The Eisenhower Centre

The Eisenhower Centre, September 2017.

Walking around London you see things that you’d miss on a bus or in a taxi. The Eisenhower Centre is an example.

It has almost no connection with President Eisenhower. There is no public access, so wtf in today’s lingo?

The building consists of two concrete blocks one circular ‘pillbox’ and the smaller one octagonal. They are joined by a long thin rectangular brick building. There is a brick ventilation shaft attached to the rear of this brick building. It has a door and a beam for carrying a pulley for loading large or heavy objects into the tunnels. The main entrance is at the front opposite Alfred Place. There is a square brick ventilation shaft on the roof of the circular ‘pillbox’ with a small brick extension on the east side of the octagonal building. The whole structure is painted cream and red.

Well, it’s been given a fresh lick of paint since that was written. It is a deep level shelter used in WW II. It has been said that Eisenhower was briefed here by Churchill about Operation Overlord but this is almost certainly wrong. These shelters connected to Northern Line tube stations, this one is part of Goodge Street, were part of a plan in the 1930s to increase the capacity of the line. It was used first by the fire service and later by US forces and as a shelter for Londoners from German bombs.

There doesn’t seem to be a ladies toilet. It’s a bit of a mystery what it is used for these days. I saw it on my way to lunch in Bloomsbury on Monday. At an Italian restaurant my host told me that he had invited the late Duke of Westminster who was recognised by the proprietor, as the Duke had dined there when he was in the Territorial Army. The Duke innocently asked, “do I own this street?”

“Almost, your grace, but it belongs to his grace, the Duke of Bedford.”

But what is the purpose of the Eisenhower Centre? Len Deighton may have a clue.

People made jokes about “the yellow submarine “, but Fiona seemed to like going down to the Data Centre, three levels below XXX. So did I sometimes for a brief spell. Down there, where the air was warmed, dehydrated, filtered and purified, and the sky was always light blue, you had the feeling that life had temporarily halted to give you a chance to catch your breath and think your own unhurried thoughts.

Berlin Game, Len Deighton, 1983.