Survivor of the Cold War.
High up on Alsager Bank, close to the village of Knutton and on the opposite side of the road to Apedale park can be found a nuclear fallout shelter which seems to have been forgotten by most people around this area.
It took me quite some time before I was able to find the shelter, initially I was asking people in Apedale country park where the triangulation point was, however everyone who I asked was unsure, eventually a gentleman told me that it was in a field on the opposite side of the road and closer to the Stoke radio transmission mast.
Unlike the larger nuclear fallout shelters many of which now have been decommissioned and would have been used by the military and council officials in the event of a nuclear war, this shelter on Alsager bank would have been staffed by two volunteers who were members of the R.O.C. (Royal Observer Corps).
Although the access hatch to the nuclear shelter was not locked the hinges were quite rusty and eventually I was able to prise the hatch up slightly so that I could get my fingers underneath and lever it up. It was fairly obvious that no one had been down inside for quite some time. Once the hatch was opened it revealed what appeared to be a deep concrete shaft with a set of steel ladders attached to it.
As I said before this fallout shelter would have been occupied by two members of the R.OC. and their responsibility would have been to man the facility in the event of a war or the threat of a war and also undergo training scenarios in the event of a nuclear strike. There would have been monitoring equipment in the facility back then to monitor radiation levels, wind direction etc. The information would have been relayed to the nearest main control fallout centre which would have been occupied by local government under the council buildings in Stafford, or if this control centre had been hit there was another one under the library in Hanley. Some of these are still in use but rather than being used in the event of a war they are kept in readiness in case of large fires or floods.
After checking that the ladders running down the side of the shaft still seemed solid and would bear my weight I descended to the bottom of the shaft where there seems to be a drain covered by a steel grate which may have been for decontamination purposes opposite this area was a small room about 5ft by 3ft which would have housed a chemical toilet. The other door leading off from the shaft leads to the main room which is approximately 15ft by 8ft so it must have been fairly claustrophobic being this far underground in a confined space surrounded by monitoring equipment.
The floor is covered with junk and debris and the wall covering which at one time enhanced this stark and drab facility is now peeling away from the damp concrete walls. In the centre of the ceiling of the main room there appears to be a small circular shaft around 4 inches in diameter which leads to the surface and a concrete louvered ventilation cover. This would have allowed fresh air into the facility after it had passed through some sort of filtration system which is no longer in place.
The two men who were members of the Royal Observer Corps and who used to man this shelter were Mel Harwood and his Father-in-Law Phil Cooper.
Phil said: “I spent many a Saturday night and Sunday morning down at the post… It was very cold in the winter, but it was all right – you got used to it.”
Fortunately, there was never a nuclear attack, but Mel spoke to BBC Radio Stoke’s Phil McCann about one particularly scary moment he was told about in the 1960s.
“I remember talking to the chap who was the head observer at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He actually got the call to make the post ready for possible mobilisation,” said Mel.
Mel Harwood and Phil Cooper outside the fallout shelter.