The Camberwell Society

Society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell

Covert Camberwell


A discreet entrance in a quiet residential street in Camberwell leads to a world of espionage and eavesdropping, reports Ray Molony

The entrance to 113 Grove Park is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it discreet. And you get the impression the 30 occupants of the numerous industrial-style buildings on the site are very happy about that.

Curious locals prying past the gates and railings are met with the glare of a guard in a 24-hour security hut.

Not what you expect in a quiet and leafy conservation area.

Known officially as Denmark Hill Wireless Station, 113 Grove Park has been a Metropolitan Police communications centre since 1975.

And for many years it played a key surveillance role for the security services in two world wars and a Cold War.

Its role in national security started as far back as 1916, when a nursing home on the site was requisitioned by the War Office.

At some stage afterwards, it became a Government signal intelligence collection facility known as a ‘Y Station’ when these were set up during the First World War.

After the war, the records indicate that it reverted to a nursing home, this time for the Metropolitan Police.

By the early 1930s it was back in action as a listening station and police operators at the site are said to have been the first to intercept transmissions between Berlin and Moscow.

During World War II, it continued to collect enemy radio traffic and messages, the most important of which were passed onto the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire for analysis.

During the Cold War it was a joint listening station for MI6, MI5 and Special Branch, intercepting telephone calls and other transmissions.

Today, the Metropolitan Police describes the activities at 113 Grove Park as ‘telecommunications and technical support operations that are core operational activities’.

113 Grove Park isn’t the only site in Camberwell that has been home to secret police operations. The HQ of a clandestine unit of the Special Branch was once housed above this Turkish supermarket on Camberwell New Road. From the nondescript top floor office, agents of the covert Special Duties Squad (SDS), formerly the Special Demonstration Squad, launched ‘black ops’ against organisations which it deemed to be undermining the state. Controversially, some undercover police officers infiltrated political groups by entering into relationships with women members. They used false names, and even fathered children, disappearing when their tour of duty was over.

An official inquiry into the activities of the SDS is ongoing.

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The Camberwell Society was formed in 1970 and is the recognised amenity society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell.

The Society’s objectives, as defined by our constitution, are: to stimulate public interest in Camberwell, to promote high standards of planning and architecture in Camberwell, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Camberwell.

We are a charity and raise money for local charities. In the past we have raised money for Southside Rehabilitation Association, St Giles Trust, Cambridge House, the CamberwellCommunity Choir, the HollingtonYouth Centre and the Camberwell Arts Festival