When you’re facing World War II it’s wise to have a secret bunker to retreat to in times of National Emergency. But what if that got bombed or discovered? Better have a spare just in case…
Winston Churchill’s spare secret bunker was Paddock Wood, in a part of Dollis Hill in North London so obscure even Londonophiles generally don’t know it. In one of the least exciting buildings you would want to investigate (obviously) even today hardly anyone knows about it.
Very much the poor relation, poor old Paddock Bunker was disliked by Churchill almost the moment he saw it. It was never given the resources or human-power to make it work as smoothly as the splendid hidey-hole in Whitehall, and was eventually abandoned and forgotten.
Where Whitehall ‘enjoyed’ dormitories and (very) basic comforts, Paddock was going to use some local flats. The 40-odd rooms were small and although just about did the job, were nothing like as comprehensive as their inner city cousin’s.
It was manned by a ‘skeleton staff’ during the whole of the war – it must have been a thankless task for the dozen or so poor sods who had to try to keep it active just in case it was needed. On the plus side it had a virtually-nil chance of being discovered by the enemy so it was, at least, relatively safe, and bombproof.
Part of the General Post Office’s massive research facility – a generally splendid building on top of a hill, so glorious I initially took it for an ex town hall (it’s now flats) this tiny little two-floored cavern was constructed, obviously, in complete secrecy.
After the war it had a few half-hearted uses – as a social club for GPO employees, for example, but it was, eventually left to its own devices. Even then it wasn’t a disaster until about ten years ago when Network Homes, a housing association responsible for the flats above it, accidentally hit the seal and it’s now almost always under several feet of water.
The site is deteriorating in front of your eyes – tiny ‘calcite straws'(the precursor to stalagtites) hang from the ceiling, the floors, even after being pumped are running with water and the engineering equipment considered too difficult to return to the surface are returning to the earth. Anthing wooden or rottable is rotting.
So really, it’s a now-or-never visit. The good folk at SubBrit are enthusiastic and helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and a few love having their photos taken…
They have great stories – my favourite was that apparently one of the doors used to be marked ‘Captain David Niven’. The story goes that Niven, who had joined up briefly, then left the forces to become an actor, re-joined when war broke out but was forced to go through the ranks. Perhaps Paddock was his punishment, though I also read that he was given facilities there so he could impersonate Churchill in times of greatest need. Why not…
On the day I went we actually had our own Winnie impersonator..
Interestingly that Standard article seems to have been written before the bunker started leaking and everything was just left as it had been, but there are no images, chiz.
It does get booked up so it’s worth marking it in the diary to book as soon as it’s open.