On the outer door are the words 'Air lock doors to be kept shut when ventilating plant is working'. Passing through the inner door, the passage turns left into the main corridor. The first room on the right has 'Plant room - no admittance' on the door. Inside the ventilation plant is in good order although the standby generator at the rear has been removed.

The main corridor turns to the right where there is a small room with 'Pantry' on the door. This room contains a 1950's electric stove, sink, water heater, large kettle, teapot and a cupboard containing a large quantity of 1950's crockery. Next to the pantry are two rooms one has 'Womens dormitory' on the door and the other has 'Mens dormitory'. There is a ladder on the wall of the men's dormitory leading to an emergency escape hatch in the roof; this has now been welded shut. At the far end of the main corridor, before it turns right into the dormitories are the men's and women's toilets each containing two cubicles, a basin and a water heater.

The first room on the left hand side of the main corridor has 'Communications' on the door with acoustic booths located along both walls and a small message passing window back into the main corridor.

The final room, alongside the communications room has 'Operations' on the door. Inside there is a large 12" to 1 mile map of Southampton on the wall, it is now in a delapidated state. There are blackboards either side of the map, one is headed 'Locations Board' with 5 columns 'Control', 'Location', Sub-ordinate control', 'R.V.' and 'Remarks'. The other is headed 'Resources Board' this is sub-divided into two columns, 'Available' and 'Allocated' The available column is itself sub-divided into two columns, 'Ops. Base' and 'R.V.' There are also several tables, a small door in the far wall marked 'Emergency Exit' leading to a second ladder up onto the roof. A second message passing window links to the communications room. There is ventilation trunking around the bunker and all the woodwork is painted green. In the operations room and the communications room there are three coloured lights (red, amber and green), perhaps for indicating alert state.

The bunker is clean and dry. The communications room is used for storage by the house owner but most of the other rooms are empty and unused. The owner has installed lights in the corridor, ops room and communications room.

Photo: The operations room showing map, resources board and the emergency exit on the left.
Photo by Nick Catford

The final room, alongside the communications room has 'Operations' on the door. Inside there is a large 12" to 1 mile map of Southampton on the wall, it is now in a delapidated state. There are blackboards either side of the map, one is headed 'Locations Board' with 5 columns 'Control', 'Location', Sub-ordinate control', 'R.V.' and 'Remarks'. The other is headed 'Resources Board' this is sub-divided into two columns, 'Available' and 'Allocated' The available column is itself sub-divided into two columns, 'Ops. Base' and 'R.V.' There are also several tables, a small door in the far wall marked 'Emergency Exit' leading to a second ladder up onto the roof. A second message passing window links to the communications room. There is ventilation trunking around the bunker and all the woodwork is painted green. In the operations room and the communications room there are three coloured lights (red, amber and green), perhaps for indicating alert state.

The bunker is clean and dry. The communications room is used for storage by the house owner but most of the other rooms are empty and unused. The owner has installed lights in the corridor, ops room and communications room. Note: the bunker is not visible from the road and the owner would not welcome casual visitors.

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated 29th June 2001

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