Prior to the outbreak of WW2 there was an ambitious plan to provide protected accommodation beneath Whitehall. The consulting engineer Sir Harley Dalrymple-Hay was approached to design this accommodation consisting of two parallel 25ft diameter tunnels lined with cast iron tunnel segments as used on the London Underground tube network, with Post Office cables and other utilities provided from a 12ft diameter service tunnel running between them. The whole affair would take two years to build, at a cost of around £1 million and these considerations and the resources it would require were too great and thus the scheme was turned down by the government in October 1939. A later proposal of a single communications tunnel also by Dalrymple-Hay (known today as the Whitehall tunnels) was built.
Pre war the British Army in the UK was organised on a Command and District basis; following the defeat at Dunkirk a new organisation was formed to run parallel with the commands. Called GHQ Home Forces it was responsible for equipping and training of a force to be used for the later invasion of France.
Originally the GHQ had to find accommodation all over Whitehall and West London; it found a semi-permanent home at St. Paul’s School, Hammersmith. the signals formation responsible for GHQ’s communications was No. 1 HQ Signals Regiment (a force of over 1000 personnel). This regiment occupied the basement of the main school building and various other premises nearby.
During the blitz the school and other premises were bombed and especially serious events occurred with the destruction of an extremely important cable junction adjacent to Cadby Hall (the London factory of J. Lyons Ltd.) just east of Shepherds Bush tube station which completely severed primary communications between St. Paul’s School and Faraday House, so a semi-protected remote site for the GHQ Signals was sought. The site chosen was Wentworth Golf Course. ‘Wentworths’ was built for the Duke of Wellington’s brother in law; later in 1850 it was bought by Count Cabrera, a famous Spanish exile. It later became the clubhouse for Wentworth Golf Course. In 1923 the Wentworth Estate was formed resulting in large country houses with extensive grounds being built around the three golf courses.
The estate was requisitioned on the outbreak of war for military use. A series of parallel tunnels were dug under the front of the club house of the same construction and design of that used for the Whitehall tunnel previously mentioned.
When complete this was occupied by the signals to be followed by GHQ Home Forces itself which occupied the club house and many of the surrounding houses and other properties.
In due course GHQ Home Forces became GHQ 21st Army Group which returned to St. Paul’s School by which time (1943) Wentworth had become HQ SHAEF (Rear). Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force was the overall allied command for the invasion of Europe consisting mainly of British, Canadian and US forces and other allies. The main headquarters was at HMS Dryad at Southwick Park on Portsdown Hill (Portsmouth) and Wentworth was the rear (support and admin) headquarters. Following the successful occupation of Europe, SHAEF rear joined SHAEF HQ in Europe thus leaving the Wentworth bunker empty.
Files in the Public Record Office indicate the bunker was constructed in anticipation of a devastating bombardment and resulting evacuation of London. Its location is just south of Wentworth House (now the club house for the golf course) and consists of twin segmental cast iron tubes, taken from London Transport stock, about 100 metres long, separated by a smaller diameter access tunnel. The latter connects to a ramp and stairs up to the surface adjacent to Wentworth House; from here a covered walkway was constructed to give access into the bunker from inside the house, this was built of brick to match the brick of the house.
At the other end of the bunker there is a similar ramp and stairs up to an emergency exit blockhouse at the edge of Wentworth Drive, the access road to the house. The whole bunker is protected on the surface by a massive bombproof ‘burster’ slab with a brick ventilation tower with a cowl protruding. In the tunnels below the air was drawn through under floor channels with vertical riser ducts in the central partition walls in each room to a grill high in the wall. The under floor channels are joined under the plant room.
At the end of the war Wentworth House was handed back to the golf club and the military use of the tunnels ceased. It is unclear if the golf club ever used the tunnels although post war lighting has at some time been installed. By the 1970’s both entrances had been sealed by the Golf Club although the entrance on Wentworth Drive has been sporadically open since then despite attempts by the Golf Club to prevent access and graffiti over many of the walls indicate the tunnels have been visited over a long period by local children and other explorers.
The burster slab above the bunker is now used as a car park and all evidence of the ventilation tower has been removed. The covered walkway linking the main entrance into the bunker has been demolished and the entrance into the tunnels has been securely sealed with brick and concrete. The entrance on Wentworth Drive is also currently sealed and the club vigorously oppose any request for access although they did open the bunker for the press in 1987.
The emergency entrance which is clearly visible in a break in the hedgerow on the edge of Wentworth Drive consists of a small wedge shaped concrete blockhouse protruding out of the ground. Steps lead though 90 degrees to the top of the inclined tunnel down into the bunker. This runs for 50 metres to a doorway (door removed) followed by an airlock (doors removed) meeting the main access tunnel though the bunker at right angles. The access tunnel is 100 metres in length with two airlocks evenly spaced along it. There are 11 rooms on either side of the tunnel each approximately 8 metres in length. There is a door from the access tunnel into the centre of each room with the rooms being subdivided into two by a central partition wall. Two of the rooms on the south side are 17 metres long with two doorways from the central access tunnel and two partition walls subdividing the rooms into two small rooms and one long room.
At the west end of the bunker the last room on the south side was a plant room but the entrance into this is partially filled with soil and rubble, this is not a roof collapse as the cast iron tunnel segments are still in good condition. There is no evidence of the plant although some wiring remains in place. The under floor channel is connected to the corresponding channel in the last room on the north side with rectangular exhaust and intake vents high in the wall. A channel runs through each of the partition walls to a grill covered by a conical metal cowl on either side of the partition. At the east end of the bunker on the south side there is an additional small room accessed through the last room this contains a sump and an engine bed on either side of the room.
At the west end of the access tunnel the main access from Wentworth House comes in at right angles. There is a further airlock (doors removed) and then the tunnel turns through 45 degrees onto the 50 metre long ramp up to the surface, at the top of the ramp the stairway is sealed by a brick wall.
The bunker has been largely stripped of all fixtures and fittings, all internal doors, most door frames and floorboards have been removed leaving just the brick piers that supported the boards and the brick partition walls subdividing each room, these have been painted white although many are now covered in graffiti. The tunnels are dry and the tunnels segments are all in excellent condition, each embossed LPTB, London Passenger Transport Board.
Cast iron tunnel segments were also used during WW2 to line the access tunnels to the underground Naval Headquarters and communications centre at Portland in Dorset and during the 1950’s for the access tunnel into the Rotor Sector Operations Centre at Barnton Quarry in Edinburgh and the Portland CEW Radar Station.
- National Archive file: WO205/1085
- Bob Jenner
- Keith Ward
- Roger Morgan
- Andrew Emmerson
- Mark Russell