Secret Bunker, Shrubland Road, Mistley, Manningtree, CO11 1HS.
At Mistley near Manningtree, 16 km from Colchester. A12 (from London) past Chelmsford/Colchester. Take the A120 turning to Harwich and then the B1352 to Mistley. Signposted.
|Light:||Incandescent Electric Light System|
James Fox (2000):
Essex Secret Bunker,
Official guide to the former county nuclear war headquarters.
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|1951||built for the Royal Artillery (War Office) as anti-aircraft control centre.|
|1963||command centre purchased by Essex County Council from the war office.|
|1966||the Bunker became the main Emergeny HQ for the County.|
|1980||became the Stand-By HQ for Essex.|
|1993||de-commissioned along with many others, at the end of the Cold War.|
|1995||leased to the Bunker Preservation Trust, the building was renovated and refurbished.|
|1996||opened to the public.|
|01-DEC-2002||museum shut down due to high costs.|
|2006||auctioned for £350,000.|
|2013||developer was refused planning permission.|
|2016||bought by developers.|
|2021||sold for £1.4 million.|
Essex Secret Bunker was one of numerous bunkers built during the Cold War, and like many others it was decommissioned at the end of the Cold War. It was built for the Royal Artillery (War Office) as anti-aircraft control centre in 1951, which cost the Ministry of Defence (MoD) £500,000. 1951 the construction of a chain of bunkers started, which should act as command centres for the deployment and firing of anti-aircraft defences. They were called Anti Aircraft Operations Rooms (AAOR). But new weapons, like the jet plane, made them rather worthless after only three years. So this bunker was not really useful anymore. In 1954 the system was stood down, the bunker was placed on a care and maintenance regime.
In 1963 the bunker was purchased by the Essex County Council from the War Office at a cost of £5,250, a real bargain. The plans from the early 1950s included four HQ's that divided the County of Essex into four areas and would have been controlled from Chelmsford. But the Chelmsford HQ was not built until 1980, and so this bunker was HQ between 1966 and 1980. It was in use as Emergency Planning Centre until 1993.
After the Cold War the bunker was decommissioned, still fully equipped and gave a good impression, how it looked during the Cold War. The centre of the bunker was the two level Operations Room which was still originally equipped. Other rooms contained the dormitory, the telephone exchange, the COMCEN, the controllers' office, and the radio room. Some rooms were used for cinemas, to give the visitors background information. Cinema 1 showed a short film, which introduced the Bunker and told its story briefly. Cinema 2 showed some actual Broadcasts that would have gone out on National TV in the event of a Nuclear Attack. Cinema 3 showed a 30-minute documentary about the Cold War. Essex Secret Bunker was a great museum in a real bunker, but it existed only for six years.
First the Essex County Council increased the rent seven-fold, which is quite interesting, if you think about it. Apparently there was only one potential tenant, a charitable trust, and now the rent was increased to an almost absurd extent. If it were housing, a seven-fold rent increase would probably not only be illegal but also a criminal offence. Obviously, the owner wanted to get rid of the museum. A mobile phone provider then offered to pay rent for the erection of a mobile phone mast, which failed due to the resistance of the residents. That's what happened back then; today, people would rather complain about the poor coverage. Or not, this is Britain, they voted for Brexit. However, the museum was closed for good and the collection sold. And now for the third weirdness, they said it would close "for a major refit and no re-opening was planned as yet". We have actually no idea why they lied about this, but selling the complete collection is not refitting, except they planned a different use.
But soon the reason became obvious, the site was auctioned for £350,000 in 2006. In 2013, the developer was refused planning permission. The Council of Tendring called the project for the bunker "an unnecessary eye-sore", which is quite funny as the bunker is mostly underground. Finally, in 2016 it was developed into two three-bedroom and one four-bedroom apartments, in other words a luxury bunker for rich preppers worth £1.4 million. The ground of the former military site was used to build modern apartment buildings, the flats were sold for half a million pond each. And it is still called Secret Bunker. While the loss of an excellent museum is quite sad, the story behind is actually quite funny.