Tucked away behind New Eltham library lies a Cold War relic many will be unaware about.
For here sits Greenwich Borough Control 51C1, where regional command would have operated in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
It survives to this day, though many wouldn’t take a second look at the squat, windowless building located beside a park on Southwood Road.
Woolwich Borough Council opted to locate their centre in New Eltham, and the building was constructed in 1954 with extremely thick concrete walls surrounding numerous rooms and two reinforced blast doors between an air lock. With the merging of boroughs across London in 1965, it became the main Greenwich borough site. It reported to Regional HQ at Chislehurst.
Inside was a kitchen, men and women’s toilets, plant room, signals room and control room. A diesel generator would provide power and the ability to withstand whatever was outside, at least for a short time.
It seems the centre had a short life as the main borough command of around a decade.
The site been mostly empty for around 40 years. It wasn’t just for nuclear war but civic emergencies and disasters. The site was last used to any great degree in 1976 to prepare for flooding under “Excercise Floodprove” before the Thames Barrier opened in 1984 (construction of the Barrier begun two years before the exercise in 1974).
The last known visit was in 2003, and 15 years ago the site was still strewn with paperwork from that exercise.
Peggy Middleton House in Woolwich is no more, with a giant Tesco now on site. Yet the bunker in New Eltham lives on, largely unknown. Not much is visible now, with doors solidly blocked. An antenna survives on the roof. It’s now a more pleasant shade of burnt red/brown rather than bare concrete.
The former regional command at Chislehurst is now a luxury home.
A 2003 site visit can be seen here with a brilliant overview of not only this centre but also the entire network.
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