Throwback Thursday: Brentwood historian looks back at a visit Kelvedon Hatch
PUBLISHED: 17:57 09 January 2020
This week Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent looks back at visit to Kelvedon Hatch.
Kelvedon Hatch, just four miles from Brentwood is famed for being the seat of some of the county's illustrious mansions. Kelvedon Hall is one, built in 1743 by the Wright family, among whose descendants were the famous American aeroplane pioneers, Wilbur and Orville Wright.
Impressive also, is Brizes Park, once a moated house built by Thomas Bryce in 1498 and remodelled over following centuries. In 1949 the Honourable Simon Rodney, one of the founders of Boy Scout movement (with Lord Baden-Powell) lived at this beautiful house. Brizes Park was a favourite weekend haunt of Rodney's cousin, Sir Winston Churchill who especially loved the impressive entrance-hall and double staircase overlooked by the iconic stained-glass window. This was believed to have come from Blackmore Priory, demolished in 1844.
In complete contrast is another building, a modest bungalow which hides the entrance to the now well-advertised "Secret Bunker". The building formed the entrance to a three-level concrete-clad bunker that would have been home to the Prime Minister and his government in the event of a nuclear war. Designed to house six-hundred government officials, the Bunker was completed in 1953, a year after Britain had developed its own atomic bomb, followed closely by the Russians. The site was chosen as it was sufficiently close to Westminster Palace.
Vast concrete walls ten-feet thick were built, reinforced with thick tungsten rods. Materials arrived via Ongar railway station under tight security, yet locals knew about it - the 150ft-high communications tower was something of a give-away! They nicknamed it "the hole in the ground" but because of tight security they couldn't investigate.
The Bunker has now been open to the public for nearly a quarter of a century and fascinated tourist often return. When planned, the bunker had enough food, water, air and power to last its six hundred occupants for two months. During that time, they would have worked eighteen-hours daily in grey, neon-lit surroundings, doing jobs that might have seemed futile in the face of what would have been the biggest disaster the world had ever known. The bomb-proof blast doors appear to be defence enough against an outside contaminated world, but the stark, long narrow entrance corridor is so designed to be a defence against the civil population trying to enter.The corridor leads to numerous rooms containing dormitories, sick-bays, operating theatre, decontamination area, plotting and map rooms with sewage pit and plant room plus canteen and kitchens - hugely sophisticated and well-planned. Importantly, were the communication rooms containing switchboards and teleprinters and the Home Office Radio Room where the Prime Minister would have spoken to the nation.
The owner, Michael Parrish, has worked hard to develop the building as one of the county's major tourist attraction. It is located just off the A128 between Brentwood and Ongar. Enquiries: 01277 364883.