Striking Gold

No matter where in the country I might end up on my travels, one thing can be sure - you're never too far from one of these. In total 1,563 Royal Observer Corps monitoring posts (ROC posts for short) were commissioned, manufactured and submerged 14ft below ground in strategic points all across the British Isles during the cold war era between the early 50's to the early 90's. In the event of a nuclear attack, they would collectively monitor the country safely hidden from the surface.

When stumbling upon one one of these unassuming sites, the same layout comprises of a protruding access shaft, and two air vents covered by downward-sloping louvres above ground which lead to sliding metal shutters below ground to control air flow during contamination by radioactive fallout. They would usually contain bunk-beds and a desk to host up to four personnel at a time, and had basic electrical supply but no plumbing systems. Luckily they were of course never forced into full service, and today most posts lie derelict and abandoned.

As the landscapes have changed around them in the years following the cold war, many that I have found now sit within the boundaries of golf courses, farmers fields, nature reserves and water-fronts. Approximately half of those built have been demolished, either on stand-down by the ROC or by private owners in subsequent years. Most landowners tightly seal them to avoid vandalism, but sometimes you strike gold and find one that's open for you to have a climb inside to see what's left behind. Unfortunately a trend has emerged over the years whereby youths set fire to them causing total destruction below ground, so some can just be a charred carcass inside.

Whilst it'd require a lot of effort to remove them entirely, some no longer exist at all on ground level and you can often find yourself wondering if you're in the correct spot to begin with. It can be a risk setting out to visit them for this very reason, as there's usually around a 75% chance that it's either been locked up or demolished. So far I've visited around half a dozen that are still intact and worth photographing. The sheer over-engineered construction of these bunkers means that, provided nobody has sought their destruction, they remain in fantastic condition having braved the elements remarkably well. The steel doors have a spring-latch system that more often than not opens as smoothly as the day they were installed, and I've yet to come across one with ladders that I wouldn't trust to use. Even in the worst of conditions they were clearly made to last. I imagine that this will be one of the most long-term documentary projects for me, as i doubt anyone has ever travelled to every single one that's survived the test of time.

This blog post is a preview of a handful of the treasures I've seen so far whilst visiting these hidden time capsules. Eventually I'll get around to posting an in-depth look at some of the best posts I've seen. You can also find information on how to visit preserved examples across the UK here.