In 1939 Britain was at war. As Porthcurno telegraph station was such an important communications centre, it needed to be protected from attack. In the first weeks of the war the decision was made to move it underground, lock, stock and barrel.
In June 1940, 200 tin miners started digging into and dynamiting the hillside. To maintain secrecy, curious villagers were told that a short cut to the local pub was being built. By May 1941 two bomb-proof tunnels had been completed, at a cost of £21,000. There were beds, toilets and provisions inside, in case the staff ever became trapped. Each entrance had huge steel bomb-proof doors, guarded by the military and protected by flamethrowers.
Today, visitors can explore the Grade II listed tunnels and imagine living and working underground, handling top-secret messages and constantly worrying about possible attack.
The tunnels house an authentic telegrapher’s workshop, a fully working automated relay station and a replica wireless room. A secret door leads to the escape stairs, 120 steps hewn through the solid granite bedrock giving a covert way out should the tunnels be overrun. A viewing platform from the top gives visitors a view over the valley.
The story is brought right up to date with a display of artefacts and ephemera from the world’s biggest telecommunications training college (here at Porthcurno), and a gallery dedicated to fibre optic communications – the cornerstone of the World Wide Web.