Washington County Durham


Memories of the  Cold War  &  WWII

Springwell Bunker  &  Civil Decoy Site

Springwell Bunker & The Royal Observer Corps

Entrance to the Springwell Bunker
Washington's Ernie Guy pictured at Springwell Bunker - 23rd April 1961

Another view of the Entrance
Observer Tommy Cairns (centre)

Inside the Bunker
Inside the Springwell Bunker

ROC Badge

Officially called the Springwell Observation Post, Springwell Bunker was a blast-proof structure built underground in an old spoil heap at Springwell Colliery. It was manned by civilian volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). This bunker was one of many underground observation posts that formed part of Britain's defences during the Cold War. It opened in May 1959 and was equipped with high-tech surveillance equipment. The bunker remained operational until October 1968 and was demolished soon after its closure.

ROC Observer Ernie Guy (pictured above) says, "Being in the bunker wasn't glamorous work. There were usually four of us down there in cramped conditions 12ft underground. We boiled in the summer and froze in the winter. There were beds down there but they were never used. It was just in case there was a nuclear strike and we were stuck inside."   [Quote from Sunderland Echo - 4th December 2000]

The ROC was active from 1925 to 1996 and was set up to provide Aircraft Recognition / Reporting. With the onset of the Cold War, its role changed to providing Nuclear Warfare Analysis and Fallout Warnings.
The Royal Observer Corps motto was Praemonitus Praemunitus - Forewarned is Forearmed.

[The above photographs of Springwell Observation Post, taken during exercise 'Double Blank' on 23rd April 1961, were originally supplied to www.subbrit.org.uk by Mr Guy.]

The Precise Location of Springwell Bunker: NZ 2856 5901

Map of Bunker Location
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map No.308

The eight-figure National Grid Reference NZ 2856 5901 locates Springwell Bunker within a 10m x 10m square on the above map.

Approximate Location of Springwell Bunker

Approximate Location
Aerial View of the former Springwell Colliery, now Bowes Railway Museum - Courtesy of Google Earth

The red dot is positioned very close to the now filled-in Springwell Observation Post - manned by the Royal Observer Corps in the 1960s.

Personal Observation:
I wandered around the old pit heap, on Thursday, 5th January 2017, hoping to take a photograph of the area around the demolished Observation Post.
This site has changed greatly over the last 50 years.  The muddy footpaths are OK but the terrain now resembles an old battlefield.
It features many hills and hollows {some with steep sides), large blocks of rubble, and there's rubbish all over the place.
I couldn't find any evidence of the bunker's location.  Thinking of paying a visit?  My advice is: think again!

N.B. Bowes Railway Museum is completely separate from the pit heap and well worth a visit.


Springwell Civil Decoy Site - World War II

Springwell Decoy Site width=
Civil Decoy Sites near Washington


Beamish ... Low Fell Marshalling Yard
Boldon Colliery ... Tyneside Docks
Medomsley ... Consett Iron Company
Ryhope ... Sunderland Docks
Silksworth ... Silksworth Coke Ovens / Marshalling Yard
Springwell ... North Bank of Tyne / Naval Dock Yards
West Herrington ... Sunderland Forge
Whickham ... Blaydon Colliery / Marshalling Yard
Whitburn ... Tyneside Docks


During World War II the North East's defences included a Civil Decoy Site near Springwell.  It was built close to the flight path that German bombers would have to take on their way to the Naval Docks on the River Tyne.  Decoy Sites were usually located in open fields and were used to simulate real targets such as Factories, Railway Marshalling Yards, Iron Works and Docks.  The idea was to fool enemy aircrew into dropping their bombs and incendiary devices before they reached their planned target.  The deception was carried out with the ingenious use of carefully placed electric lights and fires.  In the darkness these lights and fires could be made to simulate the 'protected' target.  Civil Decoy Sites were run by the ARP or Civil Defence.  Springwell Site was active c.1941-43 and is now part of the George Washington Golf Course.

This would explain local stories of horses and cows in the High Usworth area being killed by German bombs.

The Location of Springwell Civil Decoy Site: NZ 301 592

Map of Decoy Site Location
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map No.308

The six-figure National Grid Reference NZ 301 592 locates Springwell Decoy Site within a 100m x 100m square on the above map.