PortCities London
You are here:  PortCities London home > Historical events
Text Only About this Site Feedback
Explore this site
About maritime London
Early port
Tudor and Stuart port
18th-century port
19th-century port
20th-century port
People and places
Port communities
Crime and punishment
Leisure, health and housing
Thames art, literature and architecture
The working Thames
London's docks and shipping
Trades, industries and institutions
Port of science and discovery
Historical events
Ceremony and catastrophe
London in war and conflict
Fun and games
Things to do
Timeline games
Matching games
Send an e-card

Defending the East End

Air raid shelters
Air Raid Precautions staff and the Emergency Services
Auxiliary Fire Service and Rescue Teams
The blackout, barrage balloons and gun batteries
Send this story to a friendSend this story to a friend
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
View this story in picturesView this story in pictures

Air raid shelters

Garden refuges

Stalham Street, 1940.
View full size imageAnderson Shelter in Stalham Street, Bermondsey, January 1940.
Londoners responded to the appeals of the government and local authorities by digging up their gardens and building simple corrugated steel Anderson Shelters, covered by earth.

The shelters could protect a family from falling debris and shrapnel, but could not withstand a direct hit from a bomb.

The shelters were mass-produced and cost £5.00 each. By April 1940, hundreds of thousands had been issued across the city.

Mass sheltering

Parkstone Road, Peckham.
View full size imageShelters on Parkstone Road in Southwark, c.1940.
As the raids worsened, larger street shelters built of brick and concrete were erected. The examples shown here were built on Parkstone Road in Southwark.

All of the residents of the street would have been able to take refuge in the shelters, which were deeper, and therefore safer, than the smaller Anderson Shelters.

Air raid shelters in National Maritime Museum grounds.
View full size imageAir raid shelters at the National Maritime Museum.
This photograph shows public air raid shelters being built within the grounds of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. They were soon filled in however, as they should have been dug in the nearby Greenwich Park!





Unofficial shelters

Sandbags outside an air raid shelter in a tube warehouse on Stanworth Street.
View full size imageSandbags outside an air raid shelter in a tube warehouse on Stanworth Street.
Many people were still forced to shelter under railway bridges, in warehouses and in the cellars of large buildings. In Whitechapel, nearly 10,000 people occupied a huge railway warehouse known as Tilbury shelter. The building was not as safe as it looked, and conditions inside it soon became terrible.

Despite that, Londoners chose buildings like those in preference to smaller, stronger buildings. This photograph shows the entrance to the tube warehouse on Stanworth Street in Bermondsey, one of the large buildings used as a shelter.

The Blitz spirit

Stainer Street, 1941.
View full size imageStainer Street Railway Arch, February 1941.

Railway arches were a popular place of shelter, but were more dangerous than they appeared to be. This picture shows rescuers searching the rubble at the railway arch at Stainer Street near London Bridge. The arch was destroyed in a raid on 17 February 1941 and more than 60 people were killed.

Interior of Parkstone Road Public Shelter.
View full size imageInterior of Parkstone Road Public Shelter. c.1940.

Soon the night raids became so frequent that they were practically continuous. Many people, tired of repeatedly interrupting their sleep, virtually took up residence in a particular street shelter.

This gave rise to a new spirit of solidarity and community. This photograph shows people inside the Parkstone Road Public Shelter in the Borough of Southwark.




Underground refuge

Entrance to Bank Station.
View full size imageEntrance to Bank Underground Station.
Londoners solved the problem of where to shelter in what seemed to them an obvious way, by moving in their thousands down into the tube stations. On one night in September 1940, 177,000 people sheltered in the tube.

Deep underground stations were safe, but shallower ones were vulnerable. On 11 January 1941, a direct hit on Bank caused the road above the station to collapse onto the people sheltering below.

The blast wrecked the escalators and blew out the windows of two trains. About 120 people were either killed or injured by the collapsing ceiling and by flying glass.

Official disapproval

Plaque at Bethnal Green Station.

View full size imagePlaque at Bethnal Green Station.

Tube sheltering was at first discouraged by the government because:

  • it was dangerous
  • the government worried that people would develop a 'shelter mentality' and be reluctant to leave the stations to go about their daily lives.

But despite official disapproval, popular action ruled, organised in many dockland areas by the Communist Party. Travellers on the underground in wartime London often saw stations crowded with sleeping families.

However, disasters still happened. The worst incident happened on a night without a raid, when more than 170 people were crushed and suffocated on the stairs at Bethnal Green Station on 3 March 1943. This photograph is of the memorial plaque erected at the station.




Find out more
StoriesDocklands and the Blitz
London in the firing line
StoriesThe 20th-century port
The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
GalleriesGrowing up in the Blitz
Children in London during the second world war.
Fact fileWinston Churchill
Wartime Prime Minister
Related Resources
Related Galleries2 Galleries
Related Images130 Images
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
Legal & CopyrightPartner sites:BristolHartlepoolLiverpoolSouthamptonAbout this SiteFeedbackText Only