Ever Wanted To Buy Your Own Military Bunker?


Clapharm Farm Bunker. Copyright BFBS - Xenia Zubova

Adverts offering ‘decommissioned military bunkers for sale’ might conjure up images of doomsday preppers getting ready for the apocalypse or a perfect secret lair for anyone looking to hide from the norms of society deep underground.

But many former bunkers, often designed as defensive military fortifications to protect people from falling bombs or the unthinkable threat of nuclear holocaust, are attracting the attention of creatives and entrepreneurs who are putting them into use for a wide variety of alternative purposes.

Up and down the country, former military bunkers have been transformed into an array of new uses – everything from homes, to a brewery, to holiday homes and even one underground farm.

Here are just a selection of one-time defensive bunkers that have been transformed, sometimes beyond recognition of their former designs.

All of the following sites were once used for military operations and defence, or hideaways to plan top secret missions away from the prying eyes of adversaries.

Businesses and private buyers have been snapping up ex-military bunkers across the UK as estate agents offer them for sale following a decision by the Ministry of Defence to sell off a swathe of military land.

Cold War Bunker enthusiast Alistair McCann, who owns a bunker, said bunkers attract buyers for a variety of reasons but, he added:

“I think the history is always a deciding factor but it does rank pretty high on the ‘cool factor’.”

He has bought his own Cold War bunker in Northern Ireland, restored it and transformed it into a museum. He said:

“It is a unique site that brings visitors from all over the country.”

Northern Ireland’s Secret Bunker. Credit Alistair McCann

In 2016, the Ministry of Defence set out plans to sell off 56 former military sites by 2040, including former hospitals, barracks, former ports and wharfs and other Government-owned properties. 

The MOD owns about 1,000 sites in total, 91 are understood to be sold off.

Some 2,500 bunkers are reported to have been constructed in secret across the UK to provide shelter from the threat of bombing, including atomic bombs as Cold War fears of nuclear war loomed large.

Bunkers are concrete structures built into the ground that are able to withstand several hundred psi (pound-force per square inch), ideal for those trying to evade nuclear war. A typical house only could only survive about 3 psi, to put that into context.

The largest bunker constructed in the UK was in Corsham for the Central Government, which could have held about 500 people.

Lizard Ales Brewery inside a bunker. Credit to SWNS

As many bunkers find their way into private ownership, they are being transformed into a range of uses, including some transformations that are a world away from their original intentions.

Brewing Beer Underground

One example is one of the bigger bunkers in the UK, on the coast of Cornwall – half above ground and half below.

The remains of RAF Treleavar, a 1950’s early warning radar station that was designed to detect incoming bombers, is now home to Lizard Ales, a Cornish craft brewery which took up residency in 2008.

In its heyday, the bunker was a hive of activity, and part of Britain’s defences against a possible nuclear attack by the Soviety Union.

Now, the bunker is home to the brewery, which uses part of the area that once formed operation rooms to store hay, with brewing tanks in other parts of the bunker.

A section of building lies partially flooded and inaccessible, a shadow of its former self. The company warns that parts of the building are dark and contain dangerous voids and that the building is not open to the public.

A brewery is just one of the many ways former bunkers have been transformed.

Former Glory As A Museum

The only Cold War bunker in Edinburgh, at RAF Barnton, is about to get a new lease of life.

It had been home to 603 Squadron Fighter Control Unit during the 1950s and almost 400 staff were employed in the bunker during its operational use, but years later, like many ex-military buildings it fell into disuse.

Fortunately, thanks to a group of volunteers, it is being brought back to life, and transformed into a museum. 

History enthusiast James Mitchell, who bought the site in 2005, has been working with a team to restore the bunker to how it would have looked during the Cold War, spending years salvaging fixtures and making repairs to rusty metal fittings.

 

Inside the Edinburgh Cold War Bunker. Credit BFBS

Royal Observer Corps Bunkers

For years now, bunkers have been capturing the interest of members of the public, including self-confessed Cold War Bunker enthusiast, Taras Young.

Talking to Forces Network about the network of bunkers across the UK that the Royal Observer Corps had, he said:

“There are more Cold War bunkers in the UK than most people realise. At one point, in the 1960s, there were more than 1,500 ROC posts alone.”

The ROC was a civil defence organisation for detecting aircraft in the UK skies. Their bunkers were designed to accommodate two or three people to provide essential observations.

Now, according to Young, most of those smaller bunkers have been abandoned or “ploughed back into farmers’ fields.”

Top of Barrow Hill Bunker. Credit to SWNS

Auctions

Some bunkers are now being sold via auctions, sparking a lot of interest from prospective buyers – whether those hunting for commercial opportunities or others who are simply lured by the quirkiness of owning their own underground defence.

Some recent additions to the auction portfolio include bunkers in Somerset, Norfolk and Yorkshire.

Including a bunker tucked away in a Somerset burial mound which can only be accessed by a secure hatch and ladder. The Barrow Hill Bunker was built on 1,367 sq ft plot for the MOD Royal Observer Corps, and has since been left to rot until last year when the bunker sold at auction for £23,000. 

Another Cold War nuclear bunker at Brundall, Norfolk, is understood to have sold after going on the market for £25,000 earlier this year.

The underground defence housed in a 3ft cube shaped shaft, had been built in 1961, one of 35 bunkers in the region constructed to protect against nuclear war.

This bunker might need some work to transform the space for prospective buyers – it has air vents and a shaft down into the underground space, but it has no running water, toilet or electricity.

One former RAF bunker and surrounding land went up for sale with a guide price of £25,000 at Moor Dike Road in Doncaster, South Yorkshire in 2017, but it is not yet known what the plans are for any buyers.

Holiday Homes

Some entrepreneurial owners have made their bunkers a little more cosy, such as one in the heart of Monmouthshire named the Decoy Bunker.

Once an observation bunker during World War Two, where soldiers would watch out for bombs and light fires in the nearby fields to fool the Germans into thinking they had hit the munitions factory close by, it is now a luxurious alternative holiday home, ideal for escaping the world or entertaining your family. 

 

Barnton Bunker Edinburgh. Picture credit: SWNS

University Library

Another bunker, known as Region 6 War Room, is now the property of Reading University which is using the space as a storage facility for its library.

The underground defence dates back to the early days of the Cold War and was built to withstand a nuclear bomb of the power dropped on Hiroshima.

It was listed as a protected site with a Grade II heritage listing in 2009, preventing plans to demolish the site which is located near the university’s Whiteknights Campus.

Farming Underground

It’s not just military bunkers that have been given new leases of life – a former World War Two air raid shelter in London has also been completely transformed from its original use.

New lighting technology has made it possible to grow food 100 feet underground below the streets of the capital city.

The bomb shelter, which laid abandoned for decades, is now home to Growing Underground, a subterranean farm from agricultural start-up Zero Carbon Food which launched the project in 2014.

The company aims to cut waste and food miles, growing vegetables such a broccoli, radish and mustard redleaf in its 2.5 acre farm deep underground.

It’s farm once served as a shelter, near the Clapham North Underground station, for thousands of Londoners to escape the falling bombs of the blitz.

The subterranean farmers use a method named hydroponic farming, growing crops under LEDs in water rich in nutrients.

Keep an eye-out for more on the underground farm later on forces.net and more on bunkers.





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