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Guardian Exchange: Manchester’s Cold War bunkers

I remembered reading a year or two ago about mail tunnels under St James’s Building on Oxford Road. They were for use during the second world war, I think, and included some sort of railway.

I’m not sure whether these are the same tunnels, but I’ve been reading about the Guardian telephone exchange:

The Guardian Telephone Exchange

These Cold War tunnels were built in 1954/5 by Polish immigrants who couldn’t speak English. At least one Pole died and his ghost is rumoured to haunt the place, which is closed to the public.

Here’s the recreation room, complete with piano and pool table:

Recreation room, Guardian Exchange

The £4m structure was paid for by NATO – i.e. America – and running costs have since been covered by the Post Office and British Telecommunications, who have occupied it. Here’s some more information from George Coney’s excellent site:

“It is 112 feet (34m) below ground and cost £4 million to construct. The main tunnel, one thousand feet long and twenty-five feet wide (300m by 7m), lies below buildings in Back George Street, linking up to an anonymous and unmarked surface building containing the entrance lifts and ventilator shafts.”

The main entrance is between Princess Street and Dickinson Street in the city centre, and can be passed on both George Street and Saint James Street. Other entrances are situated at Telephone Buildings on York Street, in Ardwick (Lockton Close) and in Salford (Islington Street).

Of course, something this big couldn’t pass Mancunians by entirely and a few Flickr users have spotted the entrances and a planning application notice to expand the George Street site. HugoVK also took a decent shot of the main entrance.

Some bloggers have mentioned it too, including Stephen Riley, who suspects tunnels connect the CIS tower to a nuclear bunker under Piccadilly Gardens.

In March 2004 the tunnels were hit by a fire, causing a telephone outage for several days. Of course, the vague conspiracists were out in force:

“Funny how these lines run through a so-called secret tunnel network own by the government. Trust me, this is a botched attempt by the government to launch an information blackout in Manchester. The reason for this we can only guess but in my opinion it can’t be because something good is going to happen” – The Mole, MEN site

I’ve just walked past 55 George Street, between Portland Street and the defunct Odeon cinema, and the building’s barbed-wire-covered fence is now covered in AMEC signs.

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The small brick entry building at Ardwick has been demolished in the last day or two.

The Guardian tunnel and its Polish workforce play an important part in a novel I’m currently writing. Having pretty much exhausted what scant literature exists on the topic it would be really useful to speak to someone who had actually worked there. Does anyone know of such a person? Or alternatively does anyone have anymore information about the construction of the tunnel? Thanks Joe

Manchester City Council gave notice “..to disposeof the following area of land: Land at Lockton Close, Ardwick. The site is approximately 532 square metres and is currently landscaped and grassed over. The site is to be used for the extension of an existing electricity substation.” I wonder if it is connected to the (now demolished)shaft?

My Dad used to work down the Guardian Nuclear shelter/exchange in the very late 60′s as part of the BPO workforce I believe. It was intended to maintain communication between major cities in the event of a Nuclear Attack. Guardian formed part of the Trunk Mechanisation of manchester in the late 50′s being combined with a larger system known as pioneer in 1959 which completed the trunk system , it was never intended to be some sort of weapon to use against the general public as the conspirasists now believe as it had been there for over 60 years before the fires which caused the black-outs!! It was to sustain a direct A-bomb attack without damage, even if the rest of the city was destroyed although once the H-bomb was tested mid-way through construction it became useless against direct attack. It is understandable that its location would not be publicised in the 21st century as Health and safety would not permit it to be opened to the public. As far as I am aware through my own small amount of research, the Tunnels are still intact despite the demolition of Ardwick shaft, I am lead to believe that there was a main entrance on york street opposite the Rutherford exchange building on george street although another entrance is on george street also. it is used to some extent by BT today as it is below all the foundations of most of the city and avoids excavations for telecomms work. Although similar tunnel systems in Birmingham and London are now largely decommisioned, i am unsure on the current status of the Guardian. The tunnels came off the official secrets act in 1968 although remain largely unknown to most of the residents.

i worked in Guardian for 15 years leaving in 2002. i have some very good original phots taken when the tunnels were being built. they where thrown in a skip by the contractors who took over when i left and i rescued them for prosperity. iam unsure if they would be of any interest as part of Manchesters heritage. Any ideas?

Thanks for the comments people. If anyone wants to contact Peter about the photos please contact me for his email address.

for those who think of the worst ie information black out get a life ,i worked down there 4 about 3 years aswell as similar tunnels around the country for amec .there was a fire and it was caused by a faulty temporary light fitting which caught fire whilst the tunnel was being cleared of asbestos.

I had heard that there is an entrance via the substation, in Piccadilly gardens by Queen Victoria Statue. Somebody working in the sub knew someone else that worked on the other levels … approx 6 levels down … apparently streets and offices. Also beneath the Royal Exchange it goes so many levels down too.

55 george st – work guys coming in and out today … car parking bays has been suspended outside this week … and NOTE :- on notice, saying all street filming suspended ?? for 6th to 8th March 2008, i think it said …

Within days of the fire, a piece of paper appeared on the doors of the old structure warning people not to enter. After that the trees were all cleared from around it.

They have certainly spent some money building a new concrete platform structure on the Ardwick site in the last year. Seems strange if that entrance isn’t functional?

Is the large building alongside, a sub-station? It is one of only a couple of buildings in the area that pre-dates the slum clearances of the early 1960′s.

Hi There,

I grew up around Lockton Close and in the 70′s were regular inhabitants of the tunnel. I can assure you that the ‘ventilation shaft’ falls deeper than the depth quoted and at the time was shielded by what appeared to be a steel door (this was sealed from the Manchester side). Some of my friends had better luck during the 70′s when the old GPO vans used to park outside Lockton Court. I do recall on more than one occasion seeing military vehicles (that we thought had got lost from the Kings Regiment’s barracks just across at Ardwick Green) coming down into Lockton Close, finding it’s a dead end as they turned right at the substation, and then turning around. Odd at the time but certainly explanable. Never saw them any other time.

The old head of the shaft (I’ve scaled the old green railings and sat on the flat slab roof many times) was about 2m square, the roof was almost white concrete, the walls were recessed in about 8 inches under the ‘roof’. The brickwork was very thick and around the top or the brickwork were louvered slats in timber. Below which (forming a doorway about 1.5 x 1m) were steel doors which were painted green and secured by a hasp and staple which had bee welded thickly to the doors.

Oddly enough, we found the thick brass padlock (I recall it being a heavy duty Yale item) missing (officer) and it was of course rude not to open the doors. The top of the shaft had a narrow metal ladder fixed to the shaft wall which curved over at the top. When you’re 12 it’s not the easiest thing to just climb down there – there was no lighting then and you always ran the risk of your mates either leaving you or just dossing about and locking you in there. I was very wary of the ladder coming away and when you shone a torch down there, the stairs seened to just drop down forever. It also seemed to drop down at a slight angle.

There were light switches at the bottom of the shaft (and I mean it went down forever) and of course they didn’t work. The shaft bottom had a thick steel door at the bottom (it was painted grey (I think) and it had louvres that were shut. It also had grilles to the sides.

That’s as far as I got with it but I had friends who told me that they got through the door as it was open? I always doubted this until I read about other tunnels which lead off the main tunnel (they described a canteen with a piano in it, a dart board and oads of phones) and evidence that workmen had recently been down there. I had a mate who also said that he’d gone in, had a look don another tunnel, bottled it and then gone up a very long ladder at the top of which he could see Woolworths (in Piccadilly Gardens where the fire occurred in 78/79?).

Any road up, I note from my recent visit to the site the fence has been upgraded, and the ‘entrance’ has been rebuilt – it looks a lot more substantial than before. Let not kid, there’s a lot of money been spent and it’s not because it’s been decommissioned. Just like a mine, you’d just fill it it and level it.

Apologies for the length of this note nut that’s how it was in the 70′s – it’s obviously still part of our emergency / war planning procedures and contingencies and so ladies and gentlemen – you have it from the working class Kid who served his time on the estate.

Given the significance, engineering excellence, cost and obvious potential for massive public interest, drop the pretense, come clean, open it up and stop playing games. We know aht it is, where it is and at the end of the day, worse care scenario, I doubt the ‘intended’ occupants will even get there in time.

Tony B.

Hi,
Apologies for the spelling and grammar – mega tired!

Tony B.

Is anybody out there that can tell us more about “pioneer” the larger trunk mechanism? If it is larger than Guardian, perhaps it is more important. Perhaps these defence tunnels span the entire city. and this is why we have a surface tram and not a subway system?

new building being built behind compound at Lockton Close, a lot of work going into it and reenforcing steel inside. and top floor maisonette num 45 directly opposite FOR SALE which is strange thought they were all council properties.

I used to work in the guardian exchange back in the mid nineties.
I was installing fibre networks for BT. It is no big secret but I doubt many people will get the chance to go down and have a snoop it just isn’t safe enough. There are no intended occupants, it wouldnt protect anybody against a thermonuclear blast, it was designed for much smaller blasts as a method of maintaining communications for the government. I believe they did a tour a few years back for some society of manchester. It was a fascinating place to work and had a real cold war feel to it, id love to go back but that would never happen.

I visited Guardian in the mid 70′s when I was an apprentice in the GPO. We entered the tunnels via the cable chamber in Irwell House, Chapel Street through a vertical shaft via staggered galvanised steel stair cases secured on criss-cross platforms of the same material. It seemed to take ages to get the the bottom and then we walked through signposted tunnels (tubular about 7′ diameter with a flat bottom) with cable bearers on either side. We finally made it to Piccadilly and surfaced (having walked through the actual “Gaurdian Exchange” behind the doormans lodge in the Telephone Buildings in York St. An exciting experience.

Barry.

PS. Pioneer is (was!) actually an automatic trunk exchange built above ground in Dial House again on Chapel St.

I worked on the instalation group (EL@P)in the 50,s lighting @ power supplies.Had to turn out one week end to repair main cables after a crane had accidently dropped a iron casting in a yard at the back of York St.

Guardian video now uploaded onto YouTube see link above. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8DsOUtpzTI

Guardian Video now on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8DsOUtpzTI

To Simon and others interested in the Post Office Telecoms/BT’s Gaurdian Exchange underground exchange

My Father was involved in the building of the Guardian Exchange and its set up in the late 60s/70s. I would very much like to make contact with the relatives of anyone who worked in this Exchange. Please contact me on pamandjeffp@yahoo.co.uk.

Many thanks

jeff

its interesting to know that such a site exist, especially so close to home but what i find intriguing the goverments and militarys recent interest in the location. From my own research and many others like yourselfs, it seems to me like they are performing some kind of renovation and it makes you think with all this talk about 2012. im not much of a conspiracy thoeryiest but i haveto say something is coming and they know it. im not saying anything about the end of the world because in my opinion thats just a load of bollox, but… and this is a big but over the past half a century if not longer there has be a source of power within our goverments and many major world organisations working behind the scenes in secrecy pushing the world towards some sort of revolt (human revolution) on scale unseen on earth for thousands of years.

anyway take care be love and keep the peace :)

I worked in a building overlooking the main entrance on George St from 1999-2007, and I saw (and had other people I worked with tell me) that big articulated lorries would draw up every 6 months or so, and off load their supplies inside; dont know what it means, but it doesnt sound like a de-commissioned base.

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