You never quite know, when you put your foot down on that firm stuff called earth, exactly what you’re treading on. Ask any one of the eight thousand or so students who make up Glyndwr University in Wrexham. Chances are they never know, as they hurry to tutorials or the coffee shop, what they’re hurrying over. The answer is: somewhere none of us would have wanted to end up.
Beneath that listed fashionable fifties frontage are long, well lit corridors, where all you can hear is your own breathing and the footsteps of people above you. They’re wide; wide enough to wheel a hospital bed into. There are cables and recesses. The odd filing cabinet and shelves with nothing left to hold: because this is a secret bunker which has outlived the war it was designed for and was thankfully never fought. If we’d have hit nuclear conflict, that empty space would have been filled with casualties and people trying to run what was left of the world. Thinking about the Cold War down there is enough to give you a very cold feeling.
You walk through hundreds of yards of pipes and wires: real life echoes fifteen feet above your head. This never saw what it was built for – because they would have turned the then Arts College into a Hospital – and possibly used parts of what lies underground as a mortuary.
It’s made me brush up on what the civil defence people used to call Protect and Survive – what to do if the bomb drops. I imagine most of our replies start with finishing a bottle of gin and head southwards, but back in the day, you had to identify a nuclear shelter – usually a bit of hardboard under which you and the family could lie in a windowless room whilst chaos reigned around you.
If you were unlucky enough to be caught outdoors, as one suspicious looking type is on his bike in the old MOD films, you’re advised to find a bit of natural cover – a handy bush or gorse would do – and cover your skin with your clothing. Then, if the toxic and deeply radioactive fall out fell on you whilst you looked round for shelter after, and your bike hadn’t melted along with the road and most things West of Rotherham, you were to brush it off quite calmly and look for a nice building somewhere.
So here I am – filming in the middle of what would have been a place of safety – and you realise it would have been anything but safe. Crowded with casualties; half filled with people trying to run an infrastructure that would have buckled in so many places, all breathing a limited amount of dirty air. Not to mention the fact that, as the crow flies, Liverpool is around 20 miles away, Manchester a little more. Whoever survived the kilotons tumbling onto either city would have probably tried to make for the hills that start….here.
For almost forty years we paraded our parades and exercised our exercises; and then Eastern Europe stopped being the Eastern Bloc and became somewhere amazing to see and/or cheap for stag nights instead – if you want to know what happened to the Cold War go to Prague, where the Museum of Communism advertises itself as being ‘above McDonald’s.’ Capitalism won in the end: and the warheads are uneasy museum pieces. And Wrexham’s nuclear secret? It’s well kept: and a blessed thing that you walk down there and you have to imagine just how awful it might have been, because thankfully, none of that ever happened.
You can watch Rob Shelley’s report on our website