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Bristol War Room, Bristol

Description: Bristol War Room

Grade: II
Date Listed: 25 March 2013
Building ID: 1411750

OS Grid Reference: ST6225869934
OS Grid Coordinates: 362258, 169934
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4272, -2.5442

Locality: Bristol
County: Bristol
Postcode: BS4 5HE

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Listing Text


War Room of c1953, established to co-ordinate civil defence in the event of an atomic attack and to protect regional government. Designed by the Ministry of Works.

Reason for Listing

Bristol War Room, completed in 1953, designed to protect the functions of regional government from the atomic bomb and to co-ordinate civil defence is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: a rare survival of a purpose-built war room, built to the two-storey semi-sunken design, constructed during the early 1950s. The only other remaining unaltered example, Reading War Room, is already listed at Grade II;
* Intactness: the structure is remarkably intact and has been little altered since built;
* Architectural interest: a building which expresses through its monumental and robust form the threat posed by the atomic bomb and the necessary measures to protect its occupants from the effects of nuclear attack;
* Historic interest: built to the first nuclear-proof design intended for civilian occupation in Great Britain, and marks the strategic transition in the post-war British Government’s appreciation of the effects of nuclear warfare.


By 1951 the construction of buildings to protect the functions of government against the atomic bomb had been agreed. Initially, the building design was given the title - Regional Commissioners Office (RCO) but the term evolved to Regional War Room, which in turn was reduced to War Room. One war room was to be built in each of England’s ten Home Defence Regions. The exception to this was the London Region which was provided with four war rooms. All except one (in Newcastle-upon-Tyne) were purpose-built structures. The defence regions had their origins in the Second World War when plans were made in case central government was disrupted or destroyed. Each had a regional commissioner who would govern and organise his region and its defence until such time as things returned to normal. The mid-C20 war rooms were located in the same cities as their wartime predecessors but were usually built on government estates so that they could sit alongside the offices of other ministries. The war room designs were in progress by October 1951, with construction work starting shortly afterwards; Birmingham War Room being the last to be completed in 1956. Each comprised a reinforced concrete structure with massive external walls (1.45m) and roof (1.52m) and further reinforced concrete internal partition walls as well as its own generators, air filtration system and water supply. The function of the war rooms was to gather information in the event of an attack and to co-ordinate rescue and welfare facilities in support of regional government.

There were three different designs: single-storey surface buildings; two-storey surface buildings; and two-storey semi-sunken buildings as at Bristol, but in plan they followed a broadly similar pattern. Essentially, as well as the aforementioned facilities, each had a central map room with control rooms, offices and communications rooms surrounding it, as well as ablutions, dormitories and a canteen. The buildings provided protection for the staff within (approximately 50 people). The importance of the map room can be seen by its central position and, in relation to the two-storey design; it occupied the full height of the building with overlooking control cabins on both the lower and upper floors.

The Bristol War Room was completed in 1953. It is located at the southern end of the wartime government estate at Brislington and was the war room for Home Defence Region 7, which covered Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Bristol along with the other war rooms was replaced in the early 1960s by Regional Seats of Government which were better equipped to cope with the hydrogen bomb (the detonation of the Soviet H-bomb in August 1953 was the catalyst for this change in strategy). Some of the war rooms like Reading and Cambridge were integrated into the new Regional Seats of Government buildings; however, the example at Bristol was rented by the Home Office to Avon County Council, who used it as their County Borough Control until 1981. Since that time it has been partially de-stored (that is, has had removable equipment taken away), racking has been inserted into a number of the rooms on the upper floor and it has been used for document and fire extinguisher storage.


War Room of c1953, established to co-ordinate civil defence in the event of an atomic attack and to protect regional government. Designed by the Ministry of Works.

MATERIALS: it is built of reinforced concrete using the continuous pour technique, the floor slab, walls and roof can be considered as being one. The walls are rendered, above plain concrete footings, covered with deliberately planted Virginia creeper.

PLAN: a rectangular-plan, semi-sunken reinforced concrete building of two-storeys: the lower floor of which is below ground-level. It is entered by two opposing entrances in the north-east and south-west elevations each leading to a pair of stairs and continuous circulatory corridors that provide access to all rooms on both floors. The plan centres around the map room with control cabins on its south-eastern and south-western sides.

EXTERIOR: as it was designed to resist the effects of a nuclear explosion, there are no windows and the only openings in the structure are three concrete-shrouded ventilator towers situated at the eastern end of the over-hanging concrete roof over the plant rooms. No.1 entrance is situated towards the eastern end of the south-west elevation, while No.2 entrance mirrors the former and is situated towards the eastern end of the north-east elevation. Both entrances are deeply recessed and are closed externally by a plain door with a small viewing window that leads into a dog-leg plan blast-baffle with a heavy steel blast door set at right angles to the entrance.

INTERIOR: a utilitarian interior lacking in decorative features, but retaining a large number of the 1950s fittings and fixtures. No.1 entrance acted as the main point of entry to the upper floor and is flanked by a security room that has a ‘Lamson Basket’ message delivery system linking it to the lower floor. A pair of concrete staircases on either side of the building, situated close to the entrances lead down to the lower floor. The stairs have concrete steps with linoleum inset treads, and have solid concrete central balustrades and painted steel hand-rails; a painted black metal water tank resting on a concrete shelf sits over the landing of each stair.

There is a range of rooms off the upper circulatory corridor including offices, a kitchen and canteen, dormitories and ladies toilets. The stand-by generator room is situated within the plant room and houses a diesel engine powered dynamo of 1953. The plant room contains an air conditioning unit electrical equipment, and timber battery shelves; although the glass and lead batteries are missing. On the inner side of the south-eastern arm of the corridor, are two rooms with curved anti-reflection glass windows that look down into the ‘well’ of the map room below. The smaller room with was allocated to the Civil Defence Officer, and the larger one was for the County Controller; however, the sign on one door into this room reads Fire Control Room.
The lower floor circulatory corridor provides access into the well of the two-storey high map room. There is a large wall map of the Bristol area dating from 1980s and a resources black board on the north-west wall. The south-east wall has six curved anti-reflection glass windows, three to each floor, and the south-west wall has one window at the lower floor level. A hinged glazed message transfer box is fitted into the left-hand corner of the frames of each of the lower floor windows.
A range of rooms are served by the lower corridor, including further offices, GPO equipment room, administration control, signals, and two tank rooms. On the north-western side is the signals room which has been sub-divided into three areas, one has a bench that has sixteen acoustic booths, each fitted with a lamp bracket and message clip holders on the dividers. The switchboard/teleprinter room, sits within the larger signals room, and has a message passing hatch in its end wall. The GPO equipment room situated in against the north-east wall retains the telephone equipment rack and its associated wall heaters. The timber doors throughout all have plain flat surfaces, some with ventilation panels at their base. Door furniture is largely of black Bakelite. Most electrical fittings are original. Round Tannoy public address system speakers are attached to the walls in a number of the rooms.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.