The bunker, now known as the Gravesend Cold War Bunker, was a Civil Defence Sub-Divisional Control Centre and was built in 1954 on the site of a Second World War air raid shelter. It was intended as a command centre for local rescue and emergency services in the event of nuclear attack and is a part-buried single-storey rectangular structure, approx. 20m by 14m in size and with a 0.46m thick reinforced concrete outer shell covered with earth.
Reached by a stair from Wrotham Road (and with an emergency escape within Woodlands Park) the bunker’s 14 rooms included control and communications areas, segregated male and female sleeping and sanitary accommodation, a small kitchenette, power and ventilation plant rooms. Apart from the two entrances and the turf covered mound itself, other external manifestations would have been the three concrete ventilation intakes, a generator exhaust pipe, a liquid waste tank and a lamppost doubling up as a radio mast.
The communications areas were similar to those from a Second World War Control Room and included a waiting room, a messenger’s room, a message handling room, and a liaison officer’s room. The control suite meanwhile contained a sub-divisional control room (which included the kitchenette), the Controller’s office, and the District Control Room.
The original brick, timber and even glazed partitions remain insitu as well as some fitted timber furniture, wall hatches, room signage and ventilation plant. Sadly the generator was removed at some stage.
In a crisis it would have been staffed by about 35 civil defence volunteers and local authority and emergency service staff under the command of Gravesend’s Town Clerk. There was however no airlock, gas protection or decontamination facilities, so anyone sent out from the bunker would have been unable to return without bringing in contamination with them.
It was operational until 1968 when the Civil Defence Corps was disbanded and its tasks were transferred to Gravesham and Dartford civic centres. Following decommissioning, it was refurbished in the late 1990s and is now fitted out as a Cold War museum, with some fascinating exhibits including the casing of a WE177 air-dropped nuclear bomb as carried by the Royal Air Force from the 1960s on, and a mock-up Royal Observer Corps post.
Thanks to the dedicated group of volunteers for the visit.
The bunker is currently closed (2015) following damage by flooding, but repairs are underway and it is expected to reopen again soon. Contact Gravesend Visitor Centre 01474 337600 for further information