Friday, 7 June 2013

Footprints of the Blitz (2)

Last time we looked at some of the surviving shelter signs in London that I have managed to capture on film for posterity. This week, I have unearthed some more photos of shelter signs along with one or two surviving shelters of various types. As before, all of the images shown are copyright to the author and may not be reproduced without permission.

Camberwell New Road (author's image)

The first image is of a sight that cannot now be seen in the form shown in the photograph, as it has now been partially obscured by a street name sign. The shelter in question that Londoners were being directed to was located on the platforms of Oval Underground Station, one of many then in use as deep level shelters. Oval Station saw out the war without incident, despite the surrounding area being heavily bombed but further down the Northern Line on 14th October 1940, the shelterers at Balham Station were not so lucky; a 1000kg high explosive bomb penetrated over forty feet and before exploding and the resulting explosion and flooding caused the northbound tunnel to partially collapse and fill with water from fractured water mains and sewers, which resulted in sixty eight shelterers being killed and many more injured.

Lee High Road

Our final shelter sign for now sees us remaining south of the Thames but moving south-eastwards to Lewisham. This is a slightly faded effort but one which is worth saving for posterity as with the passage of time, it may not be much longer before this sign fades away completely. This sign can be found in Lee High Road and it's junction with Brandram Road and the letters 'L-T-E-R' can still be seen reasonably clearly, whilst the remainder are somewhat more faded. There is the remnants of another sign in Brandram Road itself but this is so faded as to be now almost completely illegible.

We now move to the shelters themselves and for the first one, will stay south of the Thames but will move westwards to the grounds of the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. 

NPL Teddington

There are at least two surviving shelters at this location and probably more than this but lack of time has so far precluded a more exhaustive search. The image shown is of the least overgrown shelter, which is located near to the cricket ground and would no doubt have been available for the use of employees of this important wartime facility. These brick and concrete shelters were basically surface shelters and would have provided protection from shrapnel and flying debris but would have been useless against a direct hit. Even the blast from a near miss would have probably caused the brick walls to collapse, bringing the concrete slab roof down on top of the unfortunate occupants. Londoners with their somewhat wry sense of humour, christened these type of shelters "Morrison Sandwiches" after Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary of the time who was responsible for Civil Defence.

Another similar shelter, only on a much larger scale, survives in London's East End at Fawe Street in Poplar. Although the roof is somewhat overgrown, the shape of the shelter is still clearly visible and it is clear that this would have been capable of holding a considerable number of people.

Fawe Street, Poplar

Shelters could take all sorts of strange forms and often utilised the basements or cellars of existing buildings, expecially when there was nothing else available. Two such shelters are still visible in the Royal Borough of Greenwich - the first one in the grounds of Charlton House, which as the attached press cutting shows, was licensed to accomodate forty people. The shelter is actually located beneath a building formerly used as a public toilet, which rather primly was described as 'The House at Charlton House!' Charlton House itself was used as Wardens' Post 'Park 8' so the Air Raid Wardens presumably didn't want members of the public getting in their way!

Greenwich Shelters

Charlton House Grounds

The other shelter in Greenwich referred to in the list of 'Where to seek safety' was strangely described as a Trench Shelter but was actually located inside the underground reservoir located in Greenwich Park, although there is some doubt as to whether this shelter was ever actually used 'in anger' given the fact that there were plenty of other shelters available in the immediate locality. This would be shelter is included out of interest, especially for the fact that is was shown in the list as having been capable of holding three hundred people. Although I've never been inside this building, one can only imagine the claustrophobic conditions that would have prevailed inside.

Greenwich Park Reservoir Entrance

Before we leave the borough, there is another shelter in Charlton which is of interest, even though it is not immediately visible. This is located in the back garden of 88 Charlton Road, now a dentist's surgery but a house that during the wartime years was requisitioned by the Army as a billet for the crews of Anti-Aircraft guns that were located on the nearby Rectory Field. Whilst the guns would keep blazing away at most times, if the bombing became too adjacent, the crews would retire to their shelter, which incidentally was a good deal more substantial than the equivalent Anderson Shelters provided to the householders of the unrequisitioned houses nearby!

Shelter Entrance, 88 Charlton Road

Unfortunately, I have never been able to explore inside the shelter as it is full of old furniture, although maybe one day perhaps it will have been emptied and an exploration will be permitted.

There are plenty of shelters and other wartime structures that remain dotted around various parts of London, not all of which I have captured as yet. Our next edition will feature some more surviving shelters as well as other more random buildings and signage from the war.

Published Sources:

London Transport at War - Charles Graves, London Passenger Transport Board 1947






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