Britain's secret bunkers being put to very different uses today

Britain’s secret bunkers: The hidden hideouts from the Cold War and WW2 which have been put to VERY different uses – from a wine cellar to PING-PONG BARS, underground nightclubs, crazy golf and multi-million pound homes

  • Thousands of bunkers dating back to World War II and the Cold War are empty
  • Some like Kelvedon Hatch in Essex have been preserved for historic record
  • Others, however, have been converted to underground farms, bars and homes 

Thousands of bunkers dating back to the Second World War and Cold War lie disused and deserted across the UK.

While during times of conflict these spaces were deemed essential amid the threat of bombs and nuclear weapons, many now remain derelict. 

Some, such as the Kelvedon Hatch in Essex, have been preserved to provide a historic record of what these shelters were like and how they were designed to allow thousands of people to live underground, should the time come.

Others, however, have been put to very different uses – from storing expensive wines and underground farming, to bars and gold courses and even multi-million pound homes. 

There are hundreds of bunkers across the UK that were built in during the World  Wars and the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear weapons and bombings was rife. Subterranean Britannica has compiled information about where the bunkers are located – the majority are in the south of the country

Corsham Ammunition Depot and Standby Government Headquarters converted into a wine cellar

Deep underground in the rural Wiltshire village of Gastard lies an underground cellar 100ft deep and larger than 22 football pitches combined.

The site was first dug out as a freestone mine to quarry Bath stone that was then shipped across the world.

Later on, between the First and Second World War it was taken over by the Ministry of Defence who in 1935 converted to become an ammunition dump, keeping thousands of weapons tucked away safe from bombs. 

Octavian Fine Wines are now based in Corsham where there used to be a huge underground bunker used in both the Second World War and in the Cold War

Owner of Octavian Wines Nigel Jagger said ‘everybody thought (he) was mad’ when he decided to buy the huge underground storage unit to keep fine wines.

The space was then kitted out with ducting to regulate humidity and new entry tunnels. The shafts were also strengthened.

In 2004, the site was finally taken off the secret list and it was revealed it had been converted to house the Government deep underground in the case of nuclear bombs during the Cold War.

The site away from London is believed to have been able to house hundreds of workers, including the Prime Minister, the full Cabinet, Civil Servants as well as domestic staff.

It had a number of different ministerial offices, underground telephones, dormitories and even a BBC studio where the Prime Minister could address the nation. 

The site quickly became outdated but by the end of the 1980s parts of the underground network was given a new lease of life, ready to take on a new, and extremely different, use.

Owner of Octavian Wines Nigel Jagger said ‘everybody thought (he) was mad’ when he decided to buy the huge underground storage unit to keep fine wines.

The remaining part of the underground Corsham site was protected in 2015 by Historic England to give an insight into what the Prime Minister’s rooms and operations rooms would have been like underground at a time of war

But because of the cool, consistent temperature and lack of humidity Mr Jagger saw potential for the space to become a perfect location to keep expensive, vintage wines.

And it appears to have been a success. More than 30 years since Mr Jagger first laid his eyes on the former war bunker, he has stored more than X million bottles of mines costing an estimated worth of up to £2 billion.

It has even attracted the attention of former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and renowned theatre composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The remaining part of the underground Corsham site was protected in 2015 by Historic England to give an insight into what the Prime Minister’s rooms and operations rooms would have been like underground at a time of war.

London bomb shelter converted into the World’s First Underground Farm

Air raid shelters were being build deep underground all over the capital at the beginning of the Second World War to protect Londoners as the threat of being bombed by the Germans continued to grow.

An air raid shelter in Clapham, South London, was just one of the thousands built across the country. 

In 1940 construction work began on building tunnels below Clapham High Street, giving the air raid shelter both a North and South entrance.

The Clapham North shelter became one of eight deep shelters across London, stretching 30 metres below ground and over two miles. It was able to accommodate 8,000 people.

This is the site of what was once Clapham North air raid shelter. It was one of eight deep air raid shelters across the capital, spreading 30 metres below ground and over two miles

Now the air raid shelter has been converted to the world’s first subterranean urban farm. Zero Carbon Farms grow crops, such as leafy greens and fruits, underground using specific temperature, light and water controls

It was initially planned that the post-war air raid shelter could be used as a connecting tunnel for the Northern Line but this never happened.

For a brief period of four weeks in 1948 the shelter was used to house 200 of the first immigrants from the West Indies who arrived on the MV Empire Windrush until they found permanent homes.

In 2015, however, the shelter was taken on my entrepreneurs to create the world’s first subterranean urban farm, with the goal of making agriculture more sustainable.

The group says this method of farming (pictured) has reduced the amount of water needed to grow produce by 70 per cent and by using renewable energy to power below the ground technology, it means their products are carbon neutral

Zero Carbon Farms grow crops, such as leafy greens and fruits, by keeping them in a controlled, technology-driven environment, keeping them away from pesticides and chemicals.

By growing the crops in a small space, the farmers can keep tighter controls on how much water and light, from an LED source, is needed.

The group says this method has reduced the amount of water needed to grow produce by 70 per cent and by using renewable energy to power below the ground technology, it means their products are carbon neutral.

The underground farm delivers produce to a number of restaurants and retailers, including M&S, Waitrose and Ocado.

Disused Cold War bunker, home to a council’s emergency headquarters, converted into multi-million pound flats

A disused bunker from the Cold War may not be everybody’s idea of real estate luxury but there is certainly a market for it.

The Cold War bunker built on Shrublands Road in Mistley, Essex was first built by the Military of Defence in 1951 as an operations room for the Royal Artillery.

The Cold War bunker built on Shrublands Road in Mistley, Essex was first built by the Military of Defence in 1951 as an operations room for the Royal Artillery

In 2016, however, the bunker was bought by property developers who converted the space into two three-bedroom apartments and one four-bedroom apartment each enclosed by heavy blast doors (pictured)

In the event of the nuclear war, the bunker, made with 600mm concrete walls, would have been used to fire anti-aircraft defences into the sky.

It was later bought out by Essex County Council to serve as an emergency centre in Britain was attacked by the Soviet Union.

In 2016, however, the bunker was bought by property developers who converted the space into two three-bedroom apartments and one four-bedroom apartment each enclosed by heavy blast doors.

The luxury flats are kitted out with a number of mod-con features including AEG kitchen appliances, granite worktops and Italian marble in the bathrooms

Each room has underfloor heating or fluffy carpets, hiding any fact that the space used to be a cold, concrete bunker

The luxury flats are kitted out with a number of mod-con features including AEG kitchen appliances, granite worktops and Italian marble in the bathrooms.

Each room has underfloor heating and fluffy carpets, hiding any fact that the space used to be a cold, concrete bunker.

The properties were first auctioned individually going for £500,000 each but they were eventually sold off as a group for an estimated £1.4 million.

Underground military telephone exchange converted into a music youth club 

Harnham Bunker was built after 1939 on the site of a chalk quarry. It was later used by The Civil Defence Corps in 1948 as the threat of nuclear attacks and the Cold War began.

The 23m deep bunker was then taken over as the Salisbury Urban District Control Centre, where an underground military telephone exchange remained in place.

In September 1963 it became known as the Council House and was fitted with gas tight doors and a standby generator. It had 8ft brick ventilation towers installed and emergency escape hatches installed.

Harnham Bunker was built after 1939 on the site of a chalk quarry. It was later used by The Civil Defence Corps in 1948 as the threat of nuclear attacks and the Cold War began

The Bunker into a now community hub for younger people with workshops for young people to learn about creating TV, Film, Radio and Podcasts

As the threat of nuclear war diminished, the bunker was used to keep hold of election equipment.

In 2016, however, it was converted to a community youth space called The Sound Emporium.

This space closed down as a result of the 2020 lockdowns but it has since been taken on by new hands with a similar mission.

The group turned The Bunker into a new community hub for younger people with workshops for young people to learn about creating TV, Film, Radio and Podcasts.

The underground space minimise the noise `to those around.

Ping pong bars, Crazy Golf, pubs and clubs take on subterranea

Across the country former air raid shelters, underground bunkers and tunnels have been put to good use by being transformed into entertainment venues.

Under the ground near to the famous Gherkin building in London, a former 16,000sq ft subterranean site has been converted into a nine-hole crazy golf course and night club.

Elsewhere in the city a former air raid shelter, used during the Blitz, has been transformed into a 1940s themed bar.

Cahoots, which opened in 2015 (pictured), was previously an air raid shelter off Carnaby Street but it is now designed to be a post-World War Two station, decked out with carriages, bunk beds and sandbags from the era

Under the ground near to the famous Gherkin building in London, a former 16,000sq ft subterranean site has been converted into a nine-hole crazy golf course and night club

Cahoots, which opened in 2015, was previously an air raid shelter off Carnaby Street but it is now designed to be a post-World War Two station, decked out with carriages, bunk beds and sandbags from the era.

In Birmingham, where there were a series of hardened underground telephone exchanges built in the Cold War, one of the underground bunkers has been converted into a huge Ping Pong bar and club.

The huge space has a large bar area with 17 ping pong tables, as well as a restaurant and a bar. 

WAR GAMES: SURVIVING ROYAL OBSERVER CORPS NUCLEAR BUNKERS… AND WHAT’S HAPPENED TO THEM NOW

GROUP 1 (Maidstone, Kent): In the car park of a solicitors’ office; was used for storage but is now empty and hosts occasional tours

GROUP 3 (Oxford): Above-ground buildings were demolished but the bunker is still intact – under a new-build block of student flats 

GROUP 5 (Watford, Hertfordshire): Bunker remains in the rear car park of a veterinary surgery; owner declined to comment on its use

GROUP 9 (Yeovil, Somerset): Lay derelict for many years – but has now been turned into a five-bedroom house with a timber frame outside

GROUP 10 (Exeter, Devon): Was empty for several years but has since reopened as a post-apocalyptic laser tag arena run by UCZ Paintball

GROUP 12 (Bath, Somerset): Converted and used as a conference centre by the Avon Fire Brigade

GROUP 15 (Lincoln): Bunker is now kitted out as a ‘house’ with several fully-furnished rooms and used by police for domestic incident training

GROUP 16 (Shrewsbury, Shropshire): Ground-level building remains almost completely identical – but has been turned into a vet’s surgery

GROUP 17 (Borras, north Wales): Converted in 2005 into a 16-room recording studio which has remixed tracks for Rihanna and Kylie Minogue

GROUP 20 (York): Bought by English heritage and fully restored, this is the only ROC HQ of its kind which is open as a fully-fledged tourist attraction

GROUP 21 (Goosnargh, Lancashire): Was bought by another vets’ surgery but has since been sold to a private owner in Cheshire

GROUP 27 (Oban, Argyll & Bute): Currently being converted into a family home with a granny flat, large windows and views of Ardmucknish Bay

GROUP 28 (Dundee): A housing estate was built around it – so the bunker was disguised with a brick and pebbledash-clad ‘sham house’

GROUP 31 (Lisburn, Co. Antrim): The bunker was built on an operational Army base and remains there, being used occasionally by the military

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