Sunday 19 August 2012

Plymouth's WWII Air Raid Precautions

Hundreds of Air Raid Shelters were built in & around Plymouth during WWII, with few remaining to this day still buried & awaiting their fate one day. Only recently, another two school shelters have been lost with the demolition of North Prospect School as part of the area's regeneration. Little, if any, was heard about it in the local media which begs a question as to whether anybody 'official' is really interested in documenting, or indeed saving, these once important structures before they are lost forever.

Demolition of one of the Devonport Park ARP Shelters back in 2009

Mounds in Devonport Park - the only indication of one of Plymouth's forgotten  time capsules

When I moved to Plymouth, I already knew there were secret military tunnels in Devonport from following Sub Brit for a few years but nothing prepared me for finding out how many underground shelters were still thought to be in existence. Back in 2006, I had visited the converted Cann Tunnel Deep Shelter that was primarily for workers of Devonport Dockyard, but began making enquiries as to if any were open to the public......after many phone calls, research & asking around, you guessed it - NONE!

Not open to the public - What tourists to Plymouth Hoe don't get to see!

We have been lucky to document some of the shelters which are now lost forever & in the last six years at least another 8 public underground & school shelters have been lost to development. When is somebody finally going to step up to the plate in preserving at least one of these important time capsules without the fear of restraints of health & safety getting in the way.....or the poor excuse that nobody would be interested in visiting a shelter.....we know different along with over a 1,000 members on our Facebook page.


Along with specially built underground shelters, many more brick shelters were built above ground. These could be found in the middle of streets, back alleyways & people's gardens, alongside the more personal family Anderson shelters. Few of the public brick shelters remain around Plymouth & it is anyone's guess as to how many Anderson shelters are still in-situ but with the public's help, we will do our best to document as many as possible before they are lost to the ravages of time.

Anderson Shelter in back garden at Alcester Street, Stoke

Specially built underground ARP Shelters were once in abundance around the City & could be found in school playgrounds, parks & some streets. In Plymouth there were two main types of underground shelter - the smooth concreted arch type & the pre-cast concrete section type. Girders in the pre-cast shelters were a later addition after the original sections were found to be fairly weak in protection.

Arched type ARP Shelter

Pre-cast type ARP Shelter

Underground seemed to offer the best protection from the Luftwaffe & locations such as railway tunnels, fort tunnels & even the passageway beneath Stonehouse Street provided temporary shelter from the bombing raids.

Tunnels situated under Woodland Fort were used as shelter from Luftwaffe bombing raids
Firewatchers made use of some of the City building rooftops to scan the landscape for flames, whilst Air Raid Warden's manned their Posts that took care of Sector's across Plymouth. Some of the Posts that were built specifically for the purpose still stand today with few people aware of their original use. we will feature not only the buildings that stand, but also research & share the full history behind each Post & we hope to track down original photos of the Warden's that served in Plymouth.

Inside an extant ARP Warden Post 

Over the coming months, we will feature our findings from the past six years with more than twenty air raid shelters documented & more to come in the future. Each time we ascend into the dark passageways of a  shelter, the excitement of what we may find fills the humid air....this is living history....Hidden Plymouth style!

Down we go....
Rubble below infilled escape hatch

For inclusion in the forthcoming book series we would like to hear from you & your family stories of the ARP Wardens & Air Raid Shelter experiences.

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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting site-keep up good work. My grandparents lived in Stoke during WW2. They would have known some of these locations. I wish I had asked them more when they were around!

    Perhaps the museum would be interested in documenting the info for future generations to learn about