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

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