Deep beneath the leafy streets of Dollis Hill is one of the Second World War’s best kept secrets – ‘Paddock‘.
Built in the late 1930s beneath the GPO’s research facility when war with Germany seemed inevitable, this bombproof two-level shelter is virtually undocumented such was the secrecy that surrounded it. The reason the location was so hush-hush is because ‘Paddock’ was designed to act as the Cabinet War Room should Whitehall become too dangerous for Government Ministers to operate from.
Beneath ten feet of earth and reinforced concrete the first floor contained the plant equipment which would have kept the bunker supplied with clean air and power even in the eventuality of a bomb falling in the immediate area. Beyond blast doors and several more feet of concrete on the lower floor is where the Cabinet would have convened – this area housed offices, a map room (now sans maps) and the Cabinet War Room itself (which, it was pointed out, had two air filtration systems installed – a room full of cigar-smoking Government Ministers would have become foggy quite quickly otherwise!). ‘Paddock’ shouldn’t be confused with the more modern nuclear shelters however – it contained no accommodation or bathrooms and only had a rudimentary canteen – a surface building, long demolished, served this purpose although the Cabinet themselves would have been housed in luxury in a handsome 1930s housing development just down the hill – Neville’s Court, which still stands today.
‘Paddock’ was constructed at great public expense – in modern terms it would have cost in the tens of millions of pounds to build but, ironically, it was only ever used in anger twice. After an inaugural Cabinet Meeting was held there Churchill pronounced it too damp and too far from Central London (at that time Dollis Hill was right on the north-western edge of the city) and stated that he wouldn’t use it again. A later meeting was held at ‘Paddock’ with the Australian Prime Minister but Churchill did not attend – by this time plans were well under way for the construction of a more suitable central facility, ANSON, which would survive intact until the site was cleared for the new Home Office building on Marsham St in 2003.
Today’s visit to ‘Paddock’ was a rare treat because the site is normally only opened up twice a year as per the agreement with the development company that built houses on the site of the old GPO buildings some years ago. However, as part of the Festival of British Archaeology, the guys from Subterranea Britannica made special arrangements for a third opening. Subterranea Britannica is the main hub for information and research on underground facilities in the UK, and they organise regular tours of both live and abandoned sites and also offer a membership scheme. Their website contains a comprehensive list of locations across the country, most with historical information, contemporary photographs and so on. I’m very grateful to them for allowing me to join in on this very special visit to one of London’s most secret locations. You can see more photographs of my visit by using this link, but please burn them after viewing and tell no-one what you have seen – remember, walls have ears!