A small family air-raid shelter has can be seen in Oxleas Wood on the south side of Shooters Hill in London S.E.18 within the former grounds of Warren Wood, one of a number of Victorian mansions that were built along the south side of Shooters Hill.
Warren Wood was the home to the famous Bagnold family. Colonel Arthur Henry Bagnold, a local historian, lived in the house from 1903 until his death in 1943. His son Brigadier Ralph Alger Bagnold was the founder and first commander of the British Army’s Long Range Desert Group during World War II and his daughter Enid who was an author and playwright, best known for the 1935 story National Velvet which was filmed in 1944 with Elizabeth Taylor.
Warren Wood and other houses along Shooters Hill were demolished in the late 1980s and the site is now part of a large continuous area of woodland and parkland on the south side of Shooter’s Hill. It is a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, covering 72 hectares and is one of the few remaining areas of ancient deciduous forest in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Some parts dating back over 8,000 years to the last Ice Age.
Two surface air-raid shelters have also been found in the overgrown rear garden that belonged to an adjacent property and another property, Summer Court (see above) which was was immediately west of Warren Wood is believed to have been requisitioned during the war for Woolwich Arsenal Drawing Office personnel.
The Bagnold family shelter is of concrete construction and ‘L’ shaped. The main entrance is on the longer arm of the ‘L’ and was protected by a brick blast wall which has now fallen over. The longer arm is approximately 15’ in length and 4’ wide with a sloping towards the entrance. The shorter arm is approximately 10’ long and 2’ 6” wide with a sloping roof and an additional brick wall for blast protection at the entrance.
The shelter is partially mounded over with soil at the back and may, at one time, have been totally covered.
A flanged metal pipe protrudes from the ground in front of the shelter, an identical pipe was noted alongside a footpath about 75 yards to the west. It is unclear what these pipes were for but they may have been part of the fuel line that served a buried tank that was sited close to the shelter.The tank which supplied fuel to the house was removed in the 1970s when the house was occupied by the Warren Wood Children’s Home. At this time, the children used to play in the shelter; they were told that during the war the shelter was used by the owner of the house, and their staff. Two depressions were also noted in the wood nearby, one brick lined and the other concrete lined. These may have been drains or perhaps inspection hatches for buried cables.
The Bagnold family air-raid shelter was one of several military features on Shooters Hill investigated by Channel 4’s Time Team broadcast on 22 November 2008. The experts initially felt that the structure was more likely to be a military installation and not an air-raid shelter and excavated the site. At the end of their three day investigation they concluded that it was probably a shelter. The Time Team were not aware of the buried fuel tank and although they investigated the flanged pipe their own conclusion was that it was not connected with the shelter.
The excavation for Time Team was undertaken by Wessex Archaeology; below is an extract from their report relating to the shelter.
Trench 6 was designed to explore a possible bunker or pill box that survived as a standing structure. This consisted of an L-shaped concrete structure with two entrances, one facing south and the other west. This structure was covered by a series of mounds, probably serving the joint purpose of helping to protect the main structure and also to camouflage it. When the section of Trench 6 was cleaned back to the wall of the structure, two flanged pipes were revealed. It was originally thought that these pipes were used for electrics or for communications, but further investigation showed that this was unlikely, and that the pipes were more probably associated with the construction of the embankment covering the structure.
The latest additions to the structure were two brick-built walls around the entrances, possibly acting as blast walls. The date of these walls is uncertain since they were in a different material to the rest of the concrete structure, and it is possible that they were added after the initial construction. Another undatable feature was the possible remains of a cobbled surface outside the entrance to the structure.
The interior of the structure had no notable features other than a line of possible nail holes that may have been used to support a bench. These were positioned along the longer, western wall of the shelter. It is likely that each of the two entrances originally held some sort of door since there is a ventilation hole in the roof; this would not have been a necessary addition if the entrances were as they now survive. The presence of closable doors would also have provided an additional defence against shrapnel.
The structure in Oxleas Wood was originally thought to be a bunker or pill box associated with the defences of Stop Line Central. This turned out not to be the case once the structure had been cleared. The flanged pipes, originally thought to have been used for electrics or communications in a bunker structure, in fact appeared to be structural.
There is also little evidence for the structure being a pill box, since it was obvious that there were no loopholes present, which would have been a key feature of the structure’s use as a gun emplacement. Though the basic L shape has been used in pill box design, for example type 14a the structure in Oxleas Wood not only lacks loopholes but also has too many entrances and in the wrong locations.
An alternative function for the structure could have been as an air-raid shelter. With no obvious offensive capability it must have served as a local defence. This is supported by the evidence of a possible bench as an internal fixture along the western wall of the structure. The possible remains of a cobbled surface also support this, suggesting that it was used regularly.
The location of a Heavy Anti-Aircraft battery (HAA) at Eltham at NGR 543800 174200 would also support the interpretation as a shelter. The proximity of the battery to this location would have led to increased shelling during a bombing raid, creating a lot of shrapnel and falling debris and as such a shelter in this location would perhaps have been necessary.