U.K. Civilian Government

In this section we give an overview of the role of the U.K. Civilian Government in Civil Defence during the Cold War period. Please use the navigation menu details tab to view expanded descriptions Civil Government communications.

Central Government

In the event of a nuclear war, plans were made to disperse national government out of London. A national government Emergency Wartime Government Headquarters (EWGHQ) code named Burlington was set up in a former stone quarry near Corsham, Wiltshire designed to house 4000-5000 people. This site was adapted during the 1960's from a WW2 aircraft factory and is said to measure 700 metres East to West, 275 metres North to South at a depth of 28 metres. It was declassified in December 2004.

This site in Spring Quarry is located just South of the Box Tunnel in a parcel of land bounded by the B3109 Bradford Rd and Westwells Rd in Hawthorn near Corsham. Just North of the site is a Post Office (now BT) Microwave tower thought to have provided communications links into the site. Adjacent RAF Rudloe Manor, was a major switching centre for the Defence Telegraph Network. The Hawthorn public telephone exchange happens to be directly over 'Area 2', whether this is by accident or design?

Since its declassification, much has been revealed about this site, a very good article with lots of photographs and 360° panoramas may be found on the BBC web site, search for [Wiltshire's Secret Underground City].

Regional Government

U.K. Home Defence Regions

UK Home Defence Regions

It was thought that following a nuclear attack on the U.K., Central Government control would be impossible. Until this could be restored a Regional Commissioner sited in each of the Home Defence Regions would take full control. The map shows the division of the UK into Home Defence Regions. Advisers from Government departments and other Civil Servants would support the Controller.

The original plan had the Regional Controller housed in a single protected bunker within each Home Defence Region. During the cold war period policy changed a number of times. The initial single centre was increased to two centres per region, although some regions actually operated for some or all of the Cold War with only one functioning centre.

The terminology for the Regional Government centres changed too. The original Regional Seat of Government (RSG) or (RSoG) became Sub Regional Headquarters (SRHQ) when the number increased to two per region. After another policy change these were renamed to Regional Government Headquarters (RGHQ). There were a number of location changes along the way too. It is beyond the scope of this web site to examine the policy changes, as we are concerned with electronic communications rather than politics. Other sources on the web can provide this detail for you.

Local Government

Chain of Command

Civilian Wartime Chain of Command

Local Government Wartime Functions

Local councils were tasked with looking after casualties, burying the dead, fire fighting, housing the homeless, providing food supplies, law and order. The control centres would be staffed with people from within the council and service providing organisations. They also had a peacetime role to co-ordinate these things during a local emergency such as flooding.

County Council

Within each county area, main and standby emergency control centres were set up. Many centres were located in protected accommodation but others were in normal office buildings. Council employees were trained in Civil Defence at the Easingwold training centre in Yorkshire.

Borough, City and District Councils

The numbers and position within the county reflected its local government structure. Some centres were located in protected accommodation but others were in normal offices that would need sandbagging during the buildup to war. At local level things were very politically motivated. Some councils were fully committed to government plans for post nuclear attack survival and others did little to comply.

Parish Councils

Parish Council were required to make emergency plans but very few had anything substantial in place. The emergency control centre would often be wherever the HANDEL carrier receiver was located. Village halls and Public house cellars were pressed into use.

Military Liaison

During peacetime emergencies military forces are often called upon to assist local authorities. Following a nuclear attack it was expected the military would assist the local authorities in their role of maintaining law and order, transportation and clearing debris.

Communications for Civilian Government

Civil Government Wartime Comms

Civilian Government Wartime Comms


Each RGHQ had landline and radio links to the adjacent RGHQs, County Main and Standby Control rooms, UKWMO Group headquarters and Armed Forces Headquarters (AFHQ). These links provided both telephone and telegraph connections between the nodes.

For Voice: Initially manually operated telephone switchboards were used before they were replaced during the nineteen eighties with a fully automatic Emergency Communications Network (ECN) allowing direct dialling to any extension in any of the control centres around the UK. Bunkers also had lines into the public telephone network and BT Emergency Manual Switchboard System. there is much more information in the 'Detailed' pages of this website.

For Telegraph: The original manually operated telegraph torn tape message centres were upgraded during the nineteen eighties with computerised message switches, known as MSX. These allowed typed messages to be automatically sent to one or more recipients anywhere within the countrywide network.

Each RGHQ contained a BBC studio with a land line link to a BBC transmitter site to broadcast public information and limited entertainment to the local population.

A HANDEL receiver for the reception of Attack and Fallout Warnings. The RGHQ was only a recipient of the message but was unable to broadcast a message itself.

Local Authority

prior to the nineteen eighties upgrade there was little in way of emergency communications at County Council and District Council level. The Local Authority Emergency Centres (LAEC) had manual switchboards with a number of Public Exchange lines that wouldn't be cut off if the general public telephone service was suspended. A link between the main and standby control and a private telephone circuit to the RGHQ.

In 1979 in Northamptonshire as an example, the main and standby centres were linked by a private circuit for speech and teleprinter. There was provision for a radio backup to this landline although this didn'ít appear to be working. There were 5 public exchange lines at each centre but no other connections. Only the main centre was connected to the RGHQ.

During the 1980's all the council emergency communications were upgraded, with the introduction of the ECN for telephony and the addition of computerised telegraph message switching for typed messages. This gave all controls the ability to send and receive telegraph message to and from anywhere in the network.

Each centre had a HANDEL receiver to receive the public attack and fallout warnings.

In the 1980's for the first time, the Radio Amateur Emergency Network (RAYNET), a voluntary organisation that provided radio communications using amateur radio frequencies had a presence in most county controls. There usually was a fixed station radio on the county council private mobile radio channel too.

During the late 80's Council control centres often had military MOULD aerials fitted to their roofs with cabling to the protected area. They were not provided with radios so we have to assume these would be fitted if the need arose.