Secrets of a village nuclear bunker

Cuckfield nuclear bunker open day.. Pic Steve Robards SR1712123 SUS-170530-152341001
Cuckfield nuclear bunker open day.. Pic Steve Robards SR1712123 SUS-170530-152341001

A secret nuclear bunker in the heart of Mid Sussex once played a crucial role in the event of an enemy attack.

The bunker, off Newbury Lane in Cuckfield, was the site where a four-minute warning would have been sounded to alert the population of incoming nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

Cuckfield nuclear bunker open day. Pic Steve Robards SR1712098 SUS-170530-152525001

Cuckfield nuclear bunker open day. Pic Steve Robards SR1712098 SUS-170530-152525001

The bunker was a Royal Orbserver Corps’ post - one of more than 1,500 built in the 1960s and 70s - and was designed as a place where the immediate effects of a nuclear blast could be monitored along with radioactive fallout.

Now it has been restored by volunteers from a group known as Subterranea Britannica - a registered charity whose members have a passion for underground spaces - to how it looked in the 1980s and is fitted out with all the original equipment, paperwork and rations.

Members of the public can visit the bunker - converted into a museum - on selected dates throughout the year.

Leading the bunker’s original restoration were mortgage consultant Mark Russell, 37, and Ed Combes, 36, a cardiology nurse, from Sayers Common.

Cuckfield nuclear bunker open day. Looking up towards the surface. Pic Steve Robards SR1712085 SUS-170530-152554001

Cuckfield nuclear bunker open day. Looking up towards the surface. Pic Steve Robards SR1712085 SUS-170530-152554001

Ed said: “Our interest started with a general World War II and Cold War interest. The Royal Observer Corps was just a fascinating topic for me, and for Mark it was more personal as his grandmother was an observer during the war.”

The bunker was first opened in June 1962 but closed in 1968 as part of budget cuts during that year. However, due to flooding at another bunker in nearby Ditchling, Cuckfield was re-opened in 1970 to replace Ditchling which was then subsequently closed for good.

It remained in continual service until 1991 when it was finally closed when the Royal Observer Corps was stood down. It then remained unlocked and abandoned until it was visited by Mark Russell and Ed Combes in 2007. After numerous meetings with Cuckfield Parish Council Mark gained permission to restore the post to enable it to be opened for the public to visit and learn about this vital, yet not well known, Cold War role.

Ed said: “Despite the post being dry and in good order a lot of work was still needed as 20 years of exposure to the elements had taken its toll. This included getting rid of rotten wood, painting the furniture, shaft, ladder, surface structures, gate, floor, you name it - it needed painting or repairing.”

By spring 2010, the restoration work had been completed and the post was ready for its first visitors.

Subterranea Britannica chairman Martin Dixon said: “Underground space has played its part in many conflicts over the ages - including the mercifully unfought Cold War.

“During that period there was no provision made to shelter the population at large but thousands of bunkers were built to protect key workers. Over 1,500 underground bunkers were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s to house the Royal Observer Corps, whose role was to detect and analyse incoming nuclear strikes.”

The Cuckfield bunker staged a public open day on Bank Holiday Monday this week.

Others are planned on Saturday July 15 from 11am-5pm, and on Sunday July 16 from 10 am - 2pm.