Building record MYO2811 - Cold War period Royal Observer Corps Group Headquarters, Howe Hill


Situated to the rear of Shelley House on Acomb Road, York, is the semi-sunken earth covered headquarters building of Number 20 Group, Royal Observation Corps, which operated from 1961 to 1991. It was opened on 16th December 1961, replacing a World War II surface building near York racecourse. It was built following a standard 1958 Air Ministry specification which was designed to provide protection for a staff of around 60 men and women from the radiation and blast effects of contemporary nuclear weapons. It is a rectangular three-storey reinforced concrete structure built into a slope using "cut and cover" techniques, whereby a pit is dug, the structure built and then covered over, with the underground elements being waterproofed. Its function was to collate and plot positions of nuclear explosions and areas hit by fallout in the event of a nuclear war and to pass these on to other emergencey government bodies. The headquarters is known to have been on alert in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and its alert status subsequently varied according to the international situation at the time. In the budgetary cuts of 1968, a large number of monitoring posts were decommissioned, and the York Group Headquarters gained responsibility for most of the posts in No. 18 Group following the closure of the headquarters at Leeds. The headquarters was modified in the late 1970s to early 1980s with the removal of part of the earth banking for the addition of a telescopic radio mast adjacent to the main entrance and the replacement of the emergency exit ladder shaft at the south western end of the building with a flight of stairs. The Royal Observer Corps was stood down on 30 September 1991 following the end of the Cold War in 1990 with the signing of a non-aggression agreement between Warsaw Pact and NATO countries. The site is in the care of English Heritage.


Grid reference SE 5805 5154 (point)
Map sheet SE55SE
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire
Civil Parish York, City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

NMR Information:

SE 5806 5155. ROC No.20 Semi-sunken protected headquarters was built within the orchard to the rear of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works office at Shelly House, Acomb. It was opened on 16th December 1961 and remained fully active until the standown of the ROC on 30th September 1991. In addition to the headquarters there is a single storey brick building, which was used for Group administration and training, adjacent to this is floor slab of a demolished structure.

The headquarters is in good condition, although liable to flooding, and retains many of its original features and fittings. It has been recorded by ground photography. (1)

Scheduled. (2)

Defence of Britain non invasion database number 5626. (3)

The bunker is fully equipped with all of the equipment left behind after it closed in 1991. Scheduled. (4)

Article on the group headquarter's role within the Royal Observer Corps, its function in plotting nuclear explosions and fallout and a detailed description of the structure itself, and a short section in its resoration as a Guarduanship site in the care of English Heritage. The semi-sunken structure comprised 3 levels, two of which were below ground, with the entrance block and decontamination facilities above ground. The mid level included dormitories, a small kitchen, a canteen, toilets plant room etc ; whilst the lowest level was for the actual control room and wireless room. Later changes centred around the installation of automatic sensing eqippment to enable data gathering to contiunue if the bunker was not fully staffed. The article is illustrated with plans and photographs. (5)

The English Heritage Guide to the No. 20 Group ROC Headquarters, known more popularly as the "York Cold War Bunker", includes a "tour" of the facilities and explains the historical context of the Cold War. It includes a section drawing and plan of the different levels and has numerous illustrations from the bunker and of the wider Cold War. (6)

1 Field Investigators Comments Wayne D Cocroft/29-MAR-2000/EH: Cold War Project
2 Scheduled Monument Notification 21-Jun-00
3 Migrated Defence of Britain Project database record originally compiled from various sources The two databases developed by the Project can be searched on-line through the Archaeology Data Service at
4 Subterranea: The Magazine of Subterranea Britannica 48-9 18-Jan-09
5 English Heritage Historical Review 136-147 3, 2008 Article by Roger JC Thomas: 'No. 20 Group Royal Observer Corps Protected Headquarters, York 1961-1991'
6 York Cold War Bunker [Guide] Roger JC Thomas

Related events:

Measured Survey
APR-1995 - MAR-2002

Measured Survey

Sources/Archives (0)

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (1)

Record last edited

Mar 10 2020 12:23PM


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