Cold-War History in Manchester
The Guardian Underground Telephone Exchange

Ever since I moved to Manchester in 1986 I've heard rumours about secret underground installations under the city centre. I particularly remember being told on several occasions about a secret nuclear bunker under Piccadilly Gardens. I have since found out that there is some truth behind these rumours. This web site reports my findings.

Warning

The Guardian Underground Telephone Exchange is NOT open to the public. Attempting to gain unauthorised access is trespass. Often it is very dangerous too: on more than one occasion people have died in the process of trying to gain access to such sites.

If you attempt to enter a defence related site, even an apparently unused one, you should expect an unpleasant encounter with military police.

Please do not pester site owners to gain access, this causes irritation to many of them.

Instead, please join one of the specialist societies that can organise visits properly.

Most of what I found out came from the excellent and highly recommended book:

War Plan UK: The Secret Truth about Britain's "Civil Defence"
by Duncan Campbell
Published by Paladin Books in 1983
(Unfortunately it is now out of print)

This book includes a map and description of the Guardian Underground Telephone Exchange and deep level tunnel system in Manchester. Duncan Campbell has kindly given me permission to reproduce this information here:

I have had to remove the map at the request of the Geographers' A-Z Map Co Ltd.

Manchester Guardian is an underground telephone exchange in the centre of Manchester built in 1954. 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. There are also access shafts in the Rutherford telephone exchange in George Street.

Its purpose was to resist a Hiroshima sized twenty-kiloton atom bomb, and preserve essential communications links even if the centre of Manchester had been flattened.

A deep level tunnel system runs east and west from Guardian. A mile-long (1.3km) tunnel runs west to Salford, and a thousand-yard (700m) tunnel runs to Lockton Close in Ardwick, where a modernised ventilator building marks the south-eastern extension of the Manchester deep level tunnels.

In the event of an attack warning, Guardian's main entry shaft was to have been sealed by a thirty-five-ton concrete slab that could be positioned over the entrance. Staff could escape either by using built-in hydraulic jacks to lift the slab (if covered with debris) some weeks after attack, or via the deep level tunnels to Ardwick and Salford. Emergency stores contained six weeks' supply of food rations, and Guardian had its own artesian well, generators, fuel tanks, and artificial windows and scenery painted onto rest-room walls.

The exchange was to survive even if the city it served was destroyed.

The Manchester Guardian telephone exchange and deep level tunnels were one of several such systems built in the 50s. Similar installations can be found under London (Kingsway) and Birmingham (Anchor).

By the time the exchange and tunnels were complete they were entirely vulnerable to more powerful Soviet H-bombs.

I decided to try to locate and photograph the shafts and surface buildings described in "War Plan UK". To my surprise I found the surface buildings still intact, although they seemed to be in a bad state of repair. Their existence is still not common knowledge in Manchester.

I wonder how much is left of the underground installations.

Ardwick Shaft

The entrance to the ardwick shaft can be found in a small fenced off enclosure in Lockton Close in Ardwick. Lockton close is first right off Grosvenor Street, which is off Downing Street. The entrance is adjacent to the Mancunian way, and I wonder whether the deep level tunnels where damaged by the extension of the Mancunian way which was added a few years ago. Karel Hladky, a visitor to this page made the following comment: "I don't think that the foundations of the new Mancunian Way - London Road flyover piers would go as deep as this - it is a steel bridge and would be a fair bit lighter than a concrete one". Perhaps this is why the new flyover was not a concrete construction, so as not to interfere with the tunnels (also see the reply to this site from BT).

Ardwick Shaft

Ardwick Shaft

Note the padlocked blast-proof doors and the ventilation louvers.

These relatively new "No Parking" road markings in front of the entrance to the fenced enclosure may indicate it is still in occasional use (see the reply to this site from BT):

Ardwick Shaft - Entrance to Compound

Salford Shaft

The entrance to the Salford shaft can be found in a small fenced off enclosure on Islington Street between Chapel Street and North Star Drive in Salford (close to Salford Crescent). As can be seen the design of the entrance building and enclosure are very similar to those found at the Ardwick Shaft despite being a couple of miles from Ardwick.

Salford Shaft

Salford Shaft

City Centre Entrance and Ventilator Shaft Building

This is the city centre building containing the entrance lifts and ventilator shafts above the Guardian telephone exchange. This building is located on George Street between Princess Street and Dickinson Street. That is just behind the Odeon Cinema on Oxford Street.

This is the entrance to the car park on George Street.

Entrance Building - George Street

The sign on the gate reads:
POLICE NOTICE
NO PARKING AT ANY TIME
enquiries - 55 GEORGE ST 236-0430

Looking over the wall I saw a BT van parked in the car park which makes some sense given the telecommunications function of the site, although I would not expect the exchange to still be in use. Perhaps BT are just using the car park for their vehicles (see the reply to this site from BT).

This is the building viewed from James Street.

Entrance Building - James Street

This would be the main loading bay into the building, possibly used for the installation of large telephone exchange equipment. The lift-shaft and thirty-five-ton concrete slab described in "War Plan UK" must lie just behind this door.

Entrance Building - James Street

Note the tall chimney-like ventilation shaft required to provide a supply of fresh-air to the underground installations below.

The sign on the door reads:
FIRE EXIT
NO PARKING
DAY OR NIGHT

Apart from the two "No Parking" signs the building is completely unmarked.

A visitor to this site was inspired to take some more pictures of this structure in the city centre.

Rutherford Telephone Exchange

This is Rutherford House on George Street, just behind Piccadilly Plaza. This is the renamed and renovated Rutherford Telephone Exchange, and as such contains shafts allowing access to the underground Guardian Exchange.

Rutherford Telephone Exchange

Some of the ground-floor windows seem to have very strong grills or shutters behind them. Perhaps this building was strengthened to make it blast proof as some other surface telephone exchanges were in the mid 70s.

I recently (Jan 2002) received an email which indicates that the information about Rutherford House containing an entrance to the bunker is incorrect:

"Your reference to Rutherford House as being one of the entrances is wrong. The main entrance is behind the doorman’s office in a building across the Road, 26 York Street. The other entrance was in George Street. The building contained a passenger lift and a crane for winching materials to the tunnel below.

I worked in Guardian 1966-69 and it was a very depressing place of work. If the weather was bad during winter, I could go 5 days without seeing daylight. Dark in the morning going to work and dark going home. Most people who worked down there wore glasses. Eyestrain brought on by fluorescent lighting."

Information from another site:

Guardian was a Trunk Non-Director exchange, opened 8.0 a.m. 7th December 1958.

A second and larger Trunk Unit, 'Pioneer' was brought into service during November & December 1959, to complete the Trunk Mechanisation in Manchester.

Manchester Civic Society Article

Certain members of the Manchester Civic Society had a guided tour of the Guardian Exchange in 1997. Their newspaper, the Forum, carried an article about this tour in its December 1997 edition. The Civic Society have kindly given me permission to reproduce this article here: Underground Manchester - An Undiscovered World Beneath Our Feet.

Pictures Taken Within the Underground Exchange

I have obtained some pictures taken inside the underground telephone exchange. Unfortunately these are of a rather poor quality and I don't know when they were taken.

I was particularly surprised to see the piano and pool table in the recreation room. They were planning to have quite a relaxing time sitting out armageddon down there! (but see the reply to this site from BT).

THESE PICTURES ARE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MANCHESTER CIVIC SOCIETY AND WERE NOT TAKEN DURING THEIR VISIT TO THE EXCHANGE.

Pictures Taken During the Construction of the Underground Exchange

I have obtained some pictures taken during the construction of the underground telephone exchange.

These pictures were kindly sent to me by BT in Manchester who also sent a reply to some of the points made on this site.

I have recently (March 2002) obtained some more pictures taken during the very early phase of construction and some taken later but before the exchange equipment was installed.

THESE PICTURES ARE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE MANCHESTER CIVIC SOCIETY AND WERE NOT TAKEN DURING THEIR VISIT TO THE EXCHANGE.

Final Comments

As the Guardian underground telephone exchange and deep level tunnels still exist under the streets of Manchester and are no longer in use, I believe they should be opened to the public as a cold-war museum. It is essential, in my opinion, to preserve this recent history so that past mistakes are not repeated. Alternatively, the exchange could be converted into an interesting venue for a club or bar by some entrepreneur, as so many other derelict buildings in Manchester have been.

See the reply to this site from BT.

If anyone reading this has any more information on the underground installations in Manchester please email me at: atomic@cybertrn.demon.co.uk


For a comprehensive list of the UK's Cold War defence infrastructure and related information visit the The Research Study Group pages.

Duncan Campbell's home page has information on his current research and investigations.

Readers of this page may also be interested in the Protect and Survive web site, an archive of UK civil defence material which also includes a comprehensive list of cold-war related links.


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Copyright 2002 George Coney - Cybertron Limited
Last updated March 12, 2002