One of the Surrey hidden gems. The bunker was sealed for over 10 years after catching fire in 2001. I spent some time trying to find the way to enter it. Finally I did. It was a pleasant surprise to find how much equipment was still left there.
Is there a secret shelter beneath Woking’s streets? Richard Darring asked in a Review article a year ago. He reported on a controversial book by Peter Laurie entitled Beneath The City Streets in which mention was made of Woking ‘s Southern Railway Divisional headquarters instituted at the start of the last war. Peter Laurie stated in his book that all traces of ‘Woking’s tunnel” had disappeared, but if he had dug a little further in the right places he would have found all sorts interesting things about the towns ‘battle headquarters’. Researcher and writer – Peter Bancroft and Review photographer Andrew Higgins have found the “secret tunnel”and have been to see it. Here are the facts.That the clouds of war had been gathering over Europe for some considerable time before September 1939 is undisputed, and all of the Big Four railway companies had themselves been very conscious of this fact. The Southern Railway had take several positive steps long before the start of the war, which principally involved a planned decentralisation of the stores departments and the administrative offices of the company. Their emergency headquarters away from the London area, which would undoubtedly be subjected to bombardment from the air, was to be in a large and imposing country house at Deepdene near Dorking. Another house at Elmstead Woods in Kent, and some space in the old locomotive works at Brighton were also taken and set aside for offices. In addition to this accommodation, there were to be three divisional headquarters located at Woking, Redhill and Orpington, each one having its own re-enforced underground chamber for the control staff. These “Battle Headquarters,” as they were sometimes called, were occupied from the very start of the war. The Woking headquarters was to control the extensive “London West” area. Woking station itself was the hub of London West Division Area Number 4, controlling the old South Western main line from Byfleet Junction down to Winchester Junction, together with various important connections to other lines and the two branches leaving the main line at Brookwood, one into the Brookwood Cemetery, and the other to Bisley Camp and Pirbright (both long since closed and lifted). These control arrangements continued during and for many years after the war, and even in its later years the Woking Underground control office boasted some nine controllers, each with telephone facilities, having direct contact with all the signal boxes in the various numbered areas. Apparently most of the controllers were to note the passing times of every train at various points in their respective areas, in order to establish early or late running and monitor traffic movements generally. With their special ability to divert traffic around any incidents, i.e. breakdowns, derailments, engineering works, etc. These arrangements were presumably very much the same in wartime, with added interference to traffic from air attacks. A locomotive control man and a driver’s guards control man were also part of the team, with their own special tasks of co-ordinating provision of motive power and planning crew duty rosters. Two revealing pictures of the wartime use of the various underground control rooms, were given in “The Railway Gazette” issues for 18th October 1940 and 21st March 1941 (Pages 414 and 330 respectively) though at the time their location was not stated for reasons of security. However, neither picture appears to be of the Woking office. Also at Woking, a wireless van was parked at the end of a short siding, near to the unloading bay at the east end of platform 5. That was one of 14 fixed radio installations provided during the war, which could be used in the event of dislocation of the telephone system by enemy action.
This system was only used twice during the war, once in May, 1941, and again in May, 1942, resulting from heavy raids in the London and Exeter areas respectively, causing damage to telephone lines. The importance of Woking as a traffic centre may be illustrated by the fact that the station had played an important part in the final movement by rail, of many troops brought back from Dunkirk, A number of these troop trains were reversed at the station an their way to more distant parts, having arrived by way of Redhill from the Channel Ports This in itself was a headache because there was no turntable at Woking for the locomotives. The problem was overcome by sending the engines “running light” up to the bay platform on the up side at Weybridge, and then running via the spur line to Addlestone Junction and round again to rejoin the down main line at Byfleet Junction, to face the right way round for westbounddeparture from Woking, Doubtless the controllers worked overtime in their underground office during this period. The build up to D Day would also have required an large amount of troops, munitions and stores train movements, all carefully planned and monitored by the various control staff. With permission granted by Mr. Graham Coombs. (BR Public Affairs Department) andthe supervisor of Mr. R H. Gosling (Area Civil Engineer, BR South WesternDivision) we visited the Southern Railway Woking underground control office.
As the photographs shows, the shambles and dereliction of the place today does not do credit to its former strategic and vital service in the dark days at the war. Indeed our visit seemed quite an anti-climax after so manygreat expectations of this strategic place. The main control room is perhaps 10 or 12 feet wide and about 20 feet long with air locks leading off at both ends up to the surface entrances. The air locks consist of steel doors with small glass panels and bearing inscriptions that read ‘ Upon hearing a purple, red or gas warning close all steel doors when entering or leaving the shelter. The first door must be closed before opening the second.
Parallel to the main office are four smaller rooms, entered through a third door from within the air lock at the east end of the shelter. The last of these four rooms is also connected directly to the main control room at the west end via a small door. These smaller rooms had contained a telephone exchange, warm air ventilation plant, electrical control apparatus, and one room is currently in use by the local Electricity Board as a substation, presumably supplying the offices above. There were no toilets provided in the shelter and the walls were apparently just whitewashed.
There is of course, no access to the public, the shelter being on BritishRailways private property. Anyone found trespassing is therefore liable to prosecution So Mr. Laurie, I must disappoint readers of your book, in so fur as exploding the notion that this might be some secret Government shelter, manned and ready in the event of a nuclear attack. Instead only the shattered remains of a once bustling wartime railway underground control office. Are any other locations mentioned in your book In the same state as this one? I do not know. Certainly the people of Woking need not rush to this particular shelter for protection. But has Woking any other more modern shelters? Now who was it said that the basement of the new council offices took a long time to build ? I wonder. There are three pictures published in the paper, one shows the gas tight door with the inscription, one shows the main office with desks along both walls and the third shows some of the racks of electrical (telephone ?) equipment still in place.
Woking Southern Railway Traffic Underground Control Centre remained operational until the mid 1960’s.
Upon hearing a purple, red or gas warning close all steel doors when entering or leaving the shelter. The first door must be closed before opening the second.
That’s it for now, there will be more to come soon.