Following the start of World War II, the roof of Senate House was repurposed as an observation post for the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). The ROC was a civil defence organisation established in 1925 to identify, track, and report aircrafts flying over Britain. There were some 30,000 ROC volunteers at the start of the war and around 1,000 observer posts spread across Britain. The posts were positioned approximately six to ten miles from each other.
The ROC telephone box on Senate House would have allowed an observer to communicate with an Observer Corps Centre.
At the time, Senate House served as the base of operations for the Ministry of Information, which was responsible for propaganda, censorship, and subterfuge during the war.
When the German air force bombed London during the Blitz campaign, Senate House was hit on at least five occasions. Reginald Arthur Rye, the University Librarian at the time, noted that the Theses Room in the south wing of Senate House had been destroyed in a bombing that affected the sixth and seventh floors.
For several years, Salisbury engineers Colin Lee and John Barnett had discussed the refurbishment of the telephone, the wooden box that houses it, and the commemorative plaque. John said that the box had deteriorated significantly, likely untouched since the University took back control of Senate House after 1945.
The telephone handset itself was in a state beyond repair according to Salisbury engineer Andrew Jones, so an authentic replacement was sourced by another engineer, Andrew Sherston.
With this restoration project, Senate House's key role in defending Britain during World War II can be appreciated by future generations.
Thanks to Andrew Jones, Colin Lee, John Barnett, and Andrew Sherston from Salisbury and Mark Davey and Evandro Correa Da Silva Esperandio of the UoL Facilities Management team. Thanks also to Richard Temple for his insight into the history of the ROC at Senate House.