Sounds of the Cold War

Between November 2020 and February 2021, we worked on the ‘Sounds of the Cold War’ project with Grimm &. Co., a literacy and creative writing charity based in Rotherham. This online project focused on uncovering the hidden stories of York’s elusive Cold War Bunker.

York Cold War Bunker, View of control room showing monitoring and communications equipment.

One of  English Heritage’s ‘most modern and spine-chilling’ properties, The Cold War Bunker is a really unique site. Built in 1961, the Bunker was designed to withstand a nuclear blast.

It was the operational nerve-centre for the Royal Observer Corps (ROC) – a branch of the military focused on monitoring nuclear threats during an era of heightened tension. In the event of a nuclear attack, members of the ROC sheltering in the bunker would have gathered data on explosions using high-tech equipment and issued warnings to civil authorities like the government, other branches of the military, and the public.

Exterior view up the steps towards the entrance to the bunker.

Exterior view of the bunker.

8 seats for the plotters in the Operations Room. It was their job to take down information from monitoring posts.

Seats for the plotters in the Operations Room. It was their job to take down information from monitoring posts.

During this project we investigated the Bunker’s secretive history. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, instead of a site visit, we explored the bunker virtually. We were guided by Senior Curator, Kevin Booth and we learned about how English Heritage look after the collection. This ranges from high-tech equipment like the AWDREY (Atomic Weapons Detection Recognition and Estimation of Yield) machine, to more mundane objects like the 1980s sellotape which is now degrading!

After practicing interview skills with researchers from York St. John University, we then took part in an online sharing session with members of the ROC who worked at the bunker before it was vacated in 1991. It was in this video chat that we learnt that they made many friends for life during their time in the Bunker, that the smell was the worst aspect of their work, and that they preferred coffee to tea!

Drawing on our tour of the site, our knowledge of the collection, and the stories we heard from the ROC as inspiration, everyone has created their own imagined narratives of the Cold War. Between January and February 2021, we worked with sound artist, Charlotte Barber, to professionally record those scenarios and turn them into an audio soundscape experience. You can listen to our recordings below.



‘It’s [the project has] made me a lot more confident, at the start of the project I didn’t want to talk or anything but just before Christmas when we were in the breakout rooms I turned my mic on, which I’m quite proud of so this has really helped thank you.’

Feedback from Grimm & Co. youth group member

‘I’m [now] thinking of taking media studies and English for A level. I have also enjoyed history more.’

Feedback from Grimm & Co. youth group member