Saturday, 15 September 2007

The Alternative Cabinet War Rooms

Today was the first day of Open House London Weekend– over 600 buildings of architectural interest open up to the public, all for free. Hooray for free things! Most buildings you just rock up and enter, or queue if they are busy, but some you have to pre-book, as there might be a tour or limited access.

If you are very organised (which I am not), then you will have bought the guide book in August and have booked places to visit such as the Home Office, Trellick Tower and The Gherkin. If you are semi-organised, you will have downloaded the PDF guide for £3 and have ticked your route. If you are the sort that burbles around quite happily, you will have headed into town with an A-Z and happily stumble around until you find a building that has a green ‘open house weekend’ banner draped across it.

Last year I was the sort that burbled, and went to find St Pancras Old Church believing it was the station, and instead, funnily enough, it is an old church. This year I determined to be different and pre-booked a place on the tour of ‘Paddock’ – which is Winston Churchill’s war bunker – the alternative Cabinet War Rooms should London have been evacuated.

Paddock is in Neasden, and it took us a few fly bys around the A41 and the A406 before we found exactly where we should be heading. Luckily, we spotted a group of people in hard hats hanging around a residential road, and since there were no cups of tea in sight, we presumed these were not builders, but instead were open housers. The flutter of a green banner confirmed we were in the right place.

Apart from holding two cabinet meetings here during the Second World War, Churchill never used this bunker. He thought it was too damp and too far away from London, and on both counts he was right, although it is a far sight damper today. In fact, it has stalactites and stalagmites growing down there, it is that damp!

The cheery souls that were guiding us around the bunker were from subterranean Britannica, and that is one of the nicest things about Open House weekend, the fact all the volunteers are so friendly and informative.

Down below ground it was chilly and wet. The bunker is quite big, with two floors, and many small square side rooms leading off the main corridor. Lots of the rooms had tape across the doorways so you could not enter, and everything was in different stages of decay. Although it has lighting and water gets pumped out, it is being left to rot, quite frankly. Old filing cabinets hang at angles, air conditioning units glisten with water, the telephone system looks like an old wine rack and the two main war rooms are mouldy. But still, it is fascinating to see… my pictures are here


idil o. calvero said...

lucky londoners!!!
chapter three is on the way then... but where is the first line of chapter two?

Jayne Ferst said...

Ah thanks, whereabouts are you from? Do you have something similar?

Heh - on chapter four now! I have to do a chapter a week, as I have 17 chapters and my money runs out mid-Jan (eek!) so am cracking on. I have a chapter plan so already know what each week will be about, just got to write it of course!

I haven't put any other first lines anywhere, I might get a little further and then compare them all later :)

idil o. calvero said...

from a very boring crowded gray city(ankara)... and unfortunately nothing similar. it would be great for an architecture student like me actually :) but no...

17 chapters. big job. i am impatience about your book (even about the first lines!). watching you!you already have an oversea reader ;)

Jayne Ferst said...

London can be boring, crowded and grey too, believe me! I think all cities have their moments of good, moments of bad... :)

And my first overseas reader, how cool is that! Thank you!