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‘When you hear the four-minute warning’ … Whatever happened to Britain’s nuclear bunkers?

By Amelia Tait


The UK was once dotted with structures designed to survive nuclear conflict, from sprawling government complexes to tiny underground observation posts. How many are still in use – and what are your chances of getting a place if you need one?

Michael Parrish has a “wedding guest list” of people he will allow into his three-level, 125ft (38 metre)-deep concrete bunker in the event of a nuclear attack. Situated below an inconspicuous bungalow in Brentwood, Essex, the Kelvedon Hatch bunker was built on Parrish’s grandfather’s land in the 1950s and maintained as secret regional government headquarters throughout the cold war. After it was decommissioned in 1992, the Parrishes bought back the bunker – for more than 20 years, it has been a tourist attraction and a sleepover location for Boy Scouts. Today, it is also potentially a lifeline.

“We have our own water, we have our own electricity, we have our own toilets, because one day I may need it,” says Parrish, 75, wearing a burgundy jumper with the words “secret nuclear bunker” embroidered in yellow on the left breast. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 15 people have inquired about hiring a space in the bunker in the event of nuclear war, but Parrish wants to charge £500,000 a head (a bargain, he says, if you spend 10 to 20 years down there avoiding nuclear fallout). Who will he bring in for free?

“What it amounts to is a wedding list: you have your family; you have your sister. Do you have your sister’s boyfriend? Probably. Do you have his parents? No,” Parrish says. He has light brown eyes, coiffed grey hair and a serious mouth that betrays no hint of a joke. The last 20 or so spaces in Parrish’s bunker, he says, will be reserved for “young, 25-year-olds – of either sex, before you think I’ve got this all wrong. Because you’ve got to think of the world.”



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