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 to view detailed descriptions of various Civilian Government communications networks.

Central Government

In the event of a nuclear war, plans were made to disperse national government out of London. During the late Fifties, a former stone quarry near Corsham, Wiltshire that had been used during WW2 as an aircraft engine factory, was adapted as the Central Government War Headquarters (CGWHQ). The site, said to measure 700 metres East to West, 275 metres North to South was designed to house 4000 - 5000 people. At a depth of 28 metres below M.O.D. Property, its just South of the Box railway tunnel in a parcel of land bounded by the B3109 Bradford Rd and Westwells Rd in Hawthorn near Corsham.

The disused stone quarries all around this area provided the stone for the construction of nearby Bath and many notable buildings throughout the country during the 1800's. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_stone for more details. Mining began in the Corsham quarries after the thick layer of Bath Stone was discovered during the cutting of the Box railway tunnel in the 1840s. The CGWHQ is just a small part of an extensive stone quarry around Box area of Corsham, other parts hold the MOD South West Communications Centre and NAVY stores at Copenacre.

This website is concerned with Civilian Emergency War Communications, to obtain an understanding of the policies and politics surrounding its role in a perceived nuclear war, may I suggesting reading the e-Book 'TO BURLINGTON AND BEYOND' 'The Story of the Central Government War Headquarters by STEVE FOX' found at URL http://burlingtonandbeyond.co.uk/

Before being declassified in 2004, the CHGWQ due to its nature the site was an extremely secret location and protected by various codewords and cover stories about its use. However it was necessary for it to be the hub of a communications network. There were ordinary lines to public exchanges and numerous private circuits to civilian and military establishments.


EMSS Network to Corsham

As a former GPO / BT engineer, I was puzzled how such a large communications centre could be hidden in the network. In recent years the archives reveal that most of this network was in the open. The centre connected to EMSS switchboards in nine telephone exchanges. The EMSS network that served CGWHQ, Regional Government, Local Government, UKWMO Group Centres and the military too, had been secret itself, but declassified documents in the National Archives now reveal the extent of the network. Follow the link at the bottom of this page to the EMSS Topic.

Telephone Exchanges and Repeater Stations are identified by an Engineering Code, known as the THQ1141 code consisting of two or three letter codes. GPO Radio Microwave stations have a four letter code beginning with 'Y' and this was extended to include customers premises renting private wires (PW) also known as private circuits. These THQ1141 codes were published openly throughout the organisation.

A series of 1141 codes having four letters starting with 'Q' were reserved for use at Government and Military establishments. However, these were controlled by Telephone Headquarters (THQ) and only released on a need to know basis. Once the CGWHQ was declassified and photographs of the telephone apparatus appeared on the Internet, it became apparent the 1141 code was 'QQCF'. The South West Communications Centre (SWCC) is next door to the CGWHQ, the archives show that many potential parts of the CGWHQ network terminate at SWCC in peacetime and would be extended should the bunker need to be brought into use. The SWCC has the 1141 code 'QQCC'.

Lines, General A6131 Extract [1966]

Extracts from A6131

The BT Archives hold a document, a P.O. Engineering Instruction: Lines, General A6131. A copy of this 58 Page document must have been distributed to hundreds if not thousands of GPO sites throughout the country, it was certainly not secret, giving a list of main underground cables and their maintenance control. This 1966 copy is Issue 14, regular updates would be issued when necessary.

Armed with the 1141 Code for the CGWHQ and SWCC, we can find a number of entries, representing direct cables additionally other cables may pass through on route between cities.

Direct cables to QQCF radiate out to: Five Way microwave radio station 'YCSM', South West Communications Centre 'QQCC', Bristol 'BS', Wotton under Edge microwave radio station 'YWPE' and Cheltenham telephone repeater station 'CM/B'

Future of the Corsham CGWHQ Site

DescriptionList Entry Number
Radio Studio1409123
Tunnel Quarry1409857
GPO Telephone Exchange1409129
Slope Shaft (Emergency Exit) A1409125
Personnel Lift (PL) 21409130
Quarry Operations Centre (QOC) Murals1409132
Kitchen, Canteen, Laundry, Dining and Washroom Areas1409120
Lamson Terminus Room and associated Fan Room1409121
Prime Minister's Rooms and Operations Rooms1409131
Quarry Working Areas in West Lung, Spring Quarry1409858

The Central Government War Headquarters important site that needs to be preserved for future generations. Ten separate parts of the former CGWHQ are scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

To see the scheduling visit the Historic England website, ( www.historicengland.org.uk ) and enter the List Entry Number into the search box. Very sadly, many of these scheduled items appear in the 'Heritage At Risk Register' mainly due to the damp atmosphere in the mine.

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 Centres (SRC) 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.

The Regional Headquarters was the top tier in the Government communications channels extending down to Local Authority (Local Councils) Emergency Centres. Due to the highly secretive nature of the CGWHQ it did not appear in the Emergency Communication Network directory, so it is known whether it was linked in or not. Some documentation in the National Archives shows private circuits to Regional Bunkers when they were known as RSGs, but it is not clear if these really existed or were proposals. As both the CGWHQ and Regional Headquarters were connected to the GPO E.M.S.S. communication would be possible via that network.

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 Communications

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 between any extension in any of the Regional and Local Authority control centres around the UK. Bunkers also had lines into the public telephone network and BT Emergency Manual Switchboard System.

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 upgrade gave all controls the ability to send and receive speech as well as telegraph message to and from anywhere in the network at local or regional level.

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.

This page gives an overview of the communications channels available to Civilian Government at all levels. For more specific information about the systems mentioned here, use the Related Topics buttons below, or use the main menu to navigate to the desired topic. Communications / Networks ERA1 for the sixties to mid-eighties and Communications / Networks ERA2 for the mid-1980s to stand-down.