Friday 21 June 2013

Footprints of the Blitz (3)

In the previous article of this series, we continued our look at surviving shelters and shelter signs. This time, we will take a look at some more of these surviving remnants of London's wartime past that can still be seen, provided that one knows where to look of course. As before, all of these images are the property of the author and may not be reproduced without my express written permission.

Temporary Shelter
First up, we see an example of a temporary shelter designed for use by one or at most, two people for short periods of time when working in exposed areas. This particular example is to be found in the London Transport Museum Depot at Acton and was discovered in undergrowth at Hainault Underground Depot in Essex, which had been used by the United States Army Transportation Department during the war in the run-up to the invasion of Europe. London Transport used these temporary shelters extensively for their members of staff and they were often to be seen in the booking halls of underground stations so that staff on duty could take cover in an emergency without having to leave their posts. They were made of fairly thick guage steel and would have provided protection against anything other than a direct hit but would also have been extremely uncomfortable for anyone even of average build.

The next photograph is of some shelters that have recently been unearthed by building works adjacent to Hayes & Harlington Station in Middlesex. I have note been able to examine these shelters too closely as they are now in the middle of a construction site but they appear to be quite substantial affairs possibly for the use of railway workers at the time. It is quite possible that these shelters will disappear once building works get underway and another small piece of London's wartime heritage will be gone for ever.

Hayes & Harlington Station

Another shelter possibly intended for railway staff can still be found adjacent to Bromley South Station in Kent. This shelter is also difficult to reach as it is on railway land  behind a solid looking fence but is of a concrete construction and capable of holding twenty or so people in reasonable safety.

Bromley South Station

For our next look at surviving shelters, we take a look at one of the once ubiquitous Anderson Shelters which could be found in the garden of almost every house in the country with a garden large enough to accommodate one. Nowadays, the effects of the passage of time on these largely steel structures has ensured that most of these once widely seen shelters have now disappeared from view.  These Anderson Shelters, named after Sir John Anderson, the minister responsible for Air Raid Precautions in 1938, were of a galvanised steel construction, largely of corrugated sheets six feet high, bolted together and then buried four feet beneath the surface, leaving only the top portion protruding above the ground, which was then designed to be covered with a minimum of fifteen inches of soil, so as to provide a measure of protection from shrapnel and blast. These shelters could accomodate a typical family of four people and were issued free of charge to those householders who earned less than £5 per week and for those who earned more than this figure, they could be purchased outright for £7. Despite their seeminly flimsy construction, these shelters were extremely efficient at absorbing blast and there was many a family who survived some very close shaves who had reason to be grateful for their Anderson Shelter. Today, one of these shelters survives in the garden of a house located in Stockwell, south London and the owner has made an effort to keep the shelter in something approaching it's original condition. This pleasant urban garden is occasionally open to the public during the Open Gardens Weekend event, at which time the owner places bedding inside the shelter to add to it's authenticity. Some photographs are shown below which shows the inside and outside of the shelter.

Anderson Shelter exterior
Anderson Shelter interior

To give the reader an idea of the robustness of these shelters, take a look at this archive photo from the Greenwich Heritage Centre that shows the damage caused by a V-1 explosion in Burney Street, Greenwich on 27th June 1944. Despite the terrible damage to the properties which no human being could have survived, the ruined gardens reveal several Anderson Shelters, battered but unbowed. The occupants of these shelters would have survived the experience, no doubt shaken but still in one piece.

The aftermath in Burney Street (Greenwich Heritage Centre)

One type of shelter that can still be seen in the centre of London are the Deep Level Shelters, which were built as a response to the experiences learned during the First Blitz of 1940-41 and were designed to shelter vast numbers of people in unrivalled safety and comfort. These huge structures were built adjacent to existing Underground stations and were originally planned to be ten in number - five north and five south of Thames. In the event, the shelters at Oval and St Paul's were not proceeded with but the constructions at Belsize Park, Camden Town, Chancery Lane and Goodge Street north of the River and at Clapham Common, Clapham North, Clapham South and Stockwell south of the Thames went ahead. Each of these shelters was designed to accommodate 8,000 people and post-war were intended to be linked to form a new express tube line, which in the event never happened. The shelters were all completed by 1942 and although the worst of the conventional bombing was over by this time, five of them were opened to the public as a result of the 'Terror Weapons' campaign and provided safe accommodation for many thousands of people during this period. The shelter at Goodge Street was used by General Eisenhower and his staff as a safe underground headquarters during the run-up to D-Day in June 1944. These shelters all survive to this day, many in use as archive storage facilities but there are hopes that at least one of them may one day be opened to the public for inspection.

Exterior of Stockwell Deep Level Shelter

Next time, we will take a look at some of the sundry structures and signs from wartime London that can still be seen in their fading glory.

Printed Sources: 

London Transport at War - Charles Graves, London Transport 1974
The Shelter of The Tubes - John Gregg, Capital Transport 2001


  1. For those interesting in visiting an Anderson shelter, there are a couple south of the river, where you can contact Martin Stanley:

  2. The Stockwell one is the shelter featured in the blog.

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