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Hawthorn is the location of a number of defence related underground facilities in the vicinity of Corsham, Wiltshire. Specifically the Hawthorn site was the location of an above-ground bunker used for the planning of satellite communications support to the United Kingdom's armed forces worldwide. These facilities had been built in quarries cleared through the excavation of Bath stone. The quarries have variously been used for Military Command & Control, storage, and the emergency fallback seat of the national government. Some areas of the quarry complex were hardened and provided with support measures to ensure resilience in the event of an enemy nuclear attack.


Central Ammunition Depot

During the 1930s, there was a recognition of a need to provide secure storage for munitions in the south of the United Kingdom, a large area of the quarries around the Corsham area was renovated by the Royal Engineers as one of three major stockpiles. This ammunition depot was provided access by a spur railway line from the main London-to-Bristol line, branching off just outside the eastern entrance to the Box Tunnel. This spur line led to double platform inside the tunnel complex that was to be used to deliver and remove munitions.

The Central Ammunition Depot (CAD) was intended to be complemented by two further depots, one in Wales and one in northern England, neither of which were developed to the same scale as the CAD.

The construction design meant that an explosive accident or detonation inside any one of the stores would not propagate throughout the ammunition storehouse.

The CAD was decommissioned after World War II.

Aircraft Engine Factory

A portion of the quarry complex was developed as an aircraft engine factory, to act as a fallback should the Bristol Engine company Factory at Filton be taken out of action by bombing. This engine factory was never used.

Royal Air Force Rudloe Manor

In another area of the quarry Royal Air Force Box was established as the Headquarters of the 10th Fighter Group of the Royal Air Force. The RAF Box was later renamed RAF Rudloe Manor and expanded to encompass a number of communications functions including No1 Signal Unit, Controller Defence Communications Network, the No1001 Signal Unit Detachment and Headquarters RAF Provost & Security Service.

No1SU and CDCN were both housed in bunkers within the quarry complex, which also included an RAF Regional Command Centre for the South West of England.

Adjacent Defence Establishments

In the vicinity of Hawthorn were Basil Hill Barracks, a Royal Signals establishment, HMS Royal Arthur, a Royal Navy training establishment and the Royal Naval Stores Depot Copenacre which used the quarries as a storage facility. Corsham Computer Centre was bult into Hudswell Quarry during the 1980s.

The Army Welfare Service Cotswold Families Centre is to the south.

Seat of national government

British defence doctrine during the early Cold War period indicated a requirement for a fallback location for central government outside London, to assume national control in the event of London being destroyed. The quarry complex at Corsham was chosen for this location and development of the site commenced in the 1950s. In the event of imminent nuclear attack, it was assumed that the government would be evacuated from London by rail or helicopter. The facility would provide a safe haven for the Prime Minister, Cabinet, commanders of the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and British Army and supporting civil servants and military personnel.

The site had a number of code names during its lifetime: Stockwell, Turnstile and Burlington.

Facilities inside the complex included accommodation and catering for nearly 4,000 people, including a hospital, self-contained electrical generation equipment, and the ability to seal off the complex from the outside environment, which could be contaminated by radiation, poison gas or other threat.

In practice the use of the facility would have required planning and a controlled migration since the warning times of an unannounced nuclear attack preclude mobilisation out of London, though this would have been more likely to be done late in the crisis phase.

The site was taken over by the Ministry of Defence in 1991 following the fragmentation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, though it was kept on standby in case of future nuclear threats to the U.K. Finally, in December 2004, with its underground reservoir drained, emptied of fuel and supplies, and with a skeleton staff of just four, this site was decommissioned and abandoned.


The Hawthorn site has been offered for sale, conditional on a Private Finance Initiative for the continued use of the above-ground facilities.[1][2]


  1. ^ For sale: Britain’s underground city
  2. ^

Further reading

  • Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War. Penguin Books, London, 2002.
  • McCamley, Nick (2000) Secret underground cities : an account of some of Britain's subterranean defence, factory and storage sites in the Second World War, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, ISBN 0-85052-733-3

External links



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