Tea, cake and Cold War memorabilia. That’s what visitors to East Yorkshire can expect when they make it past Hull as far as the east coast village of Holmpton. Here there is a field that was once the site of a Royal Airforce base, and within it sits an unassuming modern bungalow that hides a big surprise – a vast nuclear bunker now operating as a museum and, from this month, a subterranean art gallery.
The bunker was once manned by the Royal Observer Corps, who were trained to monitor nuclear bomb detonations and fallout levels if a nuclear attack ever took place. “The Nuclear Reporting Cell within the bunker is the last surviving NRC in the UK,” says John Swift, who runs the former RAF Holmpton bunker museum. “We’re very lucky to have the staff who manned the NRC here as volunteers; every weekend they are present in the bunker to share their story.”
The nuclear bunker opened as a radar station in 1953 and it was still in the possession of the Ministry of Defence until December 2014. Since then it has been converted into a fully fledged museum. Visitors descend a flight of stairs, then follow a 100m-access tunnel to reach 8cm-thick blast doors made of tank steel. Within, there are operations rooms, dormitories and communications areas to explore, as well as a 1980s games room complete with pool table, jukebox and arcade machines.
The art gallery is new for 2018 and will display art focused on military and war in the former computer hall, which has remained empty since the bunker gasped its last breath as a radar station in 1974. The gallery opened mid-March and will continue with rotating artists until November when the bunker closes for winter. “We’re already arranging exhibitors for 2019. The feedback has been really positive so far, so we’re hoping the art becomes a permanent feature,” says Swift.
Back upstairs, a former guard room is now a pseudo cafe, where hot and cold drinks and homemade cakes are sold. Proceeds are donated to Help for Heroes, the UK charity for armed forces and military veterans.
By Lorna Parkes