During WW2 the three divisions of the Southern Railway (later Southern Region) in the London area were provided with a protected ‘bunker’ from which decisions could be taken as to which trains had priority and how to allocate scarce resources etc. In this connection they were provided with dedicated ‘Control’ telephones to every signal cabin in their Division and to other strategic locations (e.g. other control offices, main motive power depots, Electrical Control office, etc.). In more recent times there was also a control teleprinter network as well.
The three bunkers were sited in the station yards at Orpington (South East Division), Redhill (South Central Division) and Orpington (South West Division). There was also a Regional Control, which, for the Southern Railway during WW2, was in purpose built tunnels behind Deepdene House near Dorking, Surrey. The house itself, which had become the Deepdene Hotel, had been taken over by the Southern Railway as their Regional Headquarters remaining operational until the mid 1960’s. The House was demolished in 1969 and a new office block built on the site but the tunnels at the rear still exist although now sealed.
The bunker at Orpington is located at the rear of the former engine shed on the eastern side of the station behind the bus station. The former engine shed is now used as a rest room by Railtrack and Connex staff prior to their shift. There are two entrances, both protected by blast walls. One is alongside the footpath that runs underneath the railway line. This has been bricked up with rubbish piled between the blast walls. The other is on Railtrack property behind the engine shed. This entrance, which is under a covered concrete roof resting on a brick pillar, consists of a steel gas tight door with a small circular glass window at eye level.
Inside the door, a flight of steps leads down into the bunker. At the bottom of the stairs was another gas tight door, forming an air lock, but this has now been removed. A doorway to the right was bricked up in the 1960’s when two rooms in the bunker were used as a BR social club. From the stairs there is a short corridor then the passage turns at right angles to the left where there is one room to the left. This room is now completely filled with rubbish, much of it from the former social club.
Straight on is the ventilation and electrical plant room. Much of the ventilation trunking remains but the fan and filters have been removed. Small square section trunking goes through two walls at ceiling level to ventilate the rest of the bunker and can be seen in all rooms and corridors. There are two large metal cabinets one with a connection to the ventilation system. They are lying on top of each other on the floor and as they are empty and probably not in their original position it is unclear how they fitted into the ventilation system. There are two concrete blocks along one wall and two more free standing concrete blocks along another wall. There are no obvious mountings on them and it again is unclear what their use was. There are numerous electrical switches and fuse boxes mounted on one wall.
A hole has been made (by Railtrack staff) in the bricked up doorway giving access to the rest of the bunker. This leads into a long room, which still contains much of its original furniture (desks, tables, shelves etc.) painted green and in poor condition. The gas tight door from the bottom of the stairs is lying on the floor. There is some wording on the inside of the door ‘Air Lock - Upon receipt of the purple or red gas warning close all steel doors when entering or leaving the shelter. The first door must be closed before opening the second’. There are some more electrical fuse boxes on the wall. This was probably the control room. At the far end of the room a corridor leads to the right.
There are three small cubicles on the left hand side, each is timber lined with a light fitting, and one has two shelves. It seems likely that these were communications booths. Beyond the booths is another long room on the right, similar to the previous one. This room is completely empty and the floorboards are rotten. The corridor continues past this room, there is a dogleg to the left and then a similar sized room on the left, this too is empty.
On the same side of the room as the corridor is another gas tight door. The word ‘Air Lock’ is still visible but the other words cannot be deciphered although they appear to be different to the previous door. Behind the door is a wooden rifle rack for six rifles that would have been used by the Home Guard. At the top of a short flight of steps is another gas tight door forming an air lock. Beyond this is the bricked up second entrance.
All internal wooden doors have been removed but some of them are leaning against a wall. Externally the bunker is covered with earth and there are small trees and bushes growing on the top. At one end, above the plant room is the ventilation shaft and at one side is a delapidated wooden building, probably from the same period, which may have been used as an office.