A series of separate underground bunkers were constructed in World War 2 and continued in use up to the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. They can still be seen from public highways today, and they have an intriguing history in the defence of Lancashire. These sites were of national importance, and the Preston complex was responsible for much of the western area of Britain in the late Cold War era.
Operations Bunker, Langley Lane: RIGHT
The following description is of the building as it was in the Cold War Phase 2 (see the general history below).
The most important room in the bunker was the Operations Room. This had two stories with an upper floor gallery looking down to a lower floor in the ‘well’. On the upper three walls of the room were cabins and on the remaining wall was a large information board. This displayed a mass of data including : the nuclear burst tote board, European Situation map, UK situation map, Cumulative situation map and Current situation map. These would be kept up to date by a team of ‘plotters’.
The command display table on the bottom floor of the well was where the duty officer would sit. The upper cabins level was staffed by the senior officers including the chief fighter controller/ guided weapons controller, battle commander and electronics officer .
The rest of the bunker catered to more mundane needs. There was a kitchen, dormitories, duty room and separate rooms for telephones and teleprinters. The complex was designed to be self sufficient in the event of a nuclear attack. To that end it contained a standby generator, fuel tank, water tank and sewage ejection system. Two decontamination rooms were positioned by the entrance, for use of staff whose duty including going outside to take atmospheric readings after a nuclear attack had occurred.
A prefabricated building was constructed alongside the bunker for administration work .
You can view both this admin block and Operations Bunker from the road next to them. The administration block is now used as a veterinary practise. The Operations Bunker itself is currently for sale.
For some superb photos of the interior of the Operations Bunker taken in 1991 just before it was decommissioned, and an extensive report of a visit in 2000 by the Subterranea Britannica, have a look at this website:
Although there is no access to the inside of the Operations Bunker, you can visit the corresponding bunker just outside of York and have a guided tour, as that one is now owned by English Heritage. It will be the subject of a forthcoming entry on our websites.
Communications Bunker (Brass Pan Lane)
Left: The Communications Bunker would have received information from the smaller ROC sites dotted around the county (see our page on these here). It would send the information on to the Operations Bunker and the Filter Bunker. The rooms would have held radio, telephone and teleprinter equipment.
The bunker has two entrances, a small personnel one and a larger equipment or ‘plant’ one. The personnel entrance leads into a section of the building with seven small rooms. It’s not clear what all these rooms were used for but one appears to have an electrical transformer inside. An eighth larger room housed two engine beds. The biggest room in the building by far has the words ‘Apparatus Room’ painted on the door. This lies close to the much larger second ‘plant’ entrance.
The bunker is covered by soil and grassed over, and its shape can clearly be seen from Brass Pan Lane. The two entrances are down a short farm track. It appears to be largely derelict and is now used as a farm vehicle store. You can view the back part of the Communications Bunker from the road, but the bunker itself is on private farmland.
Filter Bunker, Whittingham Lane
The Filter Bunker (or Filter Block) (RIGHT) is a substantial set of underground rooms, and is a larger building than the Communications Bunker. The mound covering it is 4.5 metres high, 50 metres long and 30 metres wide.
It’s described on the Pastscape website as being for “the collation and filtering of signals and other information, prior to dissemination.” during the Second World War. It was staffed by the RAF 9 Group Operations Centre Fighter Command.
It is unclear if the UKWMO or ROC used the Filter Bunker during the Cold War. On balance it looks like they did, at least for a time. From photographs, the stripped out two tier central operations room looks very much like the one in the Operations Bunker on nearby Langley Lane and the one at York.
The Filter Bunker had its own electrical substation, transformer and generator system. It also had a large radio tower over 15 metres tall. Inside it had the above mentioned two tier operations room, an office, signal room, dormitories, male and female toilets, two kitchens, dining room and larder.
Later in its life the Filter Bunker was used as the Preston Armed Forces Headquaters. They left in 1992, and from then it has suffered flooding and vandalism. A report by Oxford Archaeology North was commissioned on the building in 2008 when the owner was considering its future. The report notes the importance of preserving these rare Second World War and Cold War sites. The bunker presently appears to be used as a storage facility for building materials.
It can be seen from the main road of Whittingham Lane, and better views are afforded by standing on the grass verge that runs alongside the road. There is no access to the Filter Bunker, which is behind locked gates.
Site of Standby Set House, Whittingham Lane (LEFT)
Standby Set Houses were associated with the RAF, and are still seen on old airfields today. They seem to have contained standby mains generators, to be used if the mains electrical grid failed. We presume this was a relic from World War 2 and the time of RAF Barton , and was possibly used in the Cold War era too.
We don’t have much information about this type of building and would be grateful if any of the readers of this website can supply further details - see the contacts page on how to get in touch. This building has now been demolished- but only very recently, as we found a photograph of it on Google Streetview. There is now a newly built church where it once stood.
Mast and Bungalow – Whittingham Lane (RIGHT and BELOW)
We have even less information about this site. It’s possibly to do with air traffic control, as after World War 2 Barton Hall became Preston Air Traffic Control Centre. Again we would be grateful for further details.
Cocroft, Wayne D; Thomas, Roger J C (2003) Cold War: Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-1989. English Heritage
York Cold War Bunker (2010) Editor Katherine Davey, English Heritage
Pastscape Website page on Longley Lane Sector Operations Centre http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1489507
The Bunker, Whittingham Lane, Goosnargh, Preston, Lancashire, Archaeological Building Investigation, Oxford Archaeology North, (September 2008) pdf
Subterranea Britannica Website pages on Langley Lane Operations Bunker and Brass Pan Lane Communications Bunker http://www.subbrit.org.uk/rsg/sites/l/langley_lane/
South Lancs Aviation Website page on RAF Barton Hall http://www.south-lancs-aviation.bravepages.com/no_9_group.htm
History of the Sites-from Second World War to now
Second World War : RAF Barton
In the Second World War the Royal Air Force requisitioned Barton Hall near Preston and set up a defensive system to protect North West England and North Wales. The complex was the head quarters of 9 Group Operations Centre Fighter Command . Three similar sites were set up by the RAF at Kenton Bar near Newcastle Upon Tyne, Watnall in Nottinghamshire and Raigmore near Inverness.
The Preston site was centered around Langley Lane (sometimes spelt Longley Lane). It consisted of three large separate underground bunkers, spread out along Langley Lane, Brass Pan Lane and Whittingham Lane: there was an Operations Bunker, a Communications Bunker and a Filter Bunker. All are still standing today.
The South Lancashire Aviation website claims that the bunkers were responsible during the war for ‘36 enemy aircraft destroyed, 10 probably destroyed and 27 damaged’. They also coordinated air sea rescue for the Irish Sea.
Cold War Phase 1 : ROTOR project and SOC
Soon after the Second World War, the Cold War began within a few short years, with the western allies now ranged against Russia and her satellite controlled countries. The bunker complex found a new roll and was pressed into service in the air radar defense of Britain against Russian technology.
In 1950 the complex was renamed RAF Langley Lane. It became part of the ROTOR project, which took information received from radar stations and used this to direct Fighter Command aircraft, to intercept and destroy enemy planes. Other sites around the country had to have purpose built bomb proof bunkers constructed to do this job, but Langley Lane did not have to have a major refit. The whole of the U.K. was divided into six regions, and Langley Lane became the Sector Operations Centre for the western area of Britain.
This whole project though was very short lived, as Russian technology rapidly developed the TU-4 Bull airplane (their own version of the B29 Superfortress heavy bomber), unstoppable missiles and the hydrogen bomb. These rendered the radar tracking and response of the Sector Operations Centre largely obsolete. But another lease of life was given to the Langley Lane complex buildings by the end of the 1950s.
Cold War Phase 2: UKWMO and ROC
By the end of the 1950s Langley Lane became staffed by two organizations: the UKWMO and the ROC.
The Home Office had created the UKWMO (United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation) to do four things: to warn of air strikes, confirm detonation of nuclear bomb, alert the public and predict the fall out path of detonated bombs. The UKWMO was also part of a deterrent strategy – their confirmation of a nuclear attack would have led to immediate British nuclear retaliation.
Langley Lane was the UKWMO Western Sector HQ, and later its alternate supreme headquarters during the years1957-1992. The UKWMO was staffed mainly by the Royal Ordinance Corps (ROC), a uniformed civilian organization. The ROC’s Second World War role was the spotting of enemy aircraft, but now in 1955 their new role was to monitor the radiation fallout in the event of a nuclear strike. Dedicated phone lines from smaller ROC monitoring posts in the region would send their information to Langley Lane via the Communications Bunker on Brass Pan Lane. (See this page here for the ROC posts in Lancashire). Both the UKWMO staff and 21 Group ROC remained active at Langley Lane until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
Each HQ had 50 people to staff it , that is 40 from the ROC and 10 from the Home Office split into three watches.
In May 1991 the Home Office began the process of standing down the UKWMO and ROC, as it was felt that the nuclear threat was much reduced, and the Cold War was finally over. Training stopped a couple of months later and the last staff left the sites by March 1992.
When we visited the Operations Bunker on Langley Lane, we could not enter the site. Had we been able to do so we would have seen a further Cold War site - a Royal Observer Corps monitoring post. Hidden underground, its tell tale surface structures can be seen fenced off in the foreground of this photo (BELOW).
The photo is by the kind permission of Andy Hebden. You can see other photos of his including many WW2 and Cold War related ones at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/98587546@N00/albums