Cold War Sites

Fort Widley Civil Defence Bunker

  Created 28-04-2002   Last update 17-05-2003

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General History

A notification from the Home Office in the early 1950s stated that Civil Defence Control Centres should be brought to a certain state of readiness as soon as possible. Consequently on 19 February 1952, the Civil Defence Committee reported to Portsmouth Council that they wanted to use Fort Widley for Main and Group Control in the event of war (of the A-bomb variety), and that the War Department had agreed a rent of 300 per annum for 21 years. Initial expenditure was authorised at 17,122.

In 1953, the Civil Defence Control was established for Portsmouth at Fort Widley, utilising the  main magazine and the ground floor of the barracks block. This control was officially opened by the Director General of Civil Defence, General Sir Sidney Kirkman in January 1955. In 1961 it was taken over by Portsmouth City Council, and in 1973 it was used as the Hampshire County Council Standby Home Defence Control, the main one being in Winchester.


The barracks is a building of two storeys. On its north side, the ground floor is at the same level as the military road outside, but on the other three sides an area is provided to admit light to the windows. These windows were bricked up in 1955 as part of the process of adapting the building, together with the main magazine, as a Civil Defence control centre. The subterranean gallery leading to the magazine was extended at some time by a brick built construction to cross the gorge and connect directly to the barracks. An internal stairway leads to the top of the building. The barrack block although proofed against radiation is not immune from nuclear fallout - it is not air conditioned.

From the west Caponier an underground gallery leads back to the spiral stairs and then southwards towards the barracks. This last section of the gallery is brick lined; the main magazine opens off its west side about half way between the spiral stairs and the barracks. It is a single room 57ft x 28ft buried some 30ft beneath the parade. It was designed for the storage of 2,500 barrels of powder. At some time it was sub-divided for the storage of shell and cartridge. A narrow passageway leads around the three sides of the magazine, serving both as a lighting passage from which lamps could be placed in the sealed lamp housings from the outside and also to keep the place damp proof and well ventilated. 


 With thanks to 

Jeff Woonton and Dave Walker, SE Hants RAYNET 

and to Peter Cobb of the UK Fortifications Club

for their contributions


Aerial photo site location    Panoramic photo site location

Google Earth Aerial View

Grid Ref SU656065

Plan of Fort Widley 

Plan of Fort Widley, one of the Victorian forts on Portsdown. The two main components of the bunker were the Main Magazine under the parade ground, and the Barracks Block. In the tunnel at the base of the spiral staircase just north of the Magazine is a Naval ships pattern airlock. 



Plan of bunker layout

Plan of bunker layout. The windows of the Barrack Block were bricked-up, and the tunnel extended to connect with it, giving protected access to the Main Magazine. There is a rumour that the cavity in the brickwork was filled with sand to increase protection. The radiation protection afforded was 100 to 1. i.e. 100 Roentgens on the outside and 1 Roentgen on the inside per hour. The air inside the underground part of the complex was kept at positive pressure over that of the outside, but the Barrack Block was not air-conditioned.


Plan of Magazine

The Victorian Main Magazine converted into the Civil Defence Bunker. It must be remembered that this bunker has been used by 3 different organisations each of which has made changes to the layout.. The southern half is split into 2 levels, the bottom level being shown here with the stairway to the upper level indicated.

upper level floor plan

The upper level. A clearer idea of the layout can be gained by looking at the photos on the next page. A large Perspex bay window allows the controller to look down onto the situation maps. The walls of the bunker have been heavily insulated and it is dry and warm.

outside the barrack block

View of the barrack block looking northeast. The windows on the ground floor were bricked-up in 1955 to render it part of the 'protect area'. The un-blocked window in the centre (the Welfare room in the plan above) was used as an escape route. It lead to a Nissin Hut which could be used as a decontamination airlock.


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