The Royal Observer Corps

The Royal Observer Corps (ROC) was a civil defence organisation operating in the United Kingdom between 29 October 1925 and 31 December 1995.

In 1925, following a Defence Committee initiative undertaken the previous year, the formation of an RAF command concerning the Air Defence of Great Britain led to the provision of a Raid Reporting System, itself delegated to a sub-committee consisting of representatives from the Air Ministry, Home Office and the General Post Office. This Raid Reporting System was to provide for the visual detection, identification, tracking and reporting of aircraft over Great Britain, and was eventually to become known as the Observer Corps. The Observer Corps was subsequently awarded the title Royal by His Majesty King George VI in April 1941, in recognition of service carried out by Observer Corps personnel during the Battle of Britain.

With the advent of the Cold War, the ROC continued in its primary role of aircraft recognition and reporting, and in 1955 was allocated the additional task of detecting and reporting nuclear explosions and associated fall-out. Between 1958 and 1968 a countrywide building programme resulted in a network of 1,563 underground monitoring posts being built thoughout Britain. It would be necessary for control centres and ROC posts to be occupied for a period of between seven and twenty one days following any nuclear event.

By 1965, thanks to advances in (radar) technology, most roles and responsibilities relating to aircraft had been withdrawn and the ROC assumed the role of fieldforce for the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation, (UKWMO) a role which the ROC continued until the early 1990s and the cessation of the Cold War.


Maidstone No.1 Group ROC HQ

'Fairlawns' was the former name of 57 London Road,Maidstone. In 1939 the property was requisitioned for a new headquarters for No.1 Group of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC), who had previously been stationed in rooms above Maidstone Post Office. An operations room was built in the house using the ground floor and basement. Fairlawns was in use throughout the war until stand down. In the 1950s Fairlawns was relegated to being a training centre for the group control at Beckenham (19 Group).

On June 25th,1960 a new purpose built bunker was opened behind 'Fairlawns' by General Sir Sidney Kirkman,Director-General of Civil Defence. The new air conditioned headquarters consisted of an Operations room,Officers Dormitories for men and women,Contamination-cleansing rooms, a Kitchen and Canteen,Training and Storage rooms. The function of the nuclear-age headquarters would be to receive and coordinate information of nuclear fall-out from the ROC posts that it controlled and from other Groups and pass it on to the Civil Defence authorities,the services and other interested organisations.

The Maidstone Group Control has three levels, The entrance is above ground in a concrete blockhouse often refered to as an 'Aztec Temple'. The next level down is partly below ground,which is mounded over with a soil covering, and the lowest level of the bunker is completely underground.

In 1976 Fairlawns was renamed Ashmore House in memory of the Corps' founder Major Ashmore. On closure Ashmore House and the bunker was sold to a local solicitors,who used the bunker for storage. A lot of the machinery,generators,ventilation equipment etc. needed to run the bunker still remains inside in very good condition. However,most of the actual ROC items were sold off during the 90's.




Operations Room


Many thanks to Carol Vizzard of Brachers Solicitors who allowed us access to the bunker.