Wellingborough cold war nuclear shelter entrepreneur’s hot new idea - biological attack-proof safe rooms

A Wellingborough entrepreneur who started a shelter business after wanting to protect his children from a nuclear war has now diversified into safe room manufacture.

By Alison Bagley
Wednesday, 6th November 2019, 1:13 pm
Businessman Tom Butler with the safe room he is marketing for industrial and domestic use.
Businessman Tom Butler with the safe room he is marketing for industrial and domestic use.

Tom Butler, who lives in Great Addington, had been chatting to one of his sons at the height of the cold war when fears of nuclear war were an everyday concern.

The 82-year-old said: “I was running the bath and one of my sons said ‘I shan’t live until I’m 21 shall I?’. I took it seriously enough to put a bunker in my garden.

“I found the name of a company in Switzerland and flew out to visit their factory and did a deal with them.”

Tom has deisgned the safe house so it could be used in domestic settings for families

As a result, Tom became the supplier of the air filtration systems used in nuclear bunkers, running his company from Rock Street in Wellingborough.

With growing fears of nuclear attacks during 1970s and 1980s, the Home Office was tasked with upgrading its emergency planning.

Civil defence level bunkers were installed across the country by local authorities in case of nuclear strikes.

Tom said: “By this time we had learned a lot about it and gave the Home Office quotes for the work. It grew and grew. We became more knowledgeable every year that went by.

The safe rooms could be used on industrial sites

“I would draw up the plans ready for the architect and provide the air filtration systems. My layouts were used in at least 50 buildings across the country.

“After the cold war it was said there was no real need for these buildings to be civil defence level - most of the stuff went into a skip. But Northampton’s is still there.”

Now Tom has diversified his business protecting against the threat of nuclear fall-out to potential attacks and incidents involving ‘airborne war gases’ and ‘biological agents’.

His new safe room is designed for use in industrial sites such as oil refineries and chemical works in cases of emergencies.

The mobile rooms can be also be used for storage

In the event of a serious incident, workers can use the reinforced cabin, complete with airlocks, to decontaminate and wait for rescue.

He found a UK manufacturer to produce his prototype which has been undergoing further research and development ready for production.

The steel safe rooms are around the same dimensions as a shipping container, 6 metres long, 2 metres wide and 2 metres tall.

Tom said: “I think that nuclear war is impractical. Biological and chemical weapons will come. It’s far more of a threat. History will take it there.

Tom Butler with his prototype safe house

“You can have a safe room anywhere that there’s contaminated air. It has an airlock so people can enter without contaminating the living quarters.

“The pressure is greater on the inside so the contaminated air goes out rather than in.

“There’s a smaller version for indoor use for the average man in the street. It’s not a big job to fit the pumps into a house.”

Tom has designed the safe room so that it can be used for a secure storage area when not required elsewhere.

Rushden-born Tom still works every day on his diverse businesses.

Tom Butler Flower Hire Service, founded in 1967, supplies artificial floral hanging baskets and window boxes to UK firms and his shelter supply business, Tom Butler Valves & Filters Ltd, which he launched in 1981 in Rock Street, Wellingborough.

All of his sons Tim, 58, 50-year-old Pete and Shane, 44, have worked in their father’s businesses but Tom has no plans to retire.

He added: “I still work seven days a week. On holidays I am on the phone every day to the office or customers. I suppose the answer is I just get pleasure out of working and the challenges every day brings.

“When my time is up, I hope it’s while I am selling something or doing business.”

For more information about Tom’s safe rooms please go to http://www.tombutlervalvesandfilters.co.uk/video-survivor.html