Deep level shelters in London


[Source: Mark Bennett]

CONSTRUCTION:

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'



 

HISTORY:

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

[Source: Nick Catford]

Photo: Stockwell: South Entrance.
Photo by Nick Catford
[Source: Nick Catford]

`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) newsgroup'.


LOCATIONS & DESCRIPTION OF ENTRANCES

(As of 25th December 1999)

BELSIZE PARK

Northern Entrance:

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.

Southern Entrance:

Location: At the junction of Haverstock Hill and Downside Crescent, NW.3.

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.

CAMDEN TOWN

Northern entrance:

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.

Southern entrance:

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.

GOODGE STREET

The building is called The Eisenhower Centre.

East Entrance:

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.

West Entrance:

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.

CHANCERY LANE updated 19/11/01

Converted into a trunk telephone exchange in the 1950's and recently sold.

Western entrance:

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.

Eastern entrance:

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.

STOCKWELL

North Entrance:

Location: On an island at the junction of Lambeth Road and Clapham Road, SW 9.

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.

South Entrance:

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.

CLAPHAM NORTH

The tunnels are currently vacant and are available to let. They are advertised as having 60,000 sq. feet of underground storage accommodation.

North entrance:

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 the ground.

South entrance:

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 tube station.

CLAPHAM COMMON

North entrance:

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.'.

South entrance:

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.

CLAPHAM SOUTH

North Entrance:

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.

South Entrance:

Location: On the west side of Balham Hill opposite Gaskarth Road, SW 12.

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' was gone.

VISITS

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 Camden Town.

Nick Catford 26.12.1999.

[Source: Nick Catford]

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