23rd January 1981

Jersey company plans massive nuclear shelter

It was the height of the Cold War. At any moment, war could break out between east and west, and a nuclear exchange could wipe out life on Earth. It was also a time of opportunity for those with appropriate expertise, like Jersey-based Douvaine, which unveiled plans for Western Europe’s largest fallout shelter.

If built, the shelter could have housed up to 12,000 people in the event of nuclear war. Plans for the £10m development, which the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament described as “horrendous” centred on a disused, 41-acre quarry in Wiltshire. It was deep enough to give inhabitants, each of which would pay £2000 for the right to take refuge, plus £50 a year ground rent, 100ft of protection above their heads.

The Times spoke to Dr Paul Rogers from the School of Peace Studies at Bradford University who claimed that rather than making us safer, schemes of this sort “could increase the likelihood of nuclear war because the idea became increasingly acceptable”.

DIY nuclear shelters

While Douvaine was refining its plans for a communal shelter, the British government was distributing information to householders showing them how they could construct their own family shelter at home for between £250 and £10,000. According to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle of 26 January 1981, “the more you spend, the more chance you have of living to tell the ghastly tale, according to a new Home Office booklet on nuclear shelters”. The booklet cost 50p.

It made grim reading, predicting that around 5% of the mainland would be wiped out by direct hits and everyone would suffer from the fall-out. Lead would be the most effective defence, with an inch of the dense metal providing around the same level of protection as seven inches of slate. The question was, where were we to get sufficient lead to build these shelters from?

The 1981 Ideal Home Exhibition showed off a Tudor Home with an integrated nuclear bunker, and the National Federation for Nuclear Shelter Constructors was running seminars in conjunction with local councils to show householders how they could help them build their own fall-out refuges. Building societies were offering mortgages to fund their construction.


FREE Jersey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Jersey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.



Other events that occured in January