Civil Defence Sub-Divisional Control Centre. Built in 1954 during the early years of the Cold War.
Reason for Listing
The Civil Defence Sub-Divisional Control Centre at Gravesend, completed in 1954, was designed as the command post for the local Civil Defence Corps in the event of a Soviet air attack during the early Cold War and is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as a building which provides evidence for, and understanding of, the civil defence provision during the early days of the Cold War and the contemporary attitude of what a nuclear strike would entail for the civilian population
* Rarity: one of the very few purpose-built local Civil Defence Sub-Divisional Control Centres built and still surviving
* Degree of survival: the bunker survives remarkably intact, is fully readable in terms of function and includes original fittings and plant
The Cold War, which developed between the Soviet Union and the western allies after World War II, had a major effect on both Britain's defence policy and wider society in general in the second half of the C20; when Russia first detonated a nuclear bomb in August 1949, the threat posed by nuclear weapons was taken very seriously.
During World War II civil defence had been the responsibility of local authorities and under the 1948 Civil Defence Act they were again given the central role. The voluntary Civil Defence Corps (CDC) was established by Warrant in that year and in 1949 local authorities were designated as ‘Corps Authorities’ under the Civil Defence (Public Protection) Regulations. Their role was to organise, recruit and train CDC volunteers to assist the local authorities with the following functions: the collection of intelligence on the results of a hostile attack; control and coordination of response to an attack; rescue; protection against the effects of nuclear, biological or chemical attack, and instruction and advice to the public. To carry out these duties the CDC, which grew from 31,000 volunteers in England and Wales in 1950 to 330,000 by 1956, was organised into five sections: headquarters; warden; rescue; welfare and ambulance and first aid.
Co-ordination of these sections and the full-time emergency services in the event of attack would have been managed from the basements of existing council buildings such as town halls. Later, however, a small number of purpose-built protected structures were provided, such as the civil defence control centre at Gravesend, which was built in 1954. Here information from air raid warden posts of any attack on Gravesend, Northfleet, Swanscombe, and later Dartford would have been received and orders then issued to civil defence and emergency services. The bunker would have been staffed by 35 or so civil defence volunteers and council staff under the control of Gravesend’s Town Clerk. It had its own power and filtration plant together with sleeping and basic kitchen facilities but the level of protection was rudimentary. It lacked both protection from a gas attack and an air-lock on the door to protect against radioactive contamination.
The building remained operational until 1968 after which its functions were eventually transferred to Gravesend and Dartford civic centres. This followed the disbandment of the Civil Defence Corps, largely due to shortage of government funds and in tacit recognition that, in the event of a full-scale nuclear attack, under its existing provision, civil defence would simply have been unable to cope with the effects of an attack. The bunker was subsequently stripped of most of its operational equipment and was then used for file storage by the council. Restoration began in 1997 and it is currently open on occasion to the public as an evocative Cold War Heritage centre.
18-inch (46cm) thick reinforced concrete set beneath a turf-covered bank.
The control centre is located on the east side of Woodlands Park, off Wrotham Road. The bunker is rectangular in plan, 65ft (20m) by 45ft (14m), aligned north-south. The main entrance is located at the southern end of the building and is reached down a two-flight concrete staircase. This is protected with a metal door at the top of the second flight, which has a pre-fabricated concrete canopy. The main door at the foot of the stair provides access to the bunker at a right-angle to the stair. The stair has brick revetments and is protected by later metal security railings. There is an emergency exit at the north end of the building exiting into the park. Both sunken entrances would originally have had wire enclosures supported on concrete posts. The only other features visible above ground are the three concrete ventilation intakes and the generator exhaust outlet set on the western side of the mound, a tank for liquid waste at the foot of the western slope and a lamp post just to the north-east which functioned as a radio mast.
The main entrance with its steel reinforced door gives onto a spine corridor running north-south. The 14 rooms, separated by a mixture of brick and studwork walls, are divided into three functional areas, domestic, communications and control, set parallel to the corridor. To the west of the corridor are the power room and most of the domestic rooms. Listed from the south these comprise the power and ventilation room (this is missing the emergency generator but retains the functioning ventilation plant), women’s dormitory, ladies' toilets, men’s toilets and one of the three male dormitories (the other two are located along the north wall of the bunker). On the east side of the corridor are the communications rooms. These comprise, again taken from the south, a waiting room, messenger’s room, message room which retains its fitted timber telephonist’s furniture, and liaison officer’s room. Behind these rooms is the control section comprising, at the south, the sub-divisional control room with a timber partitioned kitchenette in the south-west corner, a small Controller’s office with glazed timber partitions, and the District Control Room.
The interior retains other original fittings including doors, communications hatches, light switches, ventilation ducts, toilet fittings and some of the hanging-signs in the spine corridor. Modern lighting, floor coverings and some fire-doors have been introduced.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.