Beneath The Embassy Group HQ lies Churchill’s secret wartime bunker
In the spirit of the Battle of Britain, we bring you the secret wartime history of Chartwell Court, where the Embassy Group is based, in the first of our new ‘Hidden London’ column
It is no coincidence that Chartwell Court derives its name from Winston Churchill’s home in Kent because of its secret association with the wartime Prime Minister. Opened in 1933 by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, it was originally a Post Office Research Station pioneering communications technology that would prove crucial during the war. It was here that the world’s first-ever computer, the ‘Colossus’, was invented to help code-breakers decipher encrypted German messages.
But an intriguing wartime secret lies beneath the imposing building. After the Munich Crisis, when the risk of German invasion became a real possibility, plans were drawn up to create a purpose-built, bomb-proof war headquarters deep under the grounds of the Dollis Hill research station in North-west London.
By June 1940 ‘Paddock’, as it was codenamed, was ready to provide a home for the War Cabinet and 200 members of staff. Churchill hated the idea of leaving Whitehall to retreat to a bunker but a heavy air raid on 8 September persuaded him that a practise run of an emergency evacuation of the war cabinet was prudent, as he later recorded in his memoirs: “On September 29 I prescribed a dress rehearsal, so that everybody should know what to do if it got too hot…”
On Thursday 3 October 1940, a meeting of the War Cabinet began at 11.30 am, attended by Churchill, twelve other Ministers and the three Chiefs of Staff as Churchill recalled in his diary: “We held a Cabinet meeting far from the light of day, and each Minister was requested to inspect and satisfy himself about his sleeping and working apartments. We celebrated this occasion by a vivacious luncheon, and then returned to Whitehall.” But as the threat of German invasion waned, this was the first and last time Churchill would use the bunker.
Churchill’s bunker is located only open to the public two days a year, including 18 September 2010, when it will be participating in the London Open House event. For information on other open days, visit www.stadiumha.org.uk/article.asp?id=118