Cold War bunker, Holgate, York

The operations room inside the semi-sunken nuclear bunker at Holgate, York. Picture: Richard Foster

The operations room inside the semi-sunken nuclear bunker at Holgate, York. Picture: Richard Foster

First published in Days out by

Richard Foster visits a former top-secret nuclear bunker in a leafy suburb of York.

What is it?
A Cold War bunker.

Where is it?
Behind Shelley House, Acomb Road, Holgate, York.

Why go there?
Following a £240,000 restoration, the semi-sunken York bunker shows visitors how Britain responded to deepening international tensions during the Cold War between Nato and the Warsaw Pact.

With many of its original fixtures and fittings intact, the bunker generates a Cold War atmosphere as authentic as that found in 1960s films such as The Ipcress File.

The bunker was built in 1961, a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis that put the world on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. The structure was one of 29 group headquarters across the United Kingdom, operated by the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation (UKWMO) and staffed by the Royal Observer Corp (ROC), a mainly volunteer force of civilians.

The HQ, with its network of manned sub-bunkers, was designed to pinpoint where nuclear bombs had exploded in Yorkshire and monitor radioactive fallout.

Some 60 people, working round the clock in three shifts or watches, would have lived in the Holgate bunker for about a month if there had been a nuclear attack. They had a 30-day supply of food, mainly dehydrated military rations.

The bunker was decommissioned in 1991 after the signing of a non-aggression treaty between Nato and the Warsaw Pact.

Behind the bunker's heavy metal door, visitors can explore the operations room where staff recorded, monitored, and disseminated information on nuclear attacks, the "engine room", a canteen, a dormitory and a decontamination chamber.

How much is it?
Prices are £5 for adults, (£4 concessions) and £3 for children. Free admission for English Heritage members.

When is it open?
Weekends, by guided tour, which take place half-hourly and last 60 minutes. First tour starts at 10am, last tour at 3pm.

For further details phone 01904 646940, email or visit Clifford's Tower in York.

Does it have toilet and refreshment facilities?
Toilets, yes, refreshments, no.

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