shelters in London
This rare original document by one of the projects Consulting Engineers; W.T.
Halcrow & Partners, gives a fascinating insight into the construction and
design of the 'Deep Tunel Air Raid Shelters' (sic).
'MINISTRY OF HOME SECURITY: DEEP
TUNEL AIR RAID SHELTERS: LONDON 1942'
Courtesy Alan A. Jackson's `Rails through the clay'©.
`The Bombings of 1940 forced a reappraisal of deep-shelter policy and at the
end of October the Government decided to construct a system of deep shelters linked
to existing tube stations. London Transport was consulted about the sites and
required to build the tunnels at the public expense with the understanding that
they were to have the option of taking them over for railway use after the war.
With the latter point in mind, positions were chosen on routes of possible north-south
and east-west express tube railways. It was decided that each shelter would comprise
two parallel tubes 16 foot 6 inches internal diameter and 12,000 feet long and
would be placed below existing station tunnels at Clapham
South, Clapham Common,
Clapham North, Stockwell,
Oval, Goodge Street, Camden
Town, Belsize Park, Chancery
Lane and St. Pauls. It may be assumed that at these points the deep-level
express tubes would have no stations as the diameter was too small.
Each tube would have two decks, fully equipped with bunks, medical posts, kitchens
and sanitation and each installation would accommodate 9,600 people at a construction
cost of 15 pounds per head. In the event, the capacity was reduced to 8000 as
a result of improved accommodation standards and the actual cost varied between
35 and 42 pounds per head. Work began on November 27th 1940 and it was hoped to
have the first shelters ready by the following summer. There were great difficulties
in obtaining labour and material and when the blitz abated the Government had
second thoughts. The old bogey of 'deep level mentality' was brought out of the
cupboard by those who opposed the lavish expenditure of money and labour on this
project and in the middle of 1941 a select committee on national expenditure recommended
that no further deep shelters be built, but those started should be completed.
Work at St. Paul's was abandoned in August 1941 as it was feared the foundations
of the cathedral might be affected. Oval was also abandoned shortly after this
as large quantities of water were encountered. The first complete shelter was
ready in March 1942 and the other seven were finished later in that year. The
Board then urged the government to open the shelters to relieve the strain on
the tube stations, but the Cabinet were alive to the great cost of maintaining
the deep shelters once they were opened and decided to keep them in reserve pending
an intensification of the bombing. Towards the end of 1942 part of Goodge
Street shelter was made available for General Eisenhower's headquarters and
later two others were adapted for Government use. Another was converted to a hostel
for American troops and sections of the remaining four were used to billet British
soldiers. These uses were maintained throughout 1943 despite agitation that the
shelters should be opened for their proper purpose.
At the beginning of 1944, the air attack warmed up again and on June 13th the
V1 assault began to be followed on September 8th by the V2 rockets which then
came over intermittently until March 27th 1945. The arrival of the flying bombs
finally moved the Government to open the shelters to the public. Stockwell
was available from July 9th 1944, Clapham
North from July 13th, Camden
Town from July 16th, Clapham
South from July 19th and Belsize
Park from July 23rd. The other three remained in Government use. Regular shelterers
at nearby tube stations and homeless people were given admission tickets, but
demand was not high and by September some of the spaces available were made available
to troops on leave. The highest recorded nightly population was 12,297 bon July
24 1944, about one third of total capacity. On October 21st, two of the shelters
were closed again and nightly use fell until by January 1945 only about 25,000
people were using the tube stations and deep shelters. The last air-raid warning
of the war was sounded on March 28th 1945 (the European war ended on May 8th),
but about 12,000 homeless people and 'squatter' continued to sleep in the tubes
until May, when the bunks on the platforms were removed and a start was made on
tidying up the stations. The 79 shelters stations were closed to shelterers after
the night of May 6th and the Board breathed a deep sigh of relief.
After the war, various uses were found for the Government deep shelters, including
the storage of documents and the provision of overnight accommodation for students
and troops. Goodge Street continued
in use as an army transit centre until it was damaged by fire on the night of
May 21st 1956. The fire coincided with Parliamentary consideration of a Government
Bill seeking power to take over the shelters (The Underground Works [London] Bill)
and the Minister of Works assured the Commons they would not again be used for
human occupation in peacetime (although no one was killed, the fire had caused
some alarm and proved difficult to put out). During the progress of the Bill,
it was revealed that the option for railway use had been retained only on the
three Clapham shelters and the adjacent one at Stockwell.'
In the 1950's Chancery Lane
was converted into a 500 line trunk telephone exchange with a six weeks food supply
and its own artesian well. It was connected to 12 miles of 7 foot diameter deep
cable tunnels constructed since the war by the Post Office. Camden
Town has been used a as a set for 'Dr. Who' and 'Blakes 7'.
Each set of tunnels had two entrances at the surface consisting of a roughly
circular concrete 'pillbox' most of them having a square brick ventilation shaft
on the roof. This was the ventilation intake fitted with a gas filter. The ventilation
exhaust was usually located some yards to one side of the 'pillbox' usually consisting
of a small brick building or a metal framework around an open shaft. It would
appear that the exhaust shaft also served as a loading shaft for heavy or large
items as the shaft tops are generally fitted with double doors and a strong metal
beam for winching items down the shaft. The 'pillboxes' generally had small brick
extensions on either side for the entrance doors and some had other small brick
extensions attached. Apart from Chancery Lane (and perhaps one entrance at Clapham
North) where the entrances were reconstructed during it's conversion into a protected
underground trunk exchange all the 'pillbox' entrances remain intact although
some of them have been somewhat altered by later use'.
(Note: A cutaway diagram of a typical deep shelter appears on page 105 of "War Plan UK".)
RSG Site Visit report: 26th December 1999
`With a few hours to spare Christmas morning, banned from the kitchen
and crap on the television, I decided to have a look at the entrances to the WW2
deep level shelters around London following the recent interest on the (public)
LOCATIONS & DESCRIPTION OF
(As of 25th December 1999)
Location: At the end of a drive alongside Flourstalk Florists, 210 Haverstock
Hill, NW3. It can also be viewed from a private housing estate in Aspern Grove.
Description: The main structure is circular 'pillbox' made of concrete
with a square brick ventilation shaft (ventilation intake) on the roof with lower
brick extensions to the shaft overlapping the top of the circular concrete structure
and running down to ground level. These housed the original doors. A few yards
to the south there is an open vertical shaft surrounded by corrugated iron. There
is a door in one side with a metal beam for a pulley for dropping large or heavy
items into the tunnels. A few yards to the west is a low concrete structure with
a trap door in the top. This was probably a water or fuel tank. A modern circular
ventilation shaft stands close by in a fenced compound probably has no connection
and links to the tube tunnels. The concrete is painted white the brick is unpainted.
Location: At the junction of Haverstock Hill and Downside Crescent,
Description: Similar circular 'pillbox' to the northern entrance with
brick ventilation intake tower on the roof and brick extensions on either side.
There is a brick extension in Downside Crescent which is the current entrance
and behind it a 25 foot brick tower with a door at the bottom. In the grounds
to the east there is a low rectangular concrete structure with a trap door in
the top, probably a water or fuel tank. Apart from the tank and the tower which
are unpainted the whole structure is painted white.
Location: In Stugley Street, NW 1 opposite Stugley Place.
Description: The main structure is a circular 'pillbox' faced with brick
with a square brick ventilation shaft on the roof with 2 lower brick extensions
either side of the shaft, overlapping the circular structure and coming down to
ground level. These housed the original doors. On the east side, but separate
from the main structure there is a second brick ventilation shaft at ground level
with a door and a metal beam to take a pulley for loading large or heavy items
into the tunnels. All the brick is unpainted. This entrance appears not to be
used at present.
Location: At the end of a drive running north alongside Marks and Spencer
car park from Underhill Street, NW1.
Description: The surface 'pillbox' is faced with brick and is almost
circular but has one flat side. It has a square brick ventilation intake shaft
on the roof with two lower brick extensions, at right angles to each other. These
overlap the circular structure coming down to ground level. They originally housed
the doors. There is a brick extension on the east side which now forms the main
entrance. There is a modern sign on the wall that says 'Loading bay'. There is
an open shaft a few yards to the north surrounded by corrugated iron and a metal
beam for taking a pulley to lower large or heavy items into the tunnels. There
is a door with a sign saying 'Danger deep shaft'. All the brickwork is unpainted.
The building is called The Eisenhower Centre.
Location: In Chenies Street, WC1 at the junction of North Crescent.
Description: The building consists of two concrete blocks one circular
'pillbox' and the smaller one octagonal. They are joined by a long thin rectangular
brick building. There is a brick ventilation shaft attached to the rear of this
brick building. It has a door and a beam for carrying a pulley for loading large
or heavy objects into the tunnels. The main entrance is at the front opposite
Alfred Place. There is a square brick ventilation shaft on the roof of the circular
'pillbox' with a small brick extension on the east side of the octagonal building.
The whole structure is painted cream and red.
Location: In Tottenham Court Road, W1 next to Whitfield Memorial Church
and opposite Torrington Place.
Description: The main structure is circular 'pillbox' built of concrete.
There is a square brick intake ventilation shaft on the roof and two lower brick
extensions either side of the shaft coming down to ground level. These were for
the original doors. On the entrance fronting onto Tottenham Court Road there are
the remains of a painted sign which reads` ----D Property ----trance strictly
----ohibited ----out authority'. The sign has been cut in half by the addition
of a later door and may date from WW2 or 50's use. There is a rectangular brick
building behind with a low ventilation shaft on the roof. The roof of this building
has modern railings round it and is used as a play area by the Fitzrovia Children's
Centre in Whitfield Street who also use the building. The west entrance appears
to be unused other than an emergency access to the Eisenhower Centre.
Converted into a trunk telephone exchange in the 1950's and recently sold.
Location: The main entrance was an unobtrusive office entrance on the
north side of High Holborn WC1 just west of Grays Inn Road. The building is currently
being refurbished and the entrance is boarded up. For a picture see page 310 of
War Plan UK.
Location: At the junction of Furnival St. EC 4 and Tooks Court.
Description: An 80 foot long rectangular brick building with two 25
foot ventilation towers, one at each end of the building. There is a drive in
entrance to a walled compound in Furnival Street giving access to the goods lift
and a pedestrian entrance into the building in Tooks Court for the passenger lift.
Location: On an island at the junction of Lambeth Road and Clapham Road,
Description: A circular concrete 'pillbox' and a low circular brick
structure on the roof. There are entrances on opposite sides. The 'pillbox' is
painted with a mural, mainly depicting scenes from WW 1. It was painted in 1998
from designs by pupils of Stockwell Park School. This entrance appears to be unused
except for emergency access.
Location: Behind lock-up garages in Studley Road, SW 4.
Description: A circular concrete 'pillbox'with small brick extensions
on opposite sides housing the original doors. There is no ventilation shaft on
the roof. The 'pillbox' is painted white. There is an open shaft to one side with
a metal framework around it covered in metal sheeting with a grille on one side.
The tunnels are currently vacant and are available to let. They are advertised
as having 60,000 sq. feet of underground storage accommodation.
Location: On the west side of Clapham Road SW4 , opposite 383 Clapham
Road and beside Russell Pickering House (council flats)
Description: A circular concrete 'pillbox' painted grey with small brick
extensions on opposite sides for the original entrance doors. There is no ventilation
shaft on the roof. There is also a narrow rectangular brick extension fronting
onto Clapham Road. On the raised platform behind the 'pillbox' is a square brick
ventilation shaft with double doors and a beam for winching. heavy or large items
into the tunnels. Alongside there are a set of modern double doors flush with
Location: In a yard behind Clapham North Station between Bedford Road
and Clapham High Street, SW 4.
Description: It was not possible to gain access to the yard but through
a hole in the fence a square brick ventilation shaft could be seen. There didn't
appear to be room for a circular 'pillbox', there was however a rectangular brick
building with a small vent on the top but this may have been connected with the
Location: Behind hoardings on Clapham High Street SW 4 at its junction
with Carpenters Place.
Description: A circular concrete 'pillbox' with a square brick intake
ventilation shaft on the roof. There are brick extensions on either side for the
original entrance doors and a new rectangular brick extension with loading bay
at the rear. There is a separate square brick ventilation shaft in the compound
behind the 'pillbox.'.
Location: Behind hoardings at the junction of Clapham High Street and
Clapham Park Road, SW 4.
Description: A roughly figure of 8 shaped concrete 'pillbox' with a
square brick intake ventilation shaft on the roof and a 2nd brick ventilation
shaft and entrance adjoined to the rear. Beside this is a small brick extension
with a door. This entrance appears not to be uses other than for emergency access.
Location: On Clapham Common at the junction of Clapham Common South
Side, Nightingale Lane and The Avenue SW 4.
Description: A circular concrete 'pillbox' with a semi-circular brick
extension fronting onto the road. There is no ventilation shaft on the roof. There
is a square brick ventilation shaft standing a few yards behind the 'pillbox'.
This entrance appears to be unused other than for emergency access.
Location: On the west side of Balham Hill opposite Gaskarth Road, SW
Description: A circular concrete 'pillbox' with small brick extensions
on opposite sides that housed the original entrance doors. There is a square brick
intake ventilation shaft on the roof. In the compound a few yards to the west
is a second brick ventilation shaft with double doors. When inspected in 1995
the tunnels were owned by Security Archives but it was impossible to get into
the compound this time but the 'Security Archives' name on the side of the 'pillbox'
In the past it has been possible to visit the Chancery Lane shelter (`Kingsway')
with Sub Brit making two visits and GLIAS (Greater London Industrial Archaeology
Society) making one visit. These tunnels have now been sold and it is unclear
if it is still possible to arrange further visits. Sub Brit has also organised
visits to Belsize Park and
Nick Catford 26.12.1999.
Last updated 14th April 2003
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