Not Stopping Here: (Gimmie) Deep Level Shelter
Through the Blitz and beyond, the part the Underground played in World War Two was a complex one. Nowhere was this more true than the role it played in sheltering the civilian populace from aerial attack.
The part platforms at places like Aldwych played, and the tragedy at Bethnal Green (both topics that will feature on LR at a later date) are now relatively well known. What is perhaps less well known, however, is the role played by the Deep Level Shelters – the remains of which can still be seen at street level.
Built from 1940 onwards but rarely accessible until the 1944 V1 and V2 rocket raids, the London Deep Level Shelters were each designed to accommodate up to 8000 people. Each shelter was built adjacent to Underground stations on the Northern and Central Lines. Each consisted of two tunnels running parallel to, but lower than, the station tunnels, in order to facilitate possible future Tube integration.
Eight shelters in total were built, with two more, at Oval and St Paul’s, abandoned early on – the former due to water egress (although its works shaft is now a ventilation shaft for the station) and the latter due to fears of destabilising the Cathedral.
Three shelters have particularly interesting – and very different – stories. The shelter at Goodge Street formed the headquarters for General Eisenhower during the run up to D Day, and the shelter at Clapham South provided initial accommodation for the Jamaican immigrants of the Empire Windrush in 1948. Meanwhile Chancery Lane, having had it’s public entrance demolished, was converted to the Kingsway secret telephone exchange after the war.
Each shelter had two entrances and they all following a similar design (although the south entrance to Clapham North had no blockhouse). These were set apart from the Underground station building itself, and the shelter could be accessed either through these or via connecting passageways at platform level.
Whilst the tunnels themselves are unfortunately not generally accessible to the public anymore, all the entrances (with the exception of that to Chancery Line) remain intact.
Somehow, these blockhouse entrances manage to perform the trick of being extremely obvious and yet almost invisible to the unseeing eye, standing quietly proud and forgotten as thousands of people walk by them every day.
You can jump quickly to a particular shelter by using the links below.
- Belsize Park
- Camden Town
- Chancery Lane
- Clapham Common
- Clapham North
- Clapham South
- Goodge Street
The Not Stopping Here series highlights disused or unusual transport-related engineering and architecture in London that is still visible to the public, if you know where to look. Suggestions for items to feature are welcome and can be sent to [email protected].