Alresford Spy Toilet - Atlas Obscura

Alresford Spy Toilet

Alresford, England

These public toilets were used as a dead drop by pro-Soviet spies to trade British military secrets during the Cold War. 

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During the Cold War, pro-Soviet spies in the West often used dead drops, dead letter boxes, and unexpected locations to pass information on to fellow agents discreetly. Contrary to the life of well-dressed, gadget-welding spies in popular culture, these locations were not always so sophisticated. On the wall of a public toilet in Alresford, is a plaque documenting its surprising role as one such site.

The plaque notes that “secret information hidden in this toilet was collected periodically by Harry Houghton. In 1961 he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for his part in the Portland Spy Ring.”

In 1959, American and British intelligence noted that classified information from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment and HMS Osprey was being secretly shared with the Soviet Union. Their prime suspect was Harry Houghton, a Civil Servant at the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment since his lifestyle was unrealistically lavish considering his salary.

By early 1961, MI5’s surveillance had gathered enough evidence to arrest Houghton and his associates, including information from this toilet block. The Spy Ring was sentenced to 15-25 years on espionage charges.

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February 26, 2024

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