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brute-trainOn 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 trolley’s 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 that’s 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 1950’s, 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 Birmingham’s 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 Birmingham’s 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. little-doorAnchor 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 1960’s 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 completed but Anchor continued to remain operational until the late 1980’s. Its is now, reportedly, abandoned and suffers regular flooding from Birmingham’s 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. anchor structuresOn 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.

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Mike Lynch
Mike Lynch
7 years ago

Brilliant, Jim.

I had a couple of mates that used to work at the main post office in the 80’s 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. Don’t 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.

Eric Steele
Eric Steele
7 years ago

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 Inspector’s office moved to the PSB. In 1966/7 we still had a Mess Room at the 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.

Simon Davis
Simon Davis
6 years ago

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. I’m a regular visitor in Beacon and Snow Hill though, especially when contractors cut the phone lines they serve.

Simon Davis
Simon Davis
6 years ago

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 I’m driving back from Bournville MRC. 30 minutes to get through the city because of the ‘improved’ roadways here at 11pm…thats 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 don’t remember that entrance always being there, but Colmore Circus was infilled way before I started working for Openreach BT.

Rod Surman
Rod Surman
5 years ago

I started with the post office as a power apprentice in September 1966 and my first 2 months were spent working down Anchor where myself and my fellow apprentice Chris Skinner had the run of the place, it was a fantastic time and an unbelievable achievement to actually build the place! There was a staff canteen down there, three of the biggest generators i have ever seen, and miles of tunnels to get lost in!! The longest tunnel went down to Essex street TEC wher the submersible pumps kept the rising water at bay. These needed to be tested every week, happy days!

Rod Surman
Rod Surman
5 years ago
Reply to  jim s-w

Morning Jim, i don’t think they can afford to let it fill up, there are still thousands of cables going to different exchanges and repeater stations still in use that they need access to.

NTpost
NTpost
14 days ago

There must be a number of ex GPO workers like me who worked there for many years and remember the layout and use of the tunnels. It was always very clean and bright with great staff camaraderie – all male. It’s a shame there’s no tours or open days but I guess there is a safety aspect. Cable tunnels used to flood only occasionally when a pump failed. I cant imagine what it’s like now if as we are led to believe it’s abandoned.