Burlington Bunker - Corsham's secret city


Burlington Bunker - Corsham's secret city

No one would ever suspect that the much-filmed, honey-stoned market town of Corsham, in Wiltshire, would be the country's alternative seat of power outside London during a nuclear war.

One hundred feet below the manors, churches and cobblestone streets is a 35-acre subterranean “Cold War City.” The reason this particular location was chosen for the bunker was its already-extensive system of limestone caves running under the city.

Built in the late 1950s this bomb-proof, radiation-proof, poison-gas-proof underground city was designed to house up to 4,000 Central Government personnel in the event of a nuclear strike. This massive complex is over a mile in length and featured 60 miles of roads. It was designed to be fully self-sufficient and sustain its 4000 occupants for at least three months in complete isolation from the outside world.

The Burlington nuclear bunker, or just Burlington as it was code-named, contained among other facilities: offices, laundries, storerooms of supplies, a hospital, cafeterias, kitchens, a phone exchange (the second largest in Britain), a television studio where the remaining government could make public addresses, and even its own pneumatic tube system for speedily relaying messages throughout the complex.

The bunker is not all business, and is decorated with some murals painted by artist Olga Lehmann depicting the circus, prehistoric monsters, sports, sailors of bygone days and mermaids. When they were painted in 1943, it was hoped these would add cheer to the underground environment. The complex (which was run on huge generators and had over 100,000 lights) was even rumoured to include a pub called the Rose and Crown, modelled on the Red Lion, the iconic Whitehall tavern which was a favorite of civil servants.

The bunker had a secret rail line coming off the main London-to-Bristol railway, so that the Royal Family could escape to the underground city. Perhaps most impressively, Burlington features an underground lake meant to supply the occupants with fresh drinking water. The bunker was even climate controlled and was to be kept at a constant humidity and heated to around 20 degrees C.

Kept absolutely top secret until it was decommissioned in 2004, the facility was never used, and boxes of government-issue glass ashtrays, lavatory brushes and civil service tea sets sit unopened and unused. It became outmoded by the ’80s, as the time from warning to nuclear destruction was at that point a total of four minutes – not nearly enough time to evacuate to the bunker.

The government is still trying to sell the tunnels and ground above to a private investor. Proposed uses include an enormous wine cellar or data storage.

Further reading

Links to external websites are not maintained by Bite Sized Britain. They are provided to give users access to additional information. Bite Sized Britain is not responsible for the content of these external websites.