Grand design: How one of Britain’s secret nuclear war bunkers was turned into an eco-house
A family from the suburbs of London swapped their bungalow to live in a secret Cold War bunker in the West Country with a futuristic home lift to travel between floors in.
Richard, 47, and Elizabeth Asare-Joy, 55, resided in Sidcup for over a decade with their two children Carl, 21, and Tanya, 20, with Elizabeth’s mother, Pam,73, living next door.
But the Asare-Joys decided the time was right to pack up the whole family and move to Somerset for a complete change of lifestyle. Despite being on the look out for another, larger bungalow, Richard came across what he thought was the perfect property for sale online – a five-bedroom timber-clad eco-house in Yeovil which had been converted from a Cold War bunker.
Previously, the site housed a pre-fabricated Royal Observer Corps (ROC) centre, which was used to spot German planes during the Second World War, but this was demolished when a new bunker was built.
Built in 1963, the ROC headquarters at Southwoods was just one of 29 stations where volunteers had spent 30 years planning for the eventuality of nuclear annihilation. The survivors would have helped rebuild a post-atomic Britain in the event of a nuclear attack from Russia.
The stations, built with metre-thick concrete walls, included bedrooms, canteens, generators, air filtering, and decontamination rooms and three weeks’ food in packet rations.
Thankfully, the sprawling stations never served their intended purpose and have been put to novel use instead. After laying derelict following closure in 2001 and being broken into many times, the local council gave developers planning permission to build four houses on the plot at Hendford Hill on the south side of Yeovil.
Converted by the previous owners in 2009, the main building, Observatory House, sits behind three terrace houses and is almost unrecognisable as a nuclear bunker. It has a staggering 8,000 square feet of living space over four floors including five bedrooms, three reception rooms and a large gym. The Asare-Joys snapped it up this year for just under £700,000.
“We love it,” says Richard. “We were looking for a lifestyle change and were originally looking for another bungalow as we liked having everything on one level or a house with an annex for Pam but we couldn’t find one we liked. But then I discovered Observatory House online and I said to my wife we’ve got to view this.
“I didn’t know anything about the house’s history until the estate agent mentioned it and he took us down to the bunker but then I started reading up about it and that just piqued my interest in it even more.
“As soon as we viewed the property I knew it would be perfect for us. So we’ve ended up with a house with four floors instead of one above a nuclear bunker instead!”
With the previous owners renovating the three floors above ground level to a high specification, Richard was relieved that they had to do very little to the property apart from install a Stiltz Home Lift for his mother-in-law Pam, who lives on the first floor above the bunker.
Richard explained: “The bunker still has the old generators and equipment in and this hasn’t been changed. Pam lives on the first floor with her own kitchen, living space and bedroom and we occupy the top floors. But at meal times we always sit down and eat as a family on the second floor.
“There was a very narrow steel spiral staircase between Pam’s floor and the floor above which was proving difficult for her to climb so we had a Stiltz lift installed to make life easier for her.
“She also has a dog so now all she needs to do is call the lift, hop in and up she goes. I like the lift too because I know it will add value to the property and it just makes the house even more like something a James Bond villain would inhabit!”