Cold war secret bunker hidden under old folks’ day centre in King’s Lynn

NATO forces have dug in, waiting for the Russians to cross the Rhine. Fingers hover over the buttons. The chilling threat of nuclear war reached even Norfolk in the Cold War of the 1960s and 70s.

While the rest of the nation was told to paint their windows white and build a refuge under the stairs, the great and good had bolt-holes to govern us from if the balloon went up.

While it's doubtful much would have been left to govern, had Russia launched a nuclear strike, civil defence plans were pursued all the same, with a network of secret underground bunkers with steel blast doors, bunk beds and unisex chemical loos to shelter officials from the destruction.

West Norfolk's inner sanctum lies in a leafy suburb of King's Lynn, tucked beneath an old folks' day centre, by a set of busy traffic lights on one of the main roads into the town.

Yesterday, the EDP was given an impromptu tour of the centre, which has been partially-flooded by recent rain.

Inside an anonymous porch, two flights of concrete steps lead down to thick steel blast doors. The subterranean complex would have housed a command and control centre, from which damage reports and casualty numbers would have been collated in the immediate aftermath.

Graham Wray, facilities manager with NPS, which manages properties for Norfolk County Council, said the bunker was built in 1966, beneath a new old people's home and day centre.

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'There are lots of them around,' he said. 'There are two near Norwich, one at Bawburgh, one at County Hall.

Mr Wray said he knew nothing about its operational arrangements and there were no plans to open the complex to the public.

'It's no more than a cellar to a building now,' he said. 'There are already bunkers open to the public - Neatishead is one, that's a much bigger one.'

A line of zimmer frames stretch along one wall, as if to prove the point. Mouldy mugs in one of the dorms, with their triple sets of bunk beds, look like some germ warfare experiment gone wrong.

You wonder what kind of life it would have been down here. Once you'd raced down the steps and the steel doors slammed shut, who knows what you might have found when you went outside again.

'It makes you wonder if you'd want to go in there in the first place,' said Mr Wray. 'How would you say goodbye to your family.

'The world has changed, hasn't it. I did watch Dr Strangelove again last week. I find it frightening even now.'

There is something almost farcical about the whole thing today - as daft as the Protect and Survive advice dished out in the 1970s, as Whitehall and the Pentagon tried to reassure us nuclear war was survivable if we stocked up on tinned peaches and loo rolls.

Charts on the walls have spaces to record radiation levels around Norfolk, along with estimates of damage and the number of casualties. Underneath, a note explains how to order more toner for the photocopier.

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