Inside the Barnton Quarry Cold War nuclear bunker

Barnton Quarry nuclear bunker from the surface. File picture: Ian Georgeson

Barnton Quarry nuclear bunker from the surface. File picture: Ian Georgeson

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IT doesn’t look like much, but 100-foot underneath this graffiti-scarred building on Corstorphine Hill lies a network of tunnels that would have housed royalty and political leaders in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK.

Barnton Quarry produced high quality building stone up until about 1914, after which the site lay largely redundant until it was used during the Second World War as an RAF fighter command operations room.

The surface buildings at Barnton Quarry. File picture: Andrew Brooks

The surface buildings at Barnton Quarry. File picture: Andrew Brooks

Built in 1952 the bunker, the only surviving one of its type in the UK, was used as the Sector Operations Centre for the Caledonian Sector, receiving information from radar stations across Scotland.

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Many thousands of phone lines, a full telephone exchange and a room full of teleprinter equipment ensured officials could continue to communicate if the worst happened.

The complex was even fitted with a BBC studio to allow government broadcasts in the event of nuclear war.

Barnton Quarry communications room before the fire. Picture: supplied

Barnton Quarry communications room before the fire. Picture: supplied

The 37sq ft bunker was one of four nuclear command centres UK and the nuclear response nerve centre for the whole of Scotland.

The staff at RAF Barnton Quarry were there to protect Scotland from attack by Russian long-range nuclear bombers up until 1960, when it was decommissioned.

But with the advent of nuclear missiles, the bunker became one of 14 Regional Seats of Government (RSG) from which officials would run the country in the event of an attack.

The bunker would have housed government ministers, members of the military, the police, fire and ambulance, along with BBC staff and telecommunications engineers, and the Queen had she been in residence in Edinburgh at the time.

Barnton Quarry nuclear bunker before the fire. Picture: supplied

Barnton Quarry nuclear bunker before the fire. Picture: supplied

Edinburgh was considered a prime target for a Soviet missile strike, given its proximity to Rosyth naval base.

Boasting reinforced concrete 10ft thick and metal blast doors, it was equipped to hold hundreds of staff in complete isolation for a month if the Cold War turned hot.

Classed as a secret government building, the existence of the nuclear shelter was made public on Good Friday, 1963, when a group known as Spies for Peace revealed details of 14 RSGs throughout the country.

Anti-nuclear demonstrators belonging to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) then proceeded to protest outside its Clermiston Road entrance.

Barnton Quarry nuclear bunker before the fire. Picture: supplied

Barnton Quarry nuclear bunker before the fire. Picture: supplied

The site eventually passed to Lothian Regional Council in 1984, which then sold the property to a Glasgow property developer for £55,000 in June 1987.

For years, the six-acre site sat derelict and uncared for, and a massive fire gutted the complex in the early 1990s.

Given the presence of asbestos fibres on the site, it seemed as though the bunker complex was destined to be lost to the sands of time, until history-nut James Mitchell snapped up the entire site for a knockdown price of £60,000 in 2005.

James, who also owns Scotland’s Secret Bunker in Troywood, Fife, is now bankrolling a complex restoration of the bunker.

The former command centre will look as it did in the early 1950s thanks to a dedicated band of volunteers, including a core team of “bunker-obsessed” history fans, who are determined to revive its fortunes.

They have been working on the underground project for the last four years – salvaging fixtures and fittings, sand-blasting rust-caked metal, and scouring graffiti in an effort to return it to its eerie Cold War glory.

The entrance to the bunker after the fire. Picture: Andrew Brooks

The entrance to the bunker after the fire. Picture: Andrew Brooks

The team has sourced equipment and materials from other bunkers, cleared thousands of tonnes of debris dumped by fly-tippers and restored power.

The bunker is expected to open to the public in 2019. In the meantime you can keep track of progress at the Barnton Quarry Restoration Project Facebook page.

Barnton Quarry nuclear bunker after the fire. Picture: Andrew Brooks

Barnton Quarry nuclear bunker after the fire. Picture: Andrew Brooks

The Barnton Quarry Restoration Project team, on some of the discarded tyres they removed from the bunker. Picture: supplied

The Barnton Quarry Restoration Project team, on some of the discarded tyres they removed from the bunker. Picture: supplied

Original signage sourced from another bunker for the restoration project. Picture: Barnton Quarry Restoration Project

Original signage sourced from another bunker for the restoration project. Picture: Barnton Quarry Restoration Project

Work on the Barnton Quarry Restoration Project continues. Picture: supplied

Work on the Barnton Quarry Restoration Project continues. Picture: supplied