Cheviot House in Commercial Road E1 was adapted as Stepney Town Hall in 1948, the basement having been previously used during the war as an air raid shelter. In 1953 the basement was strengthened and upgraded to ‘A’ standard to act as Stepney Borough Control. In 1958 it became Tower Hamlets Area Control serving Poplar, Stepney, Hackney and Shoreditch and in 1965 it was redesignated once again as Tower Hamlets Borough Control, remaining operational until the disbanding of the Civil Defence Corps in 1968.
In the 1980’s the control was reactivated and although not modernised, was designated 51B4 reporting the North East Group War Room at Wanstead. Although the 1991 Borough War Plan stated there was no Borough Emergency Centre (just Sector Posts) it did remain equipped and available for use until the end of the Cold War.
The bunker is entered from a flight of steps accessed from the foyer of Cheviot House which has now been downgraded to a local authority housing office. At the bottom of the stairs is a gas tight door opening onto an ‘L’ shaped corridor. To the left along the shorter arm of the ‘L’ there are two rooms on the right both now used for archive storage, the second and larger of the two rooms was probably the signals room. At the end of the corridor on the left is the plant room, the only room in the bunker to remain largely unaltered. The room still retains its ventilation and filtration plant, electric switchgear, fuel tank and a Lister diesel generator dating from 1965.
The generator was last tested in 1999 and was still in good working order. On the far side of the plant room is another gas tight door into an unprotected area of the basement.
From the entrance door there is one room on the left. This would have been the control room but now contains racks of Dexion shelving and is also used for archive storage. There is a blocked doorway or large window into the smaller of the two rooms along the other corridor and a message passing window into the signals room. Beyond the control room a new doorway has been cut through the 3 foot thick concrete wall to give access to the basement of an extension to Cheviot House. At the end of the corridor is a third gas tight door. This was originally the emergency exit with steps up to a door at the front of the building; this door has now been blocked and cycle sheds built in front of it. On the right hand side of the corridor is the domestic area.
The first two rooms on the right are male and female toilets. These have been stripped of all original fittings and the female toilet now acts as a small kitchen and rest room. The third room on the right was the original kitchen, this is now used as a locker room but it still retains its original Butler sink and water tank. Two further rooms on the right have been stripped of original fittings and there was no way of ascertaining their original use.
Ventilation trunking is still in place along the corridors and in each of the rooms.
Those taking part in the visit were Nick Catford and Keith Ward.
- Keith Ward