Saturday 21 April 2012

Anchor Exchange

There are many people in Birmingham who will not have heard of the Anchor Exchange, a massive underground complex built in secrecy in Birmingham in the 1950’s.

The largest of three such establishments,( the other two being in Manchester and London ) the exchange was designed to protect and maintain communications in the event of a nuclear war.

The idea behind these underground telephone exchanges was to ensure that in the even of such a war the communications system would still exist and to some extent still function. Originally they were planned to withstand an explosion ( though not a direct hit ) from atomic bombs the size of those used in Japan.

Unfortunately, all the best laid plans amounted to nothing as the structure became obsolete before it was fully completed. Advances in nuclear technology and the hydrogen bomb had produced bigger and more devastating weapons of mass destruction.

The Anchor Exchange gets its name from the anchor sign used by the Birmingham Assay Office, the anchor being the gold hallmark symbol for Birmingham. The structure still exists today with its tunnels and rooms one hundred feet below Newhall Street.

Shrouded in secrecy, the general public of Birmingham were duped into thinking that the building work was part of a new underground railway network. Construction commenced in 1953 and ended with its opening in November 1957 whilst the general public were informed that the railway project was no longer viable.

The entrance to the Anchor Exchange is via a lift at the rear of the telephone house building. There is also an emergency access provision by ladder and staircase access from Newhall Street.

The structure was built with blast proof concrete, has its own 300 foot well for a water supply with sewage being channelled into the main city sewage network via a pumping system.

A massive heavy door weighing several tonnes would have been used to seal the area in the event of a nuclear attack. The facility had its own generators to ensure an independent supply of electricity.

During the Cuban crisis the facility was put on alert and maintained during the 1980’s before being made redundant. Water is still pumped out of the underground tunnels to ensure that underground cables are kept dry, but due to safety reasons the facility is out of bounds to British Telecom staff.

In the late 1960’s the secrecy surrounding this establishment was downgraded and the Anchor Exchange became a hot topic for the local press. Reporters visited the facility and its story became the subject of intrigue and conspiracy theories.

The rooms below ground contained rations and equipment which still remain in store rooms and are rapidly falling into a state of decay in the damp and crumbling complex.

It is not possible to visit this underground complex any longer and it was never open to the general public for viewing in any great numbers.

One of the original air vents is still visible behind Telephone House as a reminder of what secrets remain in the chambers and tunnels below our city.

More information is available from this excellent website at: