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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Secret wartime bunker unveiled
The entrance to Churchill's bunker in Neasden
The anonymous bunker is on an ordinary street
One of the best kept secrets of World War II has been unveiled to the public for the first time.

A bomb-proof replica of the famous Cabinet War Rooms in central London was built in the north London suburb of Neasden.

The secret bunker was built for Winston Churchill as a last refuge if the seat of government at Whitehall had to be abandoned.

Now the site is owned by a housing association and it has been opened to visitors.

They just can't believe it when they see this huge complex beneath them that they didn't even know was there.

Maria Michael, Network Housing Group

Codenamed Paddock, the bunker was so secret that in his memoirs Churchill only referred to it as being "near Hampstead" and even King George VI was not told exactly where it was.

After the war it lay largely forgotten until Network Housing Group bought the site and gained permission to build 37 homes on top of it.

Under the planning conditions, the association has to let visitors in for a couple of days each year.

Maria Michael, Network's marketing manager, told BBC News Online: "About 100 people have turned up during the morning and more are arriving all the time.

"We were planning to run tours on the hour or couple of hours but we have had to put more on already.

Underground citadel

"The rooms and tunnels are very bare and quite damp and mouldy, although we have put lighting in.

"When we took it over we had a lot of problems with flooding which had to be put right.

Winston Churchill
The bunker was for Churchill and his staff

"People just can't believe it when they see this huge complex beneath them that they didn't even know was there."

One visitor Mayur Jobanputra, 40, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, said he could "smell the history" in Paddock.

"It is very unusual. I have never experienced anything like it.

"On top it looks just like a housing estate but there's this huge bunker beneath it.

"You go down a spiral staircase and at the bottom everything is still there - the telecoms office, the cafeteria, some Fray Bentos tins, even where Churchill would have kipped at night."

The bunker was built 40 feet below ground with an outer shell of steel-reinforced concrete three-and-a-half feet thick.

Unlike the Whitehall war rooms, it was designed to withstand a direct hit.

In the event, Paddock was only used once, for a trial run.

The BBC's Robert Nisbet
"It was designed to house Britain's top brass"

Click here to go to London
See also:

15 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
BBC launches Churchill drama
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
War cabinets of the past
04 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Churchill 'greatest PM of 20th Century'
05 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Churchill 'wanted to abandon de Gaulle'
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