Despite an injured foot and crutches, I was able to attend another of Keith Ward’s almost weekly visits to Emergency Centres in London and the Home Counties on 11th January. Alan Lawrence and Caroline Ford joined us for a tour of ‘51D6 Sub Group Control’ at Richmond and ‘51C2 Sub Group Control’ at Bexley (The designations date from the early 1980’s when Richmond would have reported to the Group Control at Cheam and Bexley would have reported to Pear Tree House.)
The Richmond bunker was built in the mid 1980’s with a 100% Home Office grant as a replacement for the original ‘D6 Control’ in the old fire station at 91 Queens Road, Twickenham. It has been incorporated into the ground floor and basement of Thames Link House at the corner of Church Road and Kew Road, Richmond. Unusually, this is not a council owned or used office block and it is currently occupied by an Insurance Company, the council paying a peppercorn rent per annum. (They have never actually been asked for the peppercorn !). It is still used as the Richmond Borough Emergency Centre and is fully equipped and operational; several exercises are held there each year; it is also used regularly for training by the fire brigade. Our guide for the visit was the Borough EPO who checks the site each week to ensure everything is in order and functioning.
The entrance is at ground floor level where there is a reception area with various leaflets, a complete run of Civil Protection magazine and various newspaper cuttings on the walls including one about the museum at Kelvedon Hatch. The only other rooms on this level are male and female toilets and a large filter room immediately above the ventilation plant room which is crammed full of filters. Descending the stairs at one end of the reception area it is obvious the bunker was brought into use without being completed. No blast doors or airlocks have ever been installed either on the main entrance or emergency exit. All the walls (except the dormitory) are bare unpainted concrete or brick and none of the cabling has been encased in ducting, being fixed to metal racks suspended from the ceiling in all rooms. The stairs give access to a short corridor which opens (without doors) into the ‘L’ shaped Control Room.
This Room is approximately 50' X 18' with the leg of the ‘L’ 40' in length. It has wooden desks (many predating the bunker) along all walls for the various agencies (fire, police, ambulance, military liaison) etc. with a name on each desk indicating who should sit where. There is a support pillar in the centre of the room. At the far end of the room a door opens into the long communications room (32' X 11'). At one end is the emergency exit which goes through the boiler room up stairs into the car park. Various aging radio sets are still in use including a Pye Westminster Low band FM transceiver linking to the Thames Barrier, a remotely controlled link into the Borough’s communications network with a Pye F290 standby linked to aerials on the roof of the office block. There are two small (more modern) transceivers owned and used by Raynet. 4 NEFAX Fax machines now replace the original teleprinters. A WB1401 Carrier Receiver with an old style speaking telephone is still in place and at the far end of the room is the SX50 ECN (Emergency communication network) unit. In the centre of the room is an old wooden desk for the Communications Officer.
Adjacent to the ECN unit, another door leads into what was the dormitory. This is the only room in the bunker to have painted walls (cream) and is used as an emergency store room. Over 100 folding beds have recently been donated to charities in Kosovo but many other items could not be taken as they do not meet current safety requirements. These include mattresses (which feel as if they are straw filled), sheets, blankets and a large quantity of 1950’s industrial sized thermos flasks (brand new and in their boxes). A door at the far end of the dormitory leads back into the short corridor at the base of the stairs. The next room along the corridor is the kitchen which still contains its cooker, fridge, sink, preparation area and a very large fresh water tank which is now empty. The canteen is adjacent and this is now used for file storage. The next room accessed from the corridor is the single unisex toilet which is accessed up a short flight of steps; the room being on top of the waste tank. There would originally have been two chemical toilets but these have recently been replaced by a single urinal and a WC cubicle. The original metal sluice with its hand pump is still in place. At the far end of the corridor, another room is used for file storage which in turn leads into the standby generator room which contains a Perkins Generator which although dating from the mid 80’s looks brand new; behind it is a large fuel storage tank painted brown. At the far end of this room a door leads into the ventilation plant room with three pump units into the ducting around the bunker. We are now back at the bottom of the stairs.
We spent over two hours at the bunker, our guide who has been in the job for 10 years is very knowledgeable on similar facilities around London and before we left we were each given one of the 1950’s Thermos Flasks and a Plessey PDRM82 Portable Dose Rate Meter.