Ponteland ROC: Abandoned Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Post in Northumberland

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland (Image: Ian Gate; abandoned Ponteland ROC Post near Newcastle)

From 1925 until 1996, the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) played a critical role in the air defence of Great Britain. Headquartered at RAF Bentley Priory and staffed largely by civilian volunteers, the civil defence organisation was formed as a Raid Reporting System tasked with monitoring UK skies for hostile aircraft as tensions gripped Europe after World War One. What became the Observer Corps gained the ‘Royal’ title from King George VI in recognition of its service during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. In the decades that followed, amid the icy grip of the Cold War, the Royal Observer Corps continued its role of aircraft recognition and monitoring. But the service also took on the altogether more chilling assignment of detecting and reporting nuclear explosions and fall-out.

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland 2 (Image: Ian Gate)

As the Cold War warmed up, significant restructuring took place as the 40 original ROC groups were reduced to 31 and later 25. At the same time, in the decade between 1958 and 1968, a nationwide building programme got underway which saw the construction of 1,563 underground monitoring posts. Located roughly eight miles apart, the subterranean facilities were distributed across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Among them was Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland, now one of many abandoned relics around Newcastle.

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland 3 (Image: Ian Gate)

Underground monitoring posts like Ponteland cost around £5,000 to build and were excavated to a depth of 25 feet. The waterproofed structure comprised of a reinforced concrete monocoque building buried beneath a compacted mound of earth. A sealed hatch allowed access to the subterranean chamber below via a vertical shaft, fitted with a steel ladder. Inside, there was room enough for three observers and their assorted monitoring equipment. The cramped, chilly space included a toilet. Air was circulated courtesy of a couple of ventilators and power was provided by a 12 volt lead-acid battery.

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland 4 (Image: Ian Gate)

Ponteland ROC Post was built in February 1962 to the north of Callerton Grange Farm, adjacent to an underground reservoir. The post, nestled on the south side of Ponteland to the west of the industrial city of Newcastle, is identifiable amid the surrounding farmland by its distinctive grass mound and grilled ventilation shafts.

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland 5 (Images: Ian Gate)

Like many other Royal Observer Corps monitoring posts across the UK, which by then came under the control of RAF Strike Command, Ponteland was decommissioned in September 1991 after the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall fell. Shuttered and forgotten, its job done, the underground facility was abandoned. When Subterranea Britannica visited in 1999, they found the heavy hatch firmly locked, but subsequent visits revealed it to be open.

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland 9 (Image: John C. Hughes)

Subbrit reports: “All surface features remain intact with most of the dark green paint gone. the hatch is locked. When visited in 1999 the post was locked, the hasps have now been cut and the post is open. Internally the post is in good condition with many artefacts remaining including: table, shelf, cupboard, two chairs, chemical toilet, battery box, siren box, BPI mount, two mattresses, three pairs of Wellington boots, plastic bucket, clothing, clock, mirror, OS map, visitors log, various papers, rubber gloves. Tommy cooker fuel, rations, kettle teapot, notice board and BT junction box and wiring.”

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland 6 (Image: Ian Gate)

The website also reported that the abandoned ROC post remained in good condition as of March 2008, despite “pipeline construction work very close to the site.” Sadly, though, more recent years have not been kind, as the elements have taken their toll and vandals have found their way into the historic defence facility.

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland 7 (Image: John C. Hughes; trashed: the devastated interior of Ponteland ROC Post)

For well over a decade after it closed, Ponteland ROC Post survived as something of a time capsule, a subterranean slice of Cold War history beneath the fields of rural Northumberland. Though it was never preserved, it remained a discrete military reliquary of another time. Unfortunately, though, the wrong people ultimately learned of its existence. And since then, its been thoroughly trashed.

abandoned Royal Observer Corps Ponteland ROC Post in Northumberland 8 (Image: John C. Hughes)

These photographs from 2015 present an entirely different scene to what Subterranea Britannica encountered. Vandals have infiltrated the abandoned ROC post, covering its walls with graffiti and ransacking its interior. Original files that once sat neatly on the desk have now been destroyed, replaced by crushed lager cans and other assorted detritus. The scene is one of desolation and dereliction that hardly befits a proud organisation that helped defend the country through much of the 20th century, thanks to a small number of serving military personnel and more than 10,500 civilian volunteers.

But its not all bad news. Though most abandoned Royal Observer Corps posts stand empty and unloved, a small number are in great condition. One of those is Skelmorlie ROC Post in North Ayrshire, Scotland, which has been lovingly restored to its former glory and can be visited by appointment.

Related: Unfinished North End Ghost Station Beneath Hampstead Heath – and its Secret Wartime Purpose



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