Subterranea Britannica

Stoke School Wartime Shelter

Stoke Community School
Allhallows Road, Lower Stoke, Kent ME3 9SL
OS Grid Ref: TQ831762
Location: Lower Stoke, Isle of Grain, Kent
Date of visit: September 2014

[Source: Chris Rayner]

A chance discovery by a pupil in a newly-cleared part of the school grounds at Stoke Community Primary School on the Hoo Peninsula led to the rediscovery of an unusual Second World War shelter. From that initial find of part of a concrete roof, the school caretaker and his assistant dug down and finally opened up the long buried shelter. They attached an extension lead to what they believed to be the original light bulb and were amazed when it lit up after what may have been many decades.

The structure they uncovered though is unusually small for a school shelter. It has a structure of steel colliery hoops or ribs, and a vaulted roof covering of corrugated steel, materials sometimes found in military and industrial shelters, but the arch radius here is much smaller and the ungalvanised steel is in poor condition. It has a brick wall at one end and concrete steps at the other, and as it is quite near the surface the steel roof has been given a covering of concrete. A small hole in the roof is likely to have been from a stove flue.

The materials and construction method have similarities with those used in some of the shelters at Chattenden six miles southwest on the road off the Isle of Grain, where the Royal School of Military Engineering had an important training base and magazines. The shelter may have either been built by the same workmen or it may just have been that the materials were easier to obtain in the area.

When the school first discovered the shelter in early 2014, online news reports identified it as an Anderson shelter which however is completely different, being formed of a kit of parts and having its corrugated steel bent in a different direction. The school has been told by elderly village residents that there was a shelter at the school used by pupils during the war, but this one appears too small and furthermore its entrance steps face away from the school. There were no gas curtains either which is unusual for a school shelter.

During the Second World War the GHQ (General Headquarters) Line crossed the Hoo peninsula between Hoo St Werburgh on the Medway and the Higham Marshes on the Thames, and was defended against potential invaders coming from the north by pillboxes, anti-tank gun emplacements, and road blocks. Stoke was to the north of this stop line and would have been a defended village, tasked with slowing the enemy’s advance. The school’s location beside the main road running south from Allhallows, on the Thames shore and a potential enemy landing site, would have been important. The conclusion is that the structure found forms part of the village defences, possibly associated with a roadblock and providing protection for troops or civil defence personnel against attack or just inclement weather.

The Kent Underground Research Group were asked to look for the much larger school shelter remembered by local people in September 2014, digging down at the location remembered by a former pupil, but nothing was found and its existence and location remains a mystery.

[Source: Chris Rayner]

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