Site 3: The Governments Cold War Headquarters

Corsham's GPO exchange.
Corsham's GPO exchange.

One common theme across the Cold War Superpowers was the preservation of their leaders. Britain was no exception.

With this in mind, the government built a network of underground of shelters to protect both central and regional governments.

Military Conversion

The most prominent site in the UK made use of a former quarry in Corsham, Wiltshire which was most recently known simply as Site 3. The quarry complex was made up of several quarries namely Spring Quarry, Tunnel Quarry, Browns Quarry, Sands Quarry and Groundstone Quarry.

Tunnel Quarry was converted into an underground ammunition depot in 1938 and Spring Quarry to an aircraft factory in 1942.

Following World War II these sites became largely redundant with the Navy using them as a store area. That was until the Cold War gave Spring Quarry a new lease of life.

BBC Studio

Central Government War Headquarters

In the 1950s the government sought a location to build its Central Government War Headquarters and Spring Quarry in Corsham was deemed ideal. It was underground, it had a military complex established above it and had good links directly to London by road, rail and if needed by air.

What became initially known as Stockwell became an independently sustaining 249-acre complex 120ft under the Wiltshire countryside. It could accommodate 4000 people including the PM, Cabinet and staff. Although its worth noting that very few of that number would have known that they were selected to man the site, much less the site’s existence. [ See: Burlington Manning Orders ]

The site contained everything needed to sustain the central government for at least 3 months. It had its own water, air and power supplies along with kitchens, sleeping quarters, ministerial offices, a BBC studio, a BT switchboard and even its own Pub.

Despite being almost redundant shortly after its inception by the switch from bombs to ICBM missiles it stayed operational for 30 years. During that time it was known as Stockwell, Subterfuge, Burlington, Turnstile, Chanticleer, Peripheral, Eyeglass and finally just Site 3. Contrary to popular myth it was never known as Hawthorn.

Cabinet Office Briefing Room
Cabinet Office Briefing Room

There is still much mystery surrounding site 3 possibly born from the fact that it is effectively still operational so could, if needed, be reactivated. However, this is unlikely with the government’s PYTHON system rendering it ineffective. PYTHON worked by dispersing key figures to multiple locations.

Site 3 was officially deactivated in 2004 and the Corsham complex including Site 3 was put up for sale. As of today however the site is still under the control of the Ministry of Defence with Corsham Computer Centre actively operating in the northeast section of Tunnel Quarry.

Some of the interesting features of the site is that Box Tunnel (Bristol to London Mainline) dissects the site between Spring and Tunnel Quarries, in fact, there is an old siding entrance to the tunnel Quarry at the eastern end of the tunnel. As Site 3 can access via Tunnel Quarry it was often speculated that the site could have been staffed by train to bring staff directly into the underground platform that is known to exist.

Large areas of Site 3 have recently been placed on Historic England’s “At Risk” register.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.