You know when you book tickets for something and forget you did…? This happened to us, when we looked at our calendars and realised that we had tickets for a Clapham South subterranean shelter tour, run as part of London Transport Museum‘s Hidden London. So, we headed along one night after work and congregated at the entrance to Clapham South Underground. But this wasn’t a tube tour – instead, it took us down to the tube level, 36.5m below street level, but into huge, cavernous tunnels built during World War Two, as a response to heavy civilian bombing during the Blitz.
Our surroundings seemed [remarkably] modern and sleek, with some incredibly well thought-through details considering the rush in which they were built. One of our favourite features was the double helix staircase so that people could descend twice as quickly in the event of a raid.
Although ten of these shelters were planned, ultimately eight were built, by the London Passenger Transport Board and the Ministry for Home Security between 1941 and 1942. They were a response to the inadequacy of tube stations as refuges from bombing raids, after 111 people were killed at Bank station. The tube stations were often not sufficiently deep, and in addition were liable to flooding if a water main was hit. Although not built quickly enough for the Blitz, they were used during all the bombing that followed by V1 and V2 bombs, and were also a temporary solution for those who had lost their homes through Blitz attacks.