In the late 1930s with war imminent and a sustained bombing assault on London probable it was decided that an alternative Cabinet War Room be created away from central London. A location was chosen close to the GPO Research Station in the suburb of Dollis Hill where work on the Enigma computer was being conducted. The new bunker was built 40 feet below the ground, 37 bomb proof rooms over two floors with their own generator and air conditioning system. The citadel was given the codename Paddock.
Despite its huge cost and the difficulty of its construction Paddock was only used twice. Once as a trial run with Winston Churchill in attendance; the other time to, bizarrely, impress the visiting Australian prime minister. Though quite why it was thought he would be impressed seems to be unrecorded.
After the war the site was used variously as a Post Office staff club, a recording studio and as a storage depot. Gradually it slipped into disrepair and was eventually abandoned. It wasn't until 5 years ago that the site was reopened for visitors, albeit on only two days a year.
There is something really special about historic sites that have been allowed to decay. Whilst I am not against renovation I am generally against recreation. I prefer castles with the walls falling down and dangerous holes in the floor. I really don't want to see people dressed up as minstrels or choreographed knights fighting with silver painted wooden swords.
So I am pleased to report that on the first open day of the year Paddock had no Winston Churchill look-alike to greet us at the door. Aside from the pumping out of settled water in the lower level and the installation of rudimentary lighting the rooms have been left pretty much as they were when they were rediscovered.
The bunker is creepy. There are stalactites and fungal blooms. The machinery is covered in rust, the wooden furniture has rotted and collapsed in on itself and the sound of dripping water is constant.
I could say that it was like a horror film. Or like a video game. And it's true, it is like those things but of course they are only an approximation of this kind of environment. To experience the dismal, damp decay of an abandoned bunker for real is a rare privilege.
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