SALFORD'S NUCLEAR BUNKER
"It was true. And it was eerie"
I knew this girl once who worked in my local pub. She always wore dreadlocks, had ankle-length skirts, always ate organic. She was really nice this bar maid, but she didn't half go on about conspiracy theories. I mean, we all have a go at a little conspiracy theory now and again don't we? But most of us just raise our eyebrows, give a bit of a nod and usually - that's it. We might think about it for a minute before drifting off to wonder what's in the fridge for tea. Not her.
No. She knew everything there was to know. After all, her dad was a Russian spy did we not know? She realised this when she went through some boxes of her mum's when she'd contracted BSE – "the first in the country by-the-way" – which made sense because their farm had the first cow to get the horrible disease. Somehow she'd linked Russian spies with Mad Cow's Disease. I don't know how. On top of this there was, "Salford's Nuclear Bunker round the corner – just off Chapel Street".
"Google it" she said before changing the subject to crop circles. I did. And as I sat there with the pale blue light of my lap-top illuminating my face in the dark at home, I'll never forget the freezing cold chill that rushed up over my shoulders – it was true. And it was eerie.
100 feet below Salford M3 lies a vast network of tunnels known as `the upper level'. 500 feet below these lies `the lower level', and the vast network stretches from this emergency exit off Chapel Street all the way to Ardwick Green where the only other emergency exit lies – in a similar state and probably unknown to the people of that area too.
The `Guardian Building', as it was codenamed, was constructed to safeguard our telecommunications system in the event of a nuclear attack in the 1950s with £4 million from the USA via NATO (Britain was financially crippled after the war and our position geographically made us the front line of the western world in the cold war).
Every major city in the UK has one of these, but not all of them are off the official secrets list yet – believe it or not. Ours came off it in 1969!
Stretching an estimated two miles beneath the earth, Guardian Buildings had its own manned telephone exchange, a bar with a pool table, loads of rooms with beds and enough food stacked away to last months. It even had a canteen with an aquarium of tropical fish and its mess room had false windows depicting painted country scenes for the mental health of those stuck down there for months.
Building began in absolute secrecy toward the end of the fifties with the construction of equipment in Piccadilly Gardens not unlike the pitheads you will see at any colliery. People were told it was work for the GPO (which it kind of was). But that was all they were told. Many office workers of the time reported vibrations from below the ground – blasts in fact to clear the way on much of the sand stone which our two cities stand upon. Because of this – and the secrecy surrounding it - speculation rose at the time that what was really going on was the discovery of gold. Reports of provisions getting police escorts through closed off streets compounded the suspicions that something else was afoot.
No one could get any info on the subject. The government had been really clever you see – they'd employed the stranded Polish allies to work on it ensuring little, if any, information leaked out. And as time passed by, suspicions and knowledge passed by with it.
From 1958 until 1968 the tunnels were in use by the GPO to handle trunk calls and the entrance to the vast network was from under Dial House on Chapel Street. There must be many more entrances below Town Halls and other important council buildings but even though its existence is now known and admitted by our government, there still remains a lot of secrecy about the complex.
Several times the secret tunnels have threatened to blow their own cover though; in 1969 a huge blaze forced firemen to walk up to half an hour along a mile and a half of tunnel before they even got to the fire itself. So thick and black was the smoke that the lighting down there made no impact. The firemen were praised for their bravery. But they were down there once again in 2004, this time the blaze did its worse and put over 130,000 homes and businesses out of action from Cheshire to Merseyside.
Little wonder then that BT (its current owners) take any threat to it extremely seriously. In 2005 a few lads broke into the Salford end causing £20,000 worth of damages after making off with £14,000 worth of equipment. The police got them from DNA left on a cigarette dimp.
You'll see the original entrance and air ventilation shaft just behind the Old Bank Theatre, very heavily protected now with an outer and inner fence and then razor wire – just in case you're lucky enough to get that far.
I don't know how the city council are going to handle it with these recent compulsory purchase orders they've placed on the buildings. I've seen maps of the regeneration and – surprise, surprise – there's no reference to it at all. But there are books and websites dedicated to it and they all make for fascinating reading, so the secret is out there.
As for the barmaid - I've been contemplating a box of photos she left in my charge. She's not been in touch for six years and I'm thinking of throwing them out. But I like to think of her, quite fittingly, being the source of her very own conspiracy theory. So when anyone asks me where she's disappeared to, I tend to mutter, "maybe she just knew too much".
For further reading, check out; Underground Manchester by Keith Warrender £15.95p from Willow Publishing and www.28dayslater.com
Words by James Foster