Friday, 24 May 2013

Footprints of the London Blitz (1)

Until very recently, I have had a large number of my wartime related photographs published on one of the well known photo sharing websites. A recent unilateral "improvement" of this site which I felt was anything but an improvement has finally given me the incentive to cancel my subscription, take the photos down and begin to re-publish them on this blog.

Rather than attempt to upload a hundred or more photographs in one hit, perhaps it is a good idea to use these images plus some which have never been published before to illustrate a theme relating to wartime London which still survives. This week, we are going to examine air raid shelter signs, a surprising number of which still survive in various parts of London. All of these images were taken by me, are my copyright and may not be used or reproduced without my express written permission.

Perhaps surprisingly, Westminster is the home to many surviving shelter signs, although less surprisingly these are mainly off the beaten track.

Lord North Street

The signs above and below are to be found at several locations along Lord North Street and Longmoore Street and indicate the way to shelters that were formerly located in 'vaults' in the basements of the properties concerned. These were public shelters which would have provided a measure of protection against anything but a direct hit on the premises above.
 
Longmoore Street
   
36 Longmoore Street

The next sequence of shelter signs are slightly easier to find, being on main roads but perhaps a thoroughfare which people would normally traverse by car or cab. The first sign is outside La Gavroche, a Two Star restaurant in Upper Brook Street, just off Park Lane. This isn't the only shelter sign to be found on this street, for continuing into Brook Street proper, two further signs can be found and these are also reproduced below.
 
43 Upper Brook Street



42 Brook Street


The final sign in Brook Street can be found outside number 72. All of these are remarkably well preserved.  

72 Brook Street

The final pair of shelters to be found in Westminster are in Queen Anne's Gate and are of a similar 'vault' type basement shelter. The first sign is now partially obscured by a Blue Plaque erected in 1954 by the erstwhile London County Council. Were the plaque to be erected today, the shelter sign would doubtless have been preserved but the fact that it has been partially obliterated reflects the mood of 1954; the Blitz was too recent a memory for most people and any remnants of it were not to be commemorated.

28 Queen Anne's Gate

A few doors further along though, we can still find an unadulterated sign, again in a good state of preservation. At the time of writing, it is partially obscured by a building contractor's hoarding but I am assured that when the works are complete, the sign will remain intact!

30 Queen Anne's Gate

Moving away from Westminster and the centre of the capital, we can find more shelter signs both in southeast and east London. In Poplar, we can find a sign outside Our Lady Immaculate Church in Norway Place, the crypt of which during the Blitz, in common with many other places of worship would have been used as a shelter. The faded sign tells us that the shelter was capable of accommodating 250 people, no doubt in fairly grim conditions but which would have provided respite from the horrors outside. This sign was painted over, no doubt immediately after the war but seventy years on, the black paint is wearing away, revealing once again the original sign.

Norway Place E13

Moving south of the river to the London Borough of Lewisham, we can find another cluster of signs. The first group can be discovered in and around Deptford High Street. The first one, adjacent to Deptford Station actually points towards a still extant location, the railway arches, although the shelters have naturally long disappeared. These are much larger signs than those found in Westminster and whilst some have been painted over, they are still readily visible and identifiable.

Deptford High Street SE8, adjacent to Station

There are a couple of other signs to be found just off the High Street, in Frankham Street and Comet Street and again, especially the former, still readily visible. These point to the location of now long demolished public surface shelters.

Frankham Street SE8

Comet Street SE8

For our next group of shelter signs, we remain in the borough but move along towards Lewisham itself. The first one we see is on the road bridge across the railway in Tanners Hill and once again, points towards a shelter that is now only a memory for some older residents of the area.

Tanners Hill SE8

The next sign is at the junction of Shardeloes Road and Lewisham Way and although the wall upon which it is painted is somewhat the worse for wear, the sign itself is still clearly visible some seventy four years after it was first painted.

Lewisham Way/Shardeloes Road junction

Until recently, there was another surviving sign in this area but which sadly has recently fallen victim to a new property development, being replaced by a facile imitation in the form of a Dollar sign advertising the development. This sign was in Jerningham Road and is shown below for the record.
 
Jerningham Road SE14

For our final shelter sign in this sequence, we remain in the Borough of Lewisham but move to nearby Ladywell Station, where a large sign advertising 'Shelter for 700' points to the direction of the nearby railway arches.

Ladywell Station SE13

For our final collection of shelter signs, we remain south of the Thames - just but move back towards the centre of London, to the old Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey. The St John's, Neckinger and Lockyer Estates, all located within the borough close to Jamaica Road all have signs pointing to shelters located at the base of the various blocks. The shelters themselves are still extant but firmly sealed so as to prevent access. To show all of these shelter signs would be somewhat repetitive as they all look rather similar but reproduced below is the sign pointing towards Shelter A7 on the St John's Estate in Druid Street, SE1.

Shelter A7, Druid Street SE1

There are other shelter signs elsewhere in London that I am aware of but have yet to capture on film and no doubt there are others out there that I don't know about. Rest assured, they will appear here as and when they are photographed.

Unpublished Sources:

Author's private research




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