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Barnton Quarry

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Barnton Quarry bunker , © http://www.subbrit.org.uk/
Barnton Quarry bunker c. 2001
© Subterranea Britannica

Barnton Quarry lies to just over three miles west of Edinburgh, approximately halfway between the city centre and Edinburgh Airport, which was developed from RAF Turnhouse. The quarry was chosen as the site of an Operations Room for the Turnhouse Sector of RAF Fighter Command, and the overground building shown in the photograph is the original building constructed there during World War II.

During the Cold War, the facility was reused, and became one of 14 Regional Seats of Government (RSG) distributed around the country, massive underground bunkers where government services would have been transferred to in the event of nuclear war. The RSG was intended to house the Scottish Secretary and members of the Scottish Office, police, BBC, BT and others to form a wartime government in Scotland The underground facility dates from 1952, and added a further three storeys beneath the original World War II surface building.

Although constructed in secret, the existence of the RSGs was revealed by the Spies for Peace in 1963, after they broke into RSG-6 at Warren Row in Reading, and gained access to all the documentation held there. As a result, Barnton Quarry and the Cambridge RSG were picketed almost immediately by protesters.

We are grateful to our friends at Subterranea Britannica for permission to reproduce the following details. Please note the source material is credited to Ian Brown and the Historical Radar Archive in this case.

Site Name: Barnton Quarry Rotor SOC and RSG
NT203748
Clermiston Road
Edinburgh

By Ian Brown, Historical Radar Archive

Barnton Quarry consists of two distinct, although connected, structures. The first is the surface building, shown in the photo above. This was built during the Second World War and was used as an Operations Room within the Turnhouse Sector of RAF Fighter Command.

The second structure is the underground R4, which was a three-level building built in 1952 and given the code letters MHA. This was used as the Sector Operations Centre for the Caledonian Sector, receiving information from radar stations across Scotland, including that at Anstruther. However, the delays involved in passing information from radar station, to SOC, to sector station from where fighter aircraft would be scrambled, were too great in the jet age. Potentially hostile aircraft would be able to penetrate the air defences before fighters could intercept them. The development of the long-range GCI (Ground Control of Interception) Type 80 radar meant that early warning and also control of fighter aircraft could be handled from a single radar screen. Consequently, the whole ROTOR air defence system became obsolete and all the Sector Operations Centres were no longer required.

Top level after fire, 2001
Top level after fire
© Subterranea Britannica

It was a few years later before the redundant underground complex was reused when, in the early 1960s, Barnton Quarry became a Regional Seat of Government. Although a supposedly secret government building, the existence of the nuclear shelter was made public on Good Friday, 1963, when a group known as Spies for Peace revealed details of fourteen RSGs throughout the country. Barnton Quarry remained an open secret in the Edinburgh area and CND even made protests outside the entrance to the site.

Lothian Regional Council inherited Barnton Quarry in 1984, selling the property in June 1987 for £55,000 to a Glasgow developer. The site was put on the market again in August 1992 but before it could be sold the interior was largely destroyed by fire. Since this has released asbestos fibres throughout the underground rooms it is extremely unlikely that the site will ever be used again. It remains redundant and dereliction seems to be the likely outcome.
© Subterranea Britannica[1]

Inherited by the local council in 1984, it was sold to a Glasgow developer in 1987 for £50,000,and then offered for sale again in 1991. It was destroyed by fire before being sold, and the shell, with ferro-concrete walls up to 10 feet thick, is likley to remain derelict.

The building is now EXTREMELY hazardous, as the fire resulted in the release of asbestos fibres which now permeate all the floors and rooms.

Subterranea Britannica book media story 2011

In March 2011, The Scotsman ran a story on the publication of a new book covering all the country's nuclear bunkers, and featured Barnton Quarry:

All these years later, the Barnton nuclear hideout features in a fascinating new book examining Britain's Cold War bunkers, offering in many instances an unprecedented look at what is contained in them now, decades after the risk of Soviet attack.

For cameraman and photographer Nick Catford, author of the book, it was something of a dream come true to be given access to the Barnton bunker - truly one of a kind owing to its construction in a rock face - as well as another base at Craigiehall and a bunker at Kirknewton, which has since been demolished.
- Barnton bunker a hot spot in the Cold War - News - Scotsman.com[2]

1974 break-in

The bunker was broken into and raided by four youths aged between 17 and 20 years of age, in 1974, who discovered the facility by accident, then returned with a car to take photographs, and remove documents and equipment from their find. Although it is not clear how they were traced, it seems likely they told spoke of their find, and the police caught them about four months later. After and initial appearance in court, it seems that all charges were later dropped in return for their silence on the matter.

A somewhat embellished account of the affair appeared in issue 11 of UNDERCURRENTS, which described itself as the magazine of radical science and alternative technology while it was in print, and was published in 1975. (Although this is a quote, discrepancies clearly due to OCR errors have been edited):

DR. WHO'S SCOTS CITADEL BURGLED!

FOUR EDINBURGH youths have been blackmailed into keeping secret the underground shelter they discovered near their homes last spring. After agreeing to silence, the recent prosecution for theft against them in the Edinburgh court just faded away.

West of Edinburgh, amongst the 'better' residential districts of Cramond and Corstorphine, is the landmark of Corstorphine Hill. Flanked on the South by Edinburgh Zoo, the woods on the North give way to Barnton Quarry, just off the main Forth Bridge Road. Fifty yards from the footpath crossing the hill, a public park, a few desolate looking brick buildings are fenced off on a concrete compound. Here, in the shadow of the quarry faces, an old man tends a few rose beds scattered around the compound, and mutters very little about what lies beneath his feet. A diesel generator is silent, as is the complex of masts and radio aerials on the cliff edge above. On the far side, curious ventilators have sprouted through the granite scree, their shutters now adorned with Edinburgh gangland graffiti. Barnton Quarry is known to be the headquarters of Scotland's emergency government, exposed by the Committee of 100 after the Spies for Peace disclosures in 1963. It had been rebuilt some ten years earlier for the RAF.

Barnton Boogies

Four larking local lads broke into those derelict buildings in April 1974 not expecting to find much of worth among what appeared to be old quarry outbuildings. They had only taken a few steps inside before they realised that these sheds were much more. Corridors led off in several directions and farther below was a vast complex of offices, laboratories and rooms full of electronic equipment. They had, according to friends, found it "impossible to describe the size". Reporters at the subsequent court case heard how they then left the place quite quickly, to return some hours later with a car, cameras and other equipment. They were quickly able to explore much of the bunker below the quarry. It was in perfect condition maps on the walls and water and electricity connected. But the tables and desks were covered in dust, the court heard. One of them took six reels of photographs as they explored the subterranean caverns. Another "because he was interested in electronics" he explained, gathered quantities of documents, maps and diagrams with little heed for any 'secret' markings they bore. They also removed items of radio equipment which they found lying about.

Paralysis

When the Spies for Peace blew the gaff on the Government's secret chain of regional headquarters in 1963, they obtained their information in a similar way. They had made a very well concealed raid on RSG 6 at the Berkshire village of Warren Row. And other raids on civil defence headquarters followed. But these four Edinburgers didn't have the faintest idea of what to do with what they had found. They had, it seemed from the case, been 'paralysed' after the break-in. They dumped the radio equipment which was later recovered by the police. Time dragged on until, inevitably, their homes were raided four months later. During the raid on one of the youths' homes, in an Edinburgh suburb near Corstorphine Hill, the police dramatically pushed open the door of an old garden shed. Amongst the rakes and spades inside they found the still undeveloped film and all the missing maps, diagrams and documents. The four, aged 17 to 20, were brought to court in the second week in August, charged with breaking into what the police coyly described as "Underground government offices in a quarry". Although the case was not held in camera, much of the evidence was withheld or avoided. The youths pleaded guilty to theft of radio equipment, included VHF and HF transceivers and specialised broadcasting equipment worth over £2,000. But, curiously, nothing happened to them. Instead, their case was adjourned for another six months, after which they appeared in court again. In the intervening period, they had been 'persuaded' to sign an agreement not to reveal what they had seen or done. In the end, the four were "discharged without a fuss" provided they help keep the dungeon a state secret. Clearly, the Government wishes to keep the knowledge of the continued existence and threat of its subterranean headquarters hidden from those who 'elect' them. But by now, many of Edinburgh's population are aware that 'something' lies in Corstorphine Hill, although so long as they have no conception of its size the 'secret' is safe enough. In 1963 the local Committee of 100 suggested that the base accommodated 500 people. It was certainly large enough to blow the unsuspecting minds of four naive young locals.

More mindblowing still is a small fenced enclosure behind the bear enclosure of Edinburgh Zoo, half a mile south on Corstorphine Hill. In the halfacre enclosure stands a solitary telephone box entirely painted dark green. A prim path leads to its opaque entrance. This extraordinary spare prop from the Doctor Who set is, reportedly, an emergency exit for the embunkered bureaucrats

You don't believe it? Go and look for yourself.
Undercurrents 11 May-June 1975[3]

Note

The above article is mildly dubious, and a report received during 2010 suggested that despite walking around Corstorphine Hill in search of the green telephone box, nothing was found. If it was there, closure of the bunker probably led to its removal, and sealing of the tunnel it would have terminated, to prevent unwanted access to the hazardous underground site.

With regards to the Green Telephone, I confirm this as true. I used to live in the Clermiston estate, which Corstorphine Hill borders and as a child we would often go up "The Woods". The Green Telephone Box was very strangely, so very noticeable, it stood out like a sore thumb on top of a man made mound with grass on it, with concrete steps leading up to it. The easiest way to get to it, was by going to the very end of Cairnmuir Road, which bleeds out into a small car park, which itself bleeds into a path, into and through the woods. Following the path, which basically goes along the top perimeter fence of Edinburgh Zoo, after a few minutes on your right hand side is (or at least used to be) The Green Telephone Box.

The box was positioned behind the Zoo fence, but cordoned of from the Zoo also. We went over the fence a few times to investigate or even better gain access, but never could. It was solidly locked (welded even), with no handle on the outside and all the panels blacked out by thick metal sheeting. The mound was actually hollow and had a couple of manholes on it, through which you could hear running water some distance down.

I severely doubt the story about it being a escape hatch, from a tunnel, from the complex at the Quarry. To me if you were going to have an escape hatch to a secret complex and a secret tunnel, you would not make it a glaringly obvious Green Telephone Box, further highlighted by the fact it is on a mound.

I have also been in the complex, in the mid 1980s a few years before the fire and it truly was a place to behold. A group of us, spent a period of about a month (to begin with) just going up every day and exploring the place more and more, finding new tunnels to the "underground complex" and then a square stairwell (complete with a crane going up the centre) leading down to all the levels and a basement level, that led to huge Green Metal, 20ft high, blast doors which in turn led you out into the very back of the actual Barnton Quarry and Council Depot. In all the time we were "in", we never once saw anything that was or looked like a potential door, tunnel etc that lead in the direction of the Green Telephone Box, which was directly to the South about 1/2 a mile away (the depot escape doors, were at the rear of the complex, in the North)

The location of the green telephone box has been confirmed from local reports, and identified as being on the site of an underground reservoir. The feature has been removed, which is in line with reports made of similar reservoirs, where these have been upgraded, so it is clear that the dubious story related above was based purely on coincidence and speculation to enhance its own intrigue.

Purchase 2005

In 2005, the bunker at Barnton Quarry was purchased by James Mitchell, who was already already operating the museum at Scotland's Secret Bunker near Anstruther, Fife. As with Anstruther the long term plan was to turn the bunker into a museum and visitor attraction.

The task was an immense one, given the condition of Barnton - abandoned as obsolete, it eventually passed to Lothian Regional Council in 1984, which then sold it to a Glasgow property developer for £55,000 in June 1987. The 6-acre site lay abandoned and derelict and uncared for, until the owner of the Anstruther site acquired it for £60,000 in 2005.

However, the bunker had been devastated by fires, first in August 1991, and then again in May 1993. The cause is unsure, either being simple vandalism, or the action of ravers who had been using the site to hold illegal ­parties. In any event, the fire led to the release of large amounts of asbestos into the air, which apparently had the effect of deterring further vandalism to the already wrecked interior. Later test showed that the asbestos threat of has had lessened over time.[4]

Barnton Quarry underground bunker survey 2009

Believed to have been completed in 2009, the owners carried out a detailed floor-by-floor survey of the underground bunker to detrmine its condition, and provided an online record complete with photographs, including before and after picture of many areas, showing what they would have looked like before the various vires and other attacks.[5]

Sale and development reported in 2013

A further news item appeared in April 2013, suggesting that a date of 2016 had been given for the new attraction to open at Barnton Quarry.[6]

Barnton Quarry web site

A web site relating to developments on the site was found online during 2015, but it is undated and none of the articles are dated, so it is not possible to tell when it was created, or how relevant the content is.[7]

News released in 2017 of 2019 opening

Although it had been possible to follow developments at a distance, most (all?) info found up to 2015 or so regarding work evaporated from the web.

In July 2017 a news article was noted in The Scotsman, reporting of "A long-term restoration plan is currently ongoing to remove traces of asbestos and return the bunker to it’s 1952 state. Volunteers have been working for years to clear debris, salvage fixtures and fittings, sandblast surfaces, clean graffiti and restore power to the complex.

The article went on to note that it is expected that the bunker wou;d eventually open officially to the public for the first time in 2019.[8]

Photographs

2009

Angled tunnel, 2009
Angled tunnel
© Ben Cooper
Soundproofed BBC studio, 2009
Soundproofed BBC studio
© Ben Cooper
Operations room, 2009
Operations room
© Ben Cooper


References

1 Subterranea Britannica entry

2 Barnton bunker a hot spot in the Cold War - News - Scotsman.com Retrieved November 30, 2011.

3 Undercurrents 11 May-June 1975

4 Queen’s Edinburgh nuclear bunker to open as museum - Latest news - Scotsman.com Retrieved May 08, 2013.

5 Barnton Quarry Survey Retrieved May 08, 2013.

6 Edinburgh underground bunker to be opened up to visitors | News | Edinburgh | STV Retrieved May 08, 2013.

7 http://www.barntonquarry.org.uk/community Retrieved July 23, 2015.

8 Edinburgh’s secret nuclear bunker prepares to open its doors - The Scotsman Retrieved 18 July 2017.

External links


Aerial views


Map

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