Protecting Britain’s Art in a Nuclear War

A recent revelation has revived press interest in the UK government’s plans to save the nation’s art collection in the event of nuclear war.

The plans were first drafted in the early 1960s, in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Operation Methodical was drawn up to protect paintings including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Monet’s Water Lilies and The Hay Wain by Constable. It was intended that the artworks would be stored in a slate quarry in north Wales which had previously housed treasures from London’s National Gallery during World War II.

Now newly declassified government documents have revealed that the plans were updated in the early 1980s. At that time the disintegration of the USSR was provoking fears that nations on either side of the iron curtain may try to pre-empt the end of the Cold War.

By this time, however, the quarry had reopened as a mine and government officials instead considered alternative sites in north Wales. The plans were met with scepticism by some in the Ministry of Defence, who questioned “the policy of using scarce resources to protect ‘things’ rather than people.”

The full report on the latest revelations was published by Bloomberg.

Art treasures from the National Gallery are moved to Manod Quarry slate caverns in Merionethshire, Wales, September 1942. Photograph: Fred Ramage/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive via Getty Images.

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