Site Records

Belsize Park: Deep Level Shelter

Belsize Park

RSG site visit 27th January 2000

[Source: Nick Catford]

Following my visit to all the surface features of the 7 deep level shelters in London on Christmas Day 1999 (see feature `Deep level shelters in London') and my subsequent posting on their location and a description of what is visible on the surface, I contacted all the relevant occupiers to see if it was possible to arrange a trip to one of the shelters for members of Sub-Brit.

I received a favourable response from the occupiers of Belsize Park and Camden Town shelters. An initial trip was made to Belsize Park on the 27th January.

Photo: Southern Entrance.
Photo by Nick Catford

We entered through the southern entrance on the corner of Haverstock Hill and Downside Crescent but the photographic survey began at the other end so that is where I will start this description.

The northern entrance is behind 210 Haverstock Hill, NW3 and is used as a private company car park and emergency access to the tunnels. From inside it was obvious one of the original entrances had been bricked up with two steps leading to a sliding metal grille and then a brick wall with a small window in the top. The circular turret has the lift shaft running down the centre which also acts as the ventilation intake shaft through a raised block with ventilation louvres on the roof of the turret. A circular corridor runs around the lift shaft with two stairways winding around it, one leading to the upper landing and the other to the lower landing 140 feet below. The stairs to the lower landing are accessed through a trap door on the floor. The lift is in working order andthe stairs to the upper landing are lit, the other stairway being unused.

Photo: Ventilation and lift plant room showing mercury arc rectifier.
Photo by Nick Catford

At the bottom of the lift shaft there was no lighting as the wiring in this part of the tunnels is considered unsafe. Turning right leads first to the extract fan and then into the switchgear room. At he back of the room is another small room containing the transformer for powering the lift and beside it a metal cabinet containing a large mercury arc rectifier (shown above). This consists of a very large 'valve' standing about 15 inches high and shaped like a large electric light bulb. At the base are a number of horizontal glass projections or legs which give this device the name 'the octopus'. Both the transformer and the rectifier date from the 1940's and are working. The rectifier was giving off a vivid purple glow with electric arcs jumping about inside. We stayed there for many minutes watching the light show before closing the door to continue the photography. Along one wall was a bank of fuse boxes and switches and along the other wall two long floor standing cabinets with glass front panels containing rheostats for controlling the speed of the lift. These two cabinets, which also date from the 1940's were no longer in use.

Between the switchgear room and the extract fan was a large grating in the floor and we could see a ladder leading down into what was obviously the sump. We removed the grating and climbed 15 feet down the ladder at the bottom of this was a short passage leading to the bottom of the exhaust ventilation shaft. There was a very rusty trap door in the floor which we didn't try walking on as there was water below it. Another tunnel lead to a small chamber containing pumps, partly submerged and a large tank which may have been for sewage. Above out heads at the bottom of the exhaust shaft was another small fan with a ladder to a landing above it. We climbed 15 feet up rusty ladders to a very rusty and rotten landing which was at the back of the extract fan. Above was some winding gear of unknown use and then the shaft was clear to the surface where a chink of light could be seen.

Returning to the lift shaft we went in the opposite direction where the tunnel turned through 90 degrees with two rooms on the right hand side with a wall in front of the doorways. These were the ladies and gents toilets - no original fittings remain. After the toilets this tunnel joined the upper deck of the first 'shelter tunnel' at right angles approximately one quarter way along the length. To the right (north) the tunnel was empty apart from rubbish and some racks left by the previous occupier. At the end was a stairway down to the lower level. Straight across the shelter tunnel another short tunnel linked to the upper floor of the second 'shelter tunnel' and straight across from that another short tunnel that had contained the medical post.

Photo: Upper level showing original WW2 bunks (left) and shelving made from old bunks (right).
Photo by Nick Catford

Turning left (south) along the first tunnel the right hand wall was lined with original metal framed beds along its entire length, one above the other. The bottom bunk was a double folding bunk while the upper bunk in the curve of the roof was single and fixed in position. Along the left hand wall were what at first glance appeared to be two lines of bunks one along the wall and one free standing a few feet into the passage. On closer inspection these appeared to be shelving constructed by a previous occupier from the original metal bed frames. A few yards along the tunnel on the left hand side was a stairway down to the lower level. Apart from the beds, this section of the tunnel is unused and unlit.

About half way along the full length of the shelter tunnel is another cross passage witha wide stairway leading down to the lower level and up about 20 feet round a rightangle bend to a brick wall - this was the connection through to Belsize Park Station. There appears to have been a small fire in this are at some time.

Returning to the shelter tunnel, from this point the tunnels are lit and used. The originalbunks are all in use along one wall and the adapted bunks in use along the other wall.They are stacked with boxes of documents. At a point three quarters along the tunnel there is another cross passage with a small room on the left hand side that has been used as a workshop. We did not examine the last quarter of the tunnel ahead of us but turned right across the second 'shelter tunnel' past two more ladies and gents toilets to a door on a right angle bend in the tunnel. Straight on led to a second switchgear room with another extract fan, another grating in the floor, another transformer, another glowing mercury arc rectifier and another pair of rheostats. To the right led to the bottom of the lift shaft and stairway to the surface.

At the top of the shaft was the lift room with the original control box (with a modern one inside it) and the motor, part of which was original. As well as the circular corridor around the lift shaft there are a number of other rooms now used as offices, store, kitchen etc.

Throughout the tunnels the only original signs on the walls point to the exits and all the tunnel linings are embossed LPTB (London Passenger Transport Board). You could feel and hear passing trains going by at regular intervals.

By now we had spent five hours photographing the tunnels and there was no time tovisit the lower level or the Camden Town shelter. These will have to wait for another day.

Those taking part in the visit were Nick Catford, Dan McKenzie, Richard Challis and Alan Lawrence.

[Source: Nick Catford]

home.gif Home Page
Last updated 30th March 2001

© 1998-2001 Subterranea Britannica