London Civil Defence Controls

During the last war the boroughs of Greater London were divided pie-like into five sectors, three north and two south of the Thames. This division continued to be used for civil defence into the 1990s. With the re-emergence of civil defence in the early 1950s, four of the sectors were provided with war rooms originally known as “sub-regional commissioner’s offices”.

These four war rooms were identical; two have now been demolished the other two survive as house conversions:

These served (in order) the North, North East, South East and South West civil defence groups. A control for the North West Group was never built. During the 1970s and early 1980s a former civil defence centre in Southall was nominally the Group Control.

The Kemnal Manor (Chislehurst) war room was abandoned and is now heavily vandalised. Its role was taken over by one of the oddest bunkers ever built. This occupied the bottom two floors (not underground) of a block of council flats at Pear Tree House, Lunham Road., SE19 and was the South East Group Control until the end of the civil defence era. The Mill Hill war room was apparently abandoned by the early 1980s.

The four war rooms were built to a common design in 1951-53 on the edge of the conurbation. They were single-storey surface blockhouses topped by three distinctive ventilator shafts. They were built around a central area which could be viewed from the controller’s offices through glass screens. There was the usual back-up generator and air filters. A small canteen was provided but as in controls generally at this level there was minimal sleeping provision.

In their last role as Group Controls or Emergency Centres they stood between the controls of the individual London boroughs and the RGHQ for London at Kelvedon Hatch and they would have performed a similar function in a post-strike regional government as a County Main Emergency Centre although unlike the counties they had no standby centre. Apparently, they were considered close enough to be mutually supporting. They were administered by the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (LFCDA) but as this, unlike County Councils, had no staff of its own the Group Control Staff including the Group Controller would have been provided by the borough councils within the group.

By the time civil defence was revamped in the early 1980s only the Cheam, Wanstead and Pear Tree House controls were operational. When the new message switching teleprinters were installed at the end of the decade the equipment for the North and North West groups had to be installed at the LFCDA’s headquarters to maintain the system’s integrity.

By the late 1980s the Mill Hill war room was nominally designated as the North Group control although it was never re-equipped. Plans had also been drawn up to provide the North West Group with a control by converting the former tube station at Brompton Road. It is possible that the intention was to use this as a centre for a general London-wide peacetime emergency in the spirit of ‘civil protection’ which by this time had all but replaced the term ‘civil defence’ but the plan was abandoned when the moratorium was placed on capital expenditure for civil defence. There is no sign that the controls were ever exercised although at least Wanstead was involved in exercise Square Leg.