5 UK Places That You Probably Didn’t Know What They Were For…


Everyone knows there is secret places in the UK, as there are in pretty much every other country in the world but some of the sites hide in plain sight. Britain’s Cold War brings you 5 sites from around the UK that you probably didn’t know the real purpose of.

1. Penhale Sands Receiving Station

On a seemingly abandoned military camp just north of Holywell Bay in Cornwall stands a large windowless bunker with an array of aerials nearby. This is Penhale Sands Receiving station. Penhale forms part of the Defence High Frequency Communications System or DHFCS which operates strategic British and NATO air and ship to show long-range broadcasting known as Terrestrial Air Sea Communications or TASCOMM. Keen shortwave radio listeners will hear the site broadcasting the code XSS repeatedly as this is its ID, call sign? Architect!

Penhale works along with other sites located in the UK along with assets in Cyprus, Gibraltar, Ascension and Falkland Islands.

2. GCHQ Bude



Staying in Cornwall we find an offshoot of the famous Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ located near Bude. GCHQ Bude is set up to listen to signals travelling along the Transatlantic Cables, in Particular TAT-14 which comes ashore in Widemouth Bay. It also monitors airborne signals in the same way as Menwith Hill which is run by the National Security Agency in Yorkshire.

GCHQ Bude is operated solely by the British Government however recent whistle blowing has shown it is actively sharing its resources with the US and other NATO countries.

3. Corsham Computer Centre

Corsham Computer Centre

Corsham Computer Centre

Corsham has a long history of secret bunkers and sites given its former life as home to the Government War Headquarters. Now though, located in Tunnel Quarry, just north of Spring Quarry which housed the GCWHQ (or Burlington Bunker as many wrongly know it as) is officially known as Corsham Computer Centre or CCC.

This highly secret operation has long been the focus of rumours of everything from Aliens to it being the new bunker for government. The latter does have an element of truth however the government wont be running there if the balloon went up!

It’s title actually does give a clue to its purpose as CCC is the hub of top-secret computerised and coded communications sent throughout the armed forces but in particular the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet. In the event of nuclear war starting its protected location would allow the UK to get retaliation under-way and ensure the computer software Trident uses is working at all times. All from the relative safety of a hill in Wiltshire. Security is tight at CCC and anyone legitimately visiting CCC is welcomed in through security doors that would do a bond movie proud before descending down to the quarry areas themselves via the lift.

It is almost certain that at least part of the complex is used by MASS who operate secure ICT systems for the UK government as well as counter cyber security activities. Many people think that CCC is in fact a command centre however this is unlikely given the brand new Naval Command Centre just 1000yrds away!

Despite being within the same complex that housed the other bunkers CCC is fully sealed off from the rest of the quarries.

Sadly you wont find any aliens at CCC just some very powerful computer equipment and some very high-ranking officers!

4. Q.Whitehall

Underneath and around Whitehall, London there are military citadels built during the second world war and utilised during the Cold War. These include the Admiralty Citadel, The Cabinet War Rooms, Pindar and something known as Q.Whitehall.

During the second world war Q.Whitehall was used by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and may be an unofficial name, we do know that later it was a secret communications centre operated by the GPO (General Post Office) and later British Telecom (BT). The sites official codename is QWHI. The site operated as a nerve centre for Government department communications at time of crisis to ensure continuity of government.

The site is connected to a series of tunnels which serve as both access and cable tunnels. Many of which were built under a BT Scheme to build deep communication tunnels during the Cold War. One end of the tunnel connects to an access point at the former Trafalgar Square Tube Station (now part of Charing Cross Station). Other tunnels connect to the Rotundas which were located under the old Department of Environment buildings on Marsham Street. These served as War Rooms during the cold war making it highly likely that the tunnel network would have served as access to the rotundas from Whitehall itself. It is also likely that these tunnels connect to other strategic buildings.

The main access point to the tunnels can be found in the Whitehall Telephone Exchange and later in their life they were connected to the Kingsway Tunnels.

In 1980 journalist Duncan Campbell found a way in to the tunnels and wrote an article for the New Statesman. In his book, War Plan UK he provided detailed maps of the tunnels including the location of QWHI.

In 2009 The Guardian were given a tour of the Kingsway Tunnels which can be seen in a video here

The tunnels made the news again in 2015 when communication cabling caught fire. The BBC were recently shown the damage.

5. Protected Area Wood Norton

Bredon Basement - BBC Wood Norton (Credit - Source Unknown, please contact us for credit if this is your photo)

Bredon Basement – BBC Wood Norton

Nestled in the corner of an innocuous looking building within the grounds of Wood Norton Hall in Worcestershire is PAWN, Protected Area Wood Norton.

Wood Norton Hall was bought by the BBC in 1939 and used as an emergency relocation centre from its London Base. During the cold war however, it built a bunker in the basement of one of the buildings to act as broadcast facility in the event of a Nuclear War. This was in addition to the other broadcasting centres built into the regional government bunkers such as Kelvedon Hatch or Drakelow.

According to declassified files from the Government War Book and cold war era files that PAWN had been set up to broadcast around 100 days worth of programming (presumably after that it would have been repeats?) and It is known that extra staff and generators were sent to PAWN in 1999 to deal with the possible fallout from the millennium bug.

There is a very high possibility that PAWN still forms part of the Emergency Broadcast Plan for the BBC although for obvious reasons, they will not confirm or deny this.

You can read more about PAWN in our in depth feature.

About the Author

Britains Cold War
Consisting of historians, nuclear weapons and government planning experts Britain's Cold War provides news and information about The Cold War, Britain's Cold War and the new emerging Cold War often dubbed Cold War II. With more documents becoming declassified every day we learn a little bit more about what really went on between the end of World War II and the late 1990's.

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