Secret bunkers hidden in the streets, woods and buildings of Greater Manchester which were built in fear of attack from the Soviet Union

Nestled in the farthest corner of the woods, hidden hundreds of feet underground and filled with subterranean corridors and rooms reminiscent of past tensions, Greater Manchester is home to a series of little-known nuclear bunkers.

They were built at a time when there was a very real fear of nuclear war, some in secret. During the Cold War, Britain was an ally of the United States, which was at war with the Soviet Union and needed its own nuclear deterrent.

A fascination for urban explorers and even a destination for illegal ravers, here’s a look at some of the secret shelters and what they’ve become today.

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Builders have uncovered a 30-year-old nuclear bunker beneath Trafford Town Hall as part of its multi-million pound refurbishment.

A maze of brick tunnels, foot-thick steel and reinforced concrete, the vast chamber was designed to house the best brass should the nuclear sirens sound.

The 10,000 square foot fallout shelter was designed as part of the council’s expansion of City Hall in the 1980s. Its inclusion in the plans sparked outrage from anti-nuclear campaigners, who furiously attacked her as a waste of money.

But town hall leaders said it was an “essential” part of its civil defense against a widespread attack. Now empty except for a generator and an air filtration system, the maze, built by structural engineer Ray Higham, once included a cavernous storage room of dried food, government radio equipment and – rumor has it – a morgue.

The offices opened in 1983, with the nuclear bunker fully formed. A year later, Antony Mills, then 18 and working for the council’s chief executive, took a journey into its depths. He found a huge room full of plastic bags and boxes of dehydrated food

It is believed that the council received funding from the Thatcher government for the bunker. This caused huge quarrels within the town hall. Manchester MP Tony Lloyd, then deputy leader of Trafford’s Labor Party, called the move “absolute nonsense” at the time. And with most of Britain’s nuclear bunkers built in the 1950s – and many being decommissioned in the 1980s – experts have also questioned that decision.

Till Geiger, a Cold War historian at the University of Manchester, said he was surprised that Trafford built one so late. He said: “However, 1983 was when cruise missiles were first stationed here. There was some tension and people were talking about the possibility of nuclear war.”

At the time, City Hall bosses denied it was a waste of money – insisting it would also be used in peacetime. This is ultimately what happened, with the safe house becoming an archive, an emergency control center and eventually a CCTV center until it was closed and sealed.

Trafford Town Hall Bunker


Built at the height of the Cold War, the Mill Lane bunker in Cheadle, designed to withstand direct missile attacks, was intended to house the bigwigs while they were absent from nuclear hostilities before emerging into a devastated world but probably without fallout.

Ten years after it was put up for sale by the Ministry of Defence, the bunker was demolished to make way for more parking spaces for staff working at the nearby Alexandra Hospital.

Although it has 25 rooms, the musty smelling bunker, built with concrete walls five feet thick, was built to accommodate up to 90 people, the bunker was intended to serve as a command post for the ministers in the event of a nuclear holocaust and contained an obsolete telephone switchboard as well as emergency generators and telecommunications equipment.

The bunker was owned by the Ministry of Defence, but was leased to the Greater Manchester Fire and Civil Defense Authority (GMFCDA) in the 1980s when the threat of nuclear attack was considered to have subsided. The bunker then sat idle while the Ministry of Defense decided what to do with the land, before putting it up for sale in 1993.

Manchester City Center

Manchester’s nuclear bunkers – hidden 120ft below the streets between St. Peter’s Square and Piccadilly Gardens have been refurbished and offered for rent as offices.

The network of tunnels, which stretches under the city to Ardwick and Salford, removed from the protection of official secrets laws in the 1970s, is still guarded 24 hours a day by security personnel. But they are unknown to the vast majority of people who walk on them daily.

The entrances to the tunnels, including two on George Street, are surrounded by barbed wire and security barriers. The telephone exchange, as it is called, has a main tunnel that stretches over 300 meters from St. Peter’s Square to the Piccadilly Plaza Hotel in the city centre. Smaller tunnels cross the city.

They were built in the 1950s when fear of nuclear war was at its height and were so secret that Polish immigrants unable to speak a word of English were employed to build them. In the event the town was damaged by an atomic bomb, the tunnels would have been used to maintain vital telecommunications networks with other towns in the UK.

Worsley Wood

Tucked away in a remote corner of the RHS Bridgewater site in Worsley, a Cold War relic is now camouflaged by graffiti as well as foliage, and has been a destination for so-called ‘urban explorers’.

Dug into the side of a hill in 1951, the bunker was built when the potential for a nuclear strike by a Soviet Russia led by Joseph Stalin was deemed at its height.

It was built by the War Office as the land-based anti-aircraft operations room at Worsley New Hall, and was part of a national network of defenses which included an alternative seat of government to the House of Commons – underground at Box Hill near Corsham in Wilshire.

It was thought that the British population could be protected by anti-aircraft guns in the event of a Soviet attack and so the country was divided into 33 gun-defended areas arranged in five groups.

Worsley Woods Bunker

Worsley’s bunker was part of this network, the nearest being at Frodsham. The square two-storey structure at Worsley is a main operations room surrounded by eight reinforced concrete rooms and an observation gallery. It would have had its own electricity supply and enough space for food stores.

But, as nuclear technology advanced during the Cold War, defense policies changed. It became clear that a nuclear attack would come not from bombs dropped by aircraft but from intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the austerity of the 1950s led to cuts in the defense budget.

In 1956 the bunker was in use as a Royal Navy store, but in 1961 it was transferred to local authorities as a crisis control center and in 1968 it was closed.

A report from the Department of Applied Archaeology, University of Salford, commissioned by Peel, states: “The emergence of the idea of ​​détente after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the changes in scale and nature of nuclear weapons in the 1960s led to the closure of the Civil Defense Corps in 1968.

“The Worsley New Hall bunker was also closed that year, suggesting that it was no longer seen as a viable part of the new policy of preserving civilian power after nuclear war.”

Over the past few decades, the bunker has had a varied history.

From the 1970s to the early 1980s it was used by the Greater Manchester Fire Service. Then in 1985 it was leased to the Worsley Rife and Pistol Club who converted it into a shooting range, before Peel Investments acquired it in 2000.

In April 2009, one of many raves was held in the bunker, attracting thousands of people. Due to heavy vandalism, both entrances were eventually blocked off. It has remained empty ever since.

When it finally opens, off Leigh Road in Worsley, in May, RHS Bridgewater will be the country’s fifth national garden – and the bunker will be part of its estate.

The land where the building stands was sold by Peel to the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) and Salford Council. The council has put £19 million towards the creation of the garden.

It was built by the War Office as the land-based anti-aircraft operations room at Worsley New Hall, and was part of a national network of defenses which included an alternative seat of government to the House of Commons – underground at Box Hill near Corsham in Wilshire.


At the height of the global panic, a nuclear bunker was built under the new civic center in Oldham.

It was designed to serve as a safe room to protect policy makers and city leaders from any nuclear attack or fallout. Fortunately, it was never used, but since then thousands of people have entered the 200-foot-tall tower on West Street unaware of what lies beneath their feet.

Construction of Oldham Civic Center

Today, the bunker, consisting of underground corridors and chambers, is used for storage. The individual chambers, reinforced with concrete and brick, were part of the overall design of the center. It opened in 1977 but the bunker has not been made public.

The mesmerizing footage reveals binary code tape boxes, believed to have been used to send messages to the government, still on the floor. Abandoned telephones and an ancient trading system also provide insight into how post-apocalypse survivors would have kept in touch with the world.

Civic Bunker Items

Fuses and spare light bulbs are revealed and abandoned sinks, desks and chairs also give a glimpse of how office equipment has changed over 40 years. The council said only a select few would have been able to enter if the sirens had sounded – senior advisers and officers, police chiefs, engineers, doctors and communications experts.

Council Leader Jim McMahon said: ‘I think it’s fair to say that few of our residents, as well as those who have visited the Civic Center over the years, realize that there is a bunker under the building. It’s quite strange and shocking to think that if the bomb had been dropped, that’s where some of the survivors would have ended up, effectively tasked with helping run what was left of the country.

Oldham Bunker Artifacts

“Fortunately the bunker was never meant to be used, but I hope these images will give people a glimpse of what it would have been like to live and work underground.”

It is understood that the government ordered the construction of thousands of underground complexes during the Cold War. Most have been decommissioned.

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