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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

London’s Deep Level Air Raid Shelters

When the Second World broke out in Europe, and London became the prime bombing target, people began to pour into the platforms of the London Underground —the city’s subway system— every night to escape the nightly bombings of the 1940 London Blitz. As these underground sanctuaries became increasingly crowded, the British government decided to construct proper air raid shelters far below the ground. The idea was to build ten shelters and place them slightly below and near existing subway stations with the intention that these newly built tunnels will be eventually absorbed into the Underground once the war was over.
Work on the shelters began in November 1940. Each shelter consisted of a pair of parallel tunnels 16 feet 6 inches in diameter and 1,200 feet (370 m) long. Each tunnel was subdivided into two decks, fully equipped with bunks, medical posts, kitchens and sanitation. Above ground, each shelter's shafts were protected by specially constructed 'pill box' buildings to prevent any bombs that directly hit the location from going underground. Each pill box housed lift machinery and provided the cover for spiral staircases down to the shelter's tunnels.

Originally ten shelters were planned, but only eight got built —one each at Belsize Park, Camden Town, Goodge Street, Chancery Lane, Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common, and Clapham South tube stations. The final capacity of each shelter was also reduced to 8,000 from the planned 10,000.

The shelters were ready by 1942, but when the time came to open them to the public, the government got surprisingly cold feet. The worst of the bombings were already over, they argued, and the cost of maintaining the shelters would be too high once opened. Despite mounting pressure from the public, the authorities decided that the shelters would not be opened until the bombing intensified.












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