Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:


© Crown Copyright and database right 2021. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2021. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1393194.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 16-Jan-2021 at 00:19:10.


Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Wokingham (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 74151 71645

Reasons for Designation

Reading War Room, completed in 1953, was the regional base for Home Defence Region 6 during the early Cold War, and was designed to protect the functions of regional government from the atomic bomb and to co-ordinate defence. It is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * A remarkably intact early 1950s war room which has experienced very little in the way of alteration since built; * A building which expresses through its monumental and robust form the threat posed by the atomic bomb; * A plan which illustrates the needs and functions of regional government in that decade; * One of only thirteen war rooms nationally of the early 1950s; * One of only four surviving in England built to the two-storey semi-sunken design.



1921/0/10029 WHITEKNIGHTS 10-MAR-09 Reading War Room ('The Citadel'), Univ ersity of Reading

II Reading War Room, completed 1953. A War room for Home Defence Region 6 (one of ten such regions in England) to protect regional government and co-ordinate defence in the event of an atomic attack.

PLAN: Of reinforced concrete construction. A rectangular building of two storeys, the lower of which is below ground-level. Broadly symmetrical plan with two opposing entrances in the north-west and south-east elevations and two staircases. The north-west and north-east corners of the upper floor house dog-leg entrances, corner ablutions and dog-leg staircases down to lower floor. The plan centres around a map room with control cabins, this surrounded by a continuous corridor with external offices and accommodation. There is a plant room on the upper floor to the north.

EXTERIOR: Robust but largely featureless exterior design although some massing interest in the vents, chimneys and overhanging roof.. Of reinforced concrete with pebble-dash render above plain concrete footings. Horizontal lines indicate how the concrete was cast and also illustrates, through this rough finish, that appearance was not important. There are, of course, no windows, and only two entrances. Main entrance to the north-west with a metal door and frame being the outer of a series sealing this entrance. Secondary entrance in the south-east elevation. The doors are deeply recessed in the thickness of the walls. Flat overhanging roof which supports a number of protruding vents and chimneys in the northern half of the building. Some are original and others are secondary additions presumably of the early 1960s when it became a communications centre for Warren Row Regional Seat of Government (see HISTORY). The additions are readily identifiable as the original features are symmetrical when viewed from the north: a central block and two L-shaped flanking chimneys.

INTERIOR: A functional interior lacking in decoration but containing a number of original features. North-western entrance with three doors: an external metal door; a secondary door with small viewing window and a third substantial metal door with four locks. Inside the latter is a wooden wall-fixed sign entitled 'Local Warning State'. Pair of concrete staircases with solid concrete central balustrades and metal hand-rails lead down to the lower floor. Many internal partition walls are also reinforced concrete. Wooden internal doors and architraves. Door furniture largely original Bakelite (for handles, finger plates and lock plates). Also original wall lights and ceiling ducting for the air conditioning system. Internal walls painted a pale yellow; internal doors in light blue. Plant is arranged along the north side of the bunker between the ablutions and includes a room containing two ventilation systems, one with original ducting (with a plaque identifying Hope's Heating & Engineering Ltd of 17, Berners Street, London) and one with replacement ducting. Water tanks above each staircase and in an additional tank room on each floor. Configuration of central map room and its satellite control rooms still clear, particularly at lower floor level where there are four satellite cabins; three to the north-east and one to the south-east. Each dividing wall has a large internal hatch which could be sealed off from the map room by the surviving solid shutters. Map room with chamfered piers and ceiling beams. Also three large map boards on the south-west wall. False floor inserted into the former open central well of the map room at the upper level. Although not fixed to the building, a large map board in the southern room of the lower floor depicts Home Defence Area 6, its sub-regions and neighbouring defence areas. This appears to be of 1950s date.

HISTORY: By 1951 the construction of buildings to protect the functions of government against the atomic bomb had been agreed. One war room was to be built in each of the ten Home Defence Regions into which England was divided. The exception to this was the London Region which was provided with four war rooms making a total in England of thirteen. All except one (in Newcastle-upon-Tyne) were purpose-built structures. The defence regions had their origins in the Second World War when plans were made for the eventuality that central government was disrupted or destroyed. Each had a regional commissioner who would govern and organise his region and its defence until such time as things returned to normal. The new war rooms were located in the same cities as their wartime predecessors but were usually built on government estates so that they could sit alongside the offices of other ministries. The war room designs were in progress by October 1951 and the last one to be completed was Birmingham in 1956. Each had a reinforced concrete structure with extremely thick external walls (1.45m) and roof (1.5m) and further reinforced concrete internal partition walls as well as its own generators, air filtration system and water supply. The function of the war rooms was to gather information in the event of an attack and to co-ordinate rescue and welfare facilities in support of the regional government.

There were three different designs: single storey surface buildings; two-storey surface buildings; and two-storey semi-sunken buildings as at Reading but in plan they followed a broadly similar pattern. Essentially, as well as the aforementioned plant rooms and water storage facilities, each had a central map room with control rooms, offices and communications rooms surrounding it, as well as ablutions, dormitories and a canteen. The buildings provided protection for the staff within (approximately 50 people including the commissioner, police and military liaison officers, telephonists, telex operators and secretaries, hospital and fire service liaison staff and a science officer), as well as the collection and analysis of data and the dissemination of decisions for the organisation of the particular defence region. The importance of the map room can be seen by its central position at the heart of the building and, in relation to the two-storey design, it occupied the full height of the building with overlooking control cabins on both the lower and upper floors.

Reading War Room was completed in 1953. It was located on the wartime government estate at Whiteknights and some of the pre-fabricated buildings from this use still survive in its vicinity. It was the war room for Home Defence Region 6 which broadly covered Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Reading and other regional war rooms were replaced in the early 1960s by Regional Seats of Government which were better equipped to cope with the hydrogen bomb (the detonation of the Soviet H-bomb in August 1963 was the catalyst for this change in strategy). Reading War Room thus became the communications centre for the Warren Row Regional Seat of Government near Henley-on-Thames, Oxon. More recently it has been used by the University of Reading for document storage and by Plant Sciences.

SOURCES: B Clarke, Four Minute Warning: Britain's Cold War (2005) pp171-188, particularly 171-4 WD Cocroft, RJC Thomas, Cold War: Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-1989 (2003), pp197-213 National Monuments Record photographic archive, War Room, Reading University, Job 98/01874

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: * A remarkably intact early 1950s war room which has experienced very little in the way of alteration since built; * A building which expresses through its monumental and robust form the threat posed by the atomic bomb; * A plan which illustrates the needs and functions of regional government in that decade; * One of only thirteen war rooms nationally of the early 1950s, four of which have been demolished, and four listed; * One of only four surviving in England built to the two-storey semi-sunken design.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Clarke, B , Four minute warning: Britain's Cold War, (2005), 171-174
Cocroft, W D, Thomas, R J C, Cold War - Building for Nuclear Confrontation 1946-1989, (2003), 197-213


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].