Site Records

Site Name: Oxgate (IP) Admiralty Citadel

Oxgate Lane
London, NW 2
OS Grid Rew: TQ228870

Sub Brit site visit April 2001 & December 2003

[Source: Nick Catford]


[Source: Ken Valentine]

In the 1930's there were several schemes to provide protected accommodation for central government and the armed services away from Whitehall in the event of a devastating attack on central London. Several locations were proposed including sites in the West Midland and Wiltshire but as war was approaching in 1939 the government became committed to the North-West London Suburbs Scheme which included the building of three subterranean reserve war rooms for the military and the government.

The Air Ministry was to have a bomb-proof citadel at Harrow Weald (Station Z) and the Admiralty at Oxgate in the far north of Willesden. The War Office's citadel at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, could not be protected securely enough to be bomb-proof so a third bunker was proposed at Dollis Hill which later became known as Paddock and also housed the stand-by cabinet war room.

Photo:The surface building at the corner of Edgware Road and Oxgate Lane
Photo by Nick Catford

Since 1923, the Admiralty had occupied a naval charts establishment on a site close to the Edgware Road between Humber Road and Oxgate Lane, about 500 yards south of Staples Corner. When, in 1937, a plan had to be formed for creating a bomb-proof Admiralty citadel in the north-west suburbs, it was thought that this site (known as Admiralty Chart Factory, Cricklewood) could be 'innocently enlarged' in peacetime by using the oblong acre of vacant land which lay between the factory and Oxgate Lane, fronting the Edgware Road for some 70 yards and Oxgate Lane for nearly 50 yards. The building work could be done 'without giving rise to suspicion' while an aerial survey of the district made for the Office of Works by the Air Ministry showed that in this part of London it would be difficult for enemy bombers to pick out individual targets. The Office of Works nevertheless suggested that two landmarks in the vicinity, both easily recognisable from the air, might need to be concealed. It was suggested that the Welsh Harp should be drained and the marshalling yards of the L.M.S. railway's Brent sidings could be disguised by painting white lines across them to suggest roads. Neither of these steps was in fact taken.

In May 1937 experts from the Office of Works and the Admiralty visited the Oxgate Lane site to assess possibilities, after which an Office of Works architect, C. J. Mole, produced a design for a three storey building above ground, plus an upper basement and a specially protected lower basement; this later influenced the design of the citadel at Dollis Hill. As building operations, which started in late 1937, were expected to take two years to complete, it was arranged in mid 1938 that the Post Office Research Station in Brook Road, Dollis Hill should be designated as the Admiralty's temporary reserve accommodation for use in an emergency, with space for the First Lord of the Admiralty, the First Sea Lord, the permanent secretary, the parliamentary secretary and the deputy chief of the naval staff. This was the situation at the time of Munich

Plan of the sub-basement of the Oxgate Citadel
Surveyed and drawn by Bob Jenner

The Admiralty retained a reservation on this accommodation at the research station until December 1939, when they were able to occupy the Oxgate citadel with a small party of naval and civilian staff ensuring that, if Whitehall became unusable, essential naval operations could be directed for the time being from this secure alternative base. The three storey surface building now numbered 403 - 405 Edgware Road was completed a year later.

Because this was a sort of insurance policy, the staff who went to Oxgate were known within the Admiralty as the 'insurance party' and the Citadel acquired the code-name IP.

At first the 'insurance party' included one naval captain and seven naval commanders with a substantial staff. To support this nucleus, if the need were to arise, staff of lesser importance were to have been accommodated in evacuated schools in the neighbourhood like Mora Road council school in Cricklewood near Gladstone Park (capacity about 240) and Braintcroft school in Warren Road Neasden (capacity about 200) but it seems that in the event these schools, though requisitioned by the Office of Works on the outbreak of war after evacuation, were not in fact used for this purpose.

The superstructure of the IP building (known as The New Building to distinguish it from the original chart factory) was evidently completed in 1940 because the main entrance at the corner of Oxgate Lane and Edgware Road displays to this day the royal monogram GR VI with a crown and the date 1940, all in 'gold' metal, above the door - just as if this was a run-of-the-mill government building with nothing to hide. But the curious may have wondered why the entry for the chart factory which had been appearing regularly in Kelly's street directory for about sixteen years was suddenly excluded in 1941, leaving a blank space. Another precaution for the sake of concealment was that all personal correspondence emanating from IP employees was taken down by courier to the Admiralty in Whitehall and posted from there.

Photo:The spine corridor in the sub-basement
Photo by Nick Catford

It would have been surprising if there had not been considerable contact between IP and Paddock which was less than a mile from Oxgate. In January 1940 the commandant-designate of Paddock , which was still far from finished, was taken down to Oxgate to see what his own citadel might look like when completed. Later, the workers at both citadels were to be close neighbours in the flats of Neville's Court.

The Admiralty was the first Department to move into Neville's Court, taking four flats in late August 1939. A large corner flat on the second floor was taken for the First Lord of the Admiralty. Two flats were specially strengthened and knocked into one for Winston Churchill.
By March 1941 Paddock was almost in eclipse and the greater part of Neville's Court had been de-requisitioned. But in June 1941 the Admiralty still held sixteen flats which were not relinquished until January 1945.

Admiralty officers who occupied flats in Neville's Court were accustomed to walk down to sleep in the total security of the Oxgate citadel. One frosty evening in February 1942 Rear-Admiral Taylor, who was sharing Flat 11 with Vice-Admiral Blake, was nearing the end of this ten minute journey when he slipped on a patch of ice in Humber Road and suffered a fractured shoulder, which had to be treated in St Andrew's Hospital nearby.

The New Building in Oxgate Lane (IP) continued to operate continuously into 1943, when it was described as the Admiralty's stand-by in case the new Whitehall citadel got blitzed. But it had ceased to be operational by the end of 1944. After the war it was occupied for many years by the Health and Safety Executive but is now in private hands.

For further information and pictures of the Oxgate Admiralty citadel click here

[Source: Ken Valentine]

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