Vange was the site of a Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft Operations Room (AAOR), covering the Thames North gun defended area (Group 1, Brigade 9⁄11). It is located on Marsh Farm, near Basildon. It was one of many two level surface blockhouses throughout the country built in the early 1950’s to control the 3.7” anti-aircraft guns installed after the war. Like ROTOR, most of these blockhouses were obsolete by the early 1960’s. Some were converted for other uses but that at Vange was abandoned and was offered back to the local farmer. It lay derelict for many years with many of the remaining artefacts, including the plotting room tables going, on permanent loan to Dover Castle where they form a major part of the displays at Hellfire Corner (and form part of a ‘WW2’ display! - Ed).
Post war, the Vange AAOR served seven gun sites; most AAOR’s do not have a gun site alongside but Vange unusually, does. The other gun sites controled from Vange were at Hadleigh (TQ799864), Rayleigh (TQ797923), Bucklands - East Tilbury (TQ678772), Ridgemarsh Farm (TR022943), Stonden Massey (TQ574999) and Ramsden Hall (TQ701954).
During the 1990’s the site was leased to Challenger UK, a paint ball company that went bust a couple of years ago, since then the ‘bunker’ has remained locked and unused.
The painballers have left the bunker in an apalling condition, the roof is leaking badly, and there are several inches of water on the floor of the lower level. The power is still connected and when the main switch was thrown during a visit by members of Subterranea Britannica in November 1999 the lights, mostly original fittings, came on but after a few minutes several small ‘explosions’ were heard with sparks flying from fuse boxes which were getting very hot.
The paintballers have left their mark in more ways than one, not only have they left the ‘bunker’ strewn with old tyres and other man made barriers to hide behind but they have also done considerable damage to the internal wooden lining of the ops room and gallery and in places the tiled floors are very slippery from the paint and the smell is rather oppressive. Despite the camouflage netting liberally spread around the ops room its layout is still easily recognisable. The toilets have been refurbished and are still functioning with some of the original fittings still in place. Most other rooms have been completely stripped apart from the ventilation plant room which was locked and out of bounds to the paintballers. Everything in the room is intact, clean and in good order, even down to the notices on the wall. The rest of the bunker is a mess from top to bottom with most of the damage being done by the paintballers but it is not beyond repair and apart from the roof the building is structurally sound and in fair condition.
The owner hopes to re-roof the building in the near future with a view to leasing it out to somebody. He was visited by government officials in the late 1980’s with a view to re-activating the site as a local authority bunker but after the visit heard nothing more from them.
A second visit was arranged in early 2000 to clear the op’s room of rubbish left by the paintballers The ‘well’ floor was littered with piles of old car tyres, oil drums and large pieces of timber that had been used as barricades. These have all been cleared and stacked in an adjacent room. Tarpaulin and netting stretched across the balcony has also been removed allowing the two level ops room to be viewed in its entirety. Most of the timber framework on the balcony is still intact although all the perspex panels have long since gone. In the room behind the op’s room there are several files of papers from its operational days together with several large maps including a civil defence map of the UK. Unfortunately all the papers are very damp and should be removed to dry out.
Adjacent to the bunker the earlier WW2 AAOR still stands empty amongst a clump of bushes and numerous other buildings still stand around the site including the gun store (with name on the door) now used as a chicken house, several camp huts and pill boxes. Unfortunately the main magazine and gun pits have been buried.