Becca Hall image from Bob Clarke (2).

Leeds’s “Fearsome Heritage” by Edward Walley

Putin’s war in Ukraine has reminded us of the danger that conventional wars can potentially escalate into something much more dangerous that of full-scale nuclear war by deliberate act, miscalculation or accident. A shiver of fear has returned.

In heritage terms this resonates with the Cold War 1945-1990 when prospects and preparations for nuclear war were a constant backdrop to everyday life. When this period ended English Heritage as it was then made efforts to record its physical remains in several documents the most comprehensive of which was that by Wayne Cocroft and Roger J. C. Thomas “Cold War: Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1945-1989”. (1)

As the modern post war architecture in Leeds comes into increasing focus perhaps it is important to remember there was another side to progressive modernisation of social provision housing, the emergence of a shopping society, the expansion of higher education, and the growth of the commercial and service economy and this was the architecture and now heritage of the Cold War.

As a major city Leeds was a part of a vast network of civil defence architecture locally based but nationally integrated, some of which remains.


The City Council War Room

The City Council War Room at Adel has gone but this would have been the centre of operations for civilian rescue had nuclear war occurred.

For further information click here 

The City Council War Room
The City Council War Room: Image from Subterranea Britannica



The Royal Observer Corps Headquarters, Yeadon.

Of the remaining sites perhaps the best place to start is the Royal Observer Corps area headquarters at Yeadon. In the event of a nuclear attack on the UK the basic function of this building was to correlate information coming in from monitoring posts about the strength of a nuclear blast and the direction of fall-out. The intention being to inform the civil and military authorities so that possible evacuations of surviving civilians to safer areas might be carried out (at least that was the idea).

The Royal Observer Corps Headquarters, Yeadon.


Data from Yeadon would have been fed up the line to the Regional Government Headquarters at Shipton near York. A similar building in York is a national monument which is sometimes open to the public, for details on how to visit click here

For further information on the The Royal Observer Corps Headquarters, Yeadon please click the links below:

Yeadon Leeds ROC Group HQ report 

April 1964: Official Opening Invite

ROC volunteer recruitment video

Shipton Rotor Radar SOC and RGHQ report

An article describing the ROC Underground Post Illustrations



Tinshill Microwave Tower

Although for a long time after World War II the system was dependent on old fashioned telephone land lines, latterly a network of suitably hardened microwave towers was used such as the one at Tinshill/Cookridge.

Tinshill Microwave Tower: Public Domain image by the Chemical Engineer
Tinshill Microwave Tower: Public Domain image by the Chemical Engineer



National Wartime Grid Control Centre, Becca Hall, Aberford.

Leeds was also home to National Wartime Grid Control Centre at Becca Hall near Aberford which would have had the responsibility of getting presumably some of the national electricity grid back up and running.

Becca Hall image from Bob Clarke (2).

Had Becca Hall failed there was a back- up at Rothwell Haigh which was co-located with a telephone repeater station.

Images of Rothwell Haigh

Rothwell Haigh report 


Local Civil Defence Facilities

Things can get even more prosaic when you move down to local civil defence headquarters and strategic stores of various kinds which were set up locally to regionally to keep in reserve everything from field kitchens and their equipment to cold stores and grain reserves.

A map of all West Yorkshire ROC locations

Beyond a certain point however discussion of the physical remains of preparations for nuclear annihilation enter the world of conjecture, gossip, and fiction despite the gradual opening- up of documents at the National Archive.

National Archive

So, for instance Chris Nickson’s Leeds-based Cold War thriller “The New Eastgate Swing” (3) contains the suggestion that the Handley Page aircraft factory at the airport was used post-war as storage area for thousands of carboard coffins. Who knows whether this is true but while it may have been a so called “Buffer Store” the coffins however suggestion seems unlikely?   Rumours also circulate about the role of the demolished Millgarth Police station and its role during this period.


The Opposition

Naturally the Cold War period and all these preparations created its own opposition with the formation of Yorkshire CND and at the height of tensions in the 1980’s during which the households of the UK were issued with the booklet “Protect and Survive”  the City Council declared itself a Nuclear Free Zone, appointed a Peace Officer and allocated one of the shops in the now defunct Merrion Centre Arcade as a Peace Centre.


Image from Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.


The scale of investment in installations and personnel for civilian survival indicates the seriousness with which various governments took the threat of nuclear attack in the early years of the Cold War. However, by the 1970’s and especially in the 1980’s there was a growing scepticism that any of this would have been effective in view of the massive power of the weapons which would have been deployed against the UK and Leeds. It is fair to say that as time went on despite periodic attempts at modernisation and latterly compulsion on local authorities much of the structure had become atrophied to such an extent that a proposed national exercise to test resilience was abandoned before it began because of local authority reticence and resistance.

The ending of the Cold War in 1989 led to the disbanding in 1991 of the Royal Observer Corps and the closure of its various monitoring posts.

While no one would want to return to the paranoia of the 1945-90 period, Putin’s war and the physical remains of Cold War preparations in the landscape remind us of something once described as a “Fearsome Heritage” (4)

  1. Cocroft, W.D, Thomas, R.J.C and Barnwell, P.S (ed) (2003) Cold War: Building for Nuclear Confrontation. Swindon, English Heritage


2.Clarke, B. (2006) Four Minute Warning. Stroud, Tempus Press


3.Nickson C. (2016) The New East Gate Swing. Cheltenham, The History Press


4.Scofield, J. and Cocroft, W. (eds) (2007) A fearsome Heritage. Walnut Creek, California, Left Coast Press


Written by Edward Walley



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