The Cherwell District Council Emergency Centre was located in the converted basement of the Victorian Town Hall in Bridge Street in the centre of Banbury. The basement is now used by the multimedia and arts department of the council and houses their ‘Animation Station’ with the rooms stacked with computers and video recording and duplicating equipment. Despite the colourful murals now painted on all the internal walls, there is still evidence of the previous ‘tenants’.
It’s unclear exactly when the basement was converted into a control centre but the generator dates from the 1960’s so it seems likely that it was in the late 60’s or early 70’s with an upgrade in 1984. The entrance to the basement is through an inconspicuous door adjacent to the steps up to the main Town Hall entrance where stairs lead down to a plate steel door. The stairs continue down to a metal grille door, just before this is the ‘standby generator room’, the only room that remains completely unaltered, still retaining its Lister generator, battery (for starting the generator), battery charger, electrical switchgear and a fuel tank.
Once through the metal grille there is a right turn into the colourful arched spine corridor with rooms left and right. The first room on the left was originally the ‘Liaison Officers room’, the second room was the ‘Communications Room’ with a partition at the end into a small ‘Radio Room’. The partition has now gone leaving one long room. The SX50 ECN unit would have been located here and the control boxes for it is still mounted on the wall. There are tables along both walls with a number of redundant phone sockets at the back of them. There are also some old aerial sockets at the end of the room.
The next room on the left was the ‘Operations Room’, this also had a partition at the end (now removed) into the ‘Chief Executives Room’. Again there are redundant phone sockets on either side of the room. The final room on the left was the ‘Scientific Advisors Room’. At the back of this room there is a steel door and beyond this a boiler room. The boiler and its adjacent fuel tank are still in use as they supply the whole building. Beyond the fuel tank there is an emergency exit to the right consisting of step irons fixed to the wall up to a hinged metal trap door in the ceiling which opens in the town hall above. There is a second emergency escape at the end of a fifteen foot long tunnel where there are more step irons in a shaft up to a second hinged door in the pavement in High Street above.
The first room on the right of the spine corridor was the ‘Staff Officer’ and ‘Dormitory’, and beyond this the ‘Dining and Recreation Room’ This gives access to two further rooms on its left hand side and a door into the dormitory on the right hand side. The first room is the unisex toilet which is largely unaltered retaining two WC cubicles and two hand basins, the second room is the ‘Kitchen’ which is also largely unaltered retaining its wooden cupboards and long food preparation table, stainless steel sink, Hotpoint cooker, Kelvinator fridge and a water tank. There is a steel door on the right hand wall of the kitchen. This is a third emergency exit with steps up to double trap doors opening in the pavement of Market Place above. We were unable to open this door as it’s known to be flooded behind it. The controls for the ventilation plant are located in an alcove in the kitchen. The plant is still in use pumping air through the ventilation trunking which runs into all the rooms in the basement.
Those taking part in the visit were Nick Catford, Keith Ward and Andrew Smith.