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On the surface the ramps towards the western end of New Street were used for transporting mail

and other
services between platforms. If you ever visited the station when BRUTE trolleys were in use you could often
see trains of them appearing from the gloom. Its one of the reasons that the more common 3 wheeled Lansing
Bagnall TOER platform tugs lost out to the more heavy duty Reliance Mercury types as depicted above.
However the story goes a bit further than that in that there was (is) quite a subterranean underground system
under the city centre. From the platforms of New Street mail could get directly to the mailbox without ever
seeing daylight via quite a substantial tunnel. Occasionally this is opened to the public and more can be seen
here
What is Anchor?
As kids we all thought the ramps led to a top secret nuclear bunker and thats not actually all that far from the
truth as there is indeed a hardened facility under Birmingham, built in the event of an atomic attack. Its one of 3
during the 1950s, designed to house and shield communication systems from a Hiroshima sized atomic
weapon exploding nearby (although it would never have survived a direct hit). It was called Anchor after the
hallmark of Birminghams Assay Office. The other bunkers were Guardian in Manchester and Kingsway in
London. Anchor is the largest of the 3. There is a rumour of a 4th facility under Glasgow but no evidence that it
ever existed has ever come to light.
It was built under the cover story of Birminghams underground railway system and cost 4 million pounds. The
public were later told that the underground system was not viable and had been abandoned but Anchor was
completed in September 1957 and was soon automatically handling 250,000 calls a day. The main site is
located underneath the BT tower on Newall Street. The construction site entrance for Anchor was located
opposite Moor Street station and later became public underpass.
The main tunnel at Anchor was roughly the same size and shape as those used on the London underground
and went out to Hill Street and then to Essex Street passing under New Street station. It is not clear if the
anchor tunnels and the Post office tunnels are actually linked together but some ex postal workers have stated
that they could get from New Street to the other post office at the top of hill street via the tunnels. It is also
claimed that the mysterious heavy duty and strangely small, door that was part of the LNWR stables building at
the end of platform 1 was also linked to a tunnel that took you to Hill Street.
Anchor had its own water supply in the form of a 300 ft deep well under the site as well as the obvious air
filtration systems but it was only ever designed to keep communications running and not as the site of the
salvation of the Brummy masses, the idea of some huge facility that can house the population at the end of the
world, anywhere in the world is probably nothing more than Hollywood myth and wishfull thinking. Indeed the
air systems were as much to keep the air cooled machines running as anything else. The main entrance was
via a lift at the back of Telephone house (between Fleet street and Lionel Street) and the entrance was
protected with blast doors.
Anchor was only ever put on full alert during the Cuban missile crisis and was officially declassified in the late
1960s with various members of the press being allowed to visit the site.
Such was the pace of Nuclear weapon development that all 3 exchanges were obsolete before they were even
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1 of 4 03/05/2014 19:56

Mike Lynch
Eric Steele
completed but Anchor continued to remain operational until the late 1980s. Its is now, reportedly, abandoned
and suffers regular flooding from Birminghams rising water table (the result of the decline of heavy industry in
the area)
So whats left?
The main site is still there unless the recent closing of the underpasses was a cover for somehow removing it
or filling it in, unlikely givent the timescales. There is still some evidence of its existence above ground.
On the left one of the ventilation shafts which can be seen from the A38. On the right a mysterious but very
secure looking BT doorway virtually opposite the entrance to Snow Hill station which is sometimes said to be
an entrance. I have to admit, that while i know no better the concrete looks far too new for something
supposedly built so long ago. There is also a goods lift still visible on Lionel Street.
5 Responses
Brilliant, Jim.
I had a couple of mates that used to work at the main post office in the 80s and
they used to tell me about an extensive tunnel system under the city. But I always
thought they were pulling my leg!
Wonder if you ever heard the myth about the bunker under the GPO tower that it
was never any good as wet coal dust from an adjoining basement used to leak
through the concrete when it rained?
I worked in the Jewelery Trade when I left school (back in 78) and would often
walk past the tower and Assay Office down Newhall Street on my way to work.
Never knew the name of the bunker was after the Assay mark though. Dont know
if you are old enough to remember them testing the nuclear alert sirens every once
in a while. I could clearly hear them at night sometimes even as far away as
Perry Barr where I grew up. Also remember cycling down the canal tow path
underneath the tower and being amazed by the huge concrete stilts that held the
adjoining building up over the canal.
Thanks for that really brought back some great memories. Especially of those
trains of brutes at the end of the platforms. Another great photo of the layout by the
way.
22/10/2013 at 9:59 pm
Hi Jim, In days of yore the building in your picture was the Lamp Rooms and
Footwarmer Store. That would be before proper heating and lighting in trains. The
ramp from Platform 1 continued under there and there were two lifts into the
subway, one in the Footwarmer Store and one in the Lamp Room around the point
where that low steel door is situated. Later part of it became the S&T Depot, the
Inspectors office moved to the PSB. In 1966/7 we still had a Mess Room at the
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2 of 4 03/05/2014 19:56
Simon Davis
jim s-w
Simon Davis
end nearest Hill St.
There was a tunnel to Hill St Sorting Office before the Mailbox was built.
Regarding the Anchor tunnel to Essex St. I think it had emergency access points
every 500 yards or so, hence that door could well have been a shaft into it.
22/10/2013 at 10:02 pm
The concrete entrance near to Snow Hill is nothing to do with Anchor, its a glorified
PCP (primary connection point, the green boxes you see roadside) that is at
ground level to the underpass which used to be located here but has now been
filled in and landscaped over. The doorway merely leads down to a miniature
frame, and is exactly the same use as a surface built structure located at
Birmingham Business Park. Two of the three repeater stations for Anchor survive,
one of which is now a telephone exchange in Great Barr known as Beacon and is
located on Whitecrest. The other two at Sheldon (Lyndon) and West Heath (Selly
Oak) are no longer BT property and have gone for redevelopment. I think Lyndon
is still standing, but Selly Oak is long gone. Im a regular visitor in Beacon and
Snow Hill though, especially when contractors cut the phone lines they serve.
09/11/2013 at 11:58 pm
Thanks for the info Simon. The underpass was the one with the GWR mosaics
wasnt it?
10/11/2013 at 11:32 am
The GWR mosaics were at St Chads Circus if I recall, now one of the most
horrendous traffic light controlled (hindered) junctions in the city, especially when
the tunnels are closed and Im driving back from Bournville MRC. 30 minutes to get
through the city because of the improved roadways here at 11pmthats
progress!
The underpass near Snow Hill where the doorway is located was called Colmore
Circus if I remember rightly, now Colmore Circus Queensway. I think originally the
entrance was from the underpass rather than the roadway, I dont remember that
entrance always being there, but Colmore Circus was infilled way before I started
working for Openreach BT.
10/11/2013 at 4:57 pm
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