Sunday, 23 September 2012

"The Wall" Public Air Raid Shelter - Plymouth University

Back at the end of August, we were kindly notified by one our readers of yet another ARP shelter discovery at the site of a new building to be constructed on the Plymouth University Campus & we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to document it's passageways before demolition began. After our recent wedding we didn't get to go on honeymoon so what better way to spend a few hours down one of Plymouth's WWII time capsules & we would like to thank all involved for allowing this fantastic visit to happen. Following a recent aerial photo of the site kindly posted by Matt Sayer on our Facebook page, the reaction from some readers has caused quite a stir but full of positivity in support of saving one of the remaining ARP underground shelters in Plymouth. More of that in Part 2 but firstly let's concentrate on the shelter in question & in usual fashion we had to give it a name. Ladies & gents we give you "The Wall" Public ARP Shelter.

One of the original entrances opened up, exposing the stairwell & ready to document

As soon as I heard the news, it was a short visit to the loft followed by a couple of hours digging in crates for the Air Raid Precaution Charts that we have archived & sure enough, there it was on the Sector Map, originally sited under a car park on what was then Tavistock Road. Built to accommodate 280 people, construction began in September 1939 with completion just two months later on November 7th, 1939 at an estimated cost of £105,000. It was of the arch type & designed with damage limitation in mind, with left & right angles that would act as a baffle in the event of a direct hit, & hopefully reduce the number of fatalities. Around the corner today remains the Portland Square shelter & it's memorial to the 76 people who lost their lives & without this design, there would have been much more loss of life. We took a minute's silence during documenting to pay our own personal respects for the civilians that lost their lives, something we do in every shelter we visit.

The first section of seating are within the shelter
Stood inside toilet cubicle looking back to daylight from the entrance
Walking along to the next section reveals one of the escape hatches
Exploratory holes had initially been expertly cut through the roof giving the shelter the first sight of daylight in more than 60 years, also offering us rare natural lighting conditions to work in. For the last two passageways to the other infilled entrance though it was back to using torchlight & fingertip searches of the floor for any artefacts, of which we are pleased to say we documented a handful of items of interest, the best being two old bottles made in Exeter & Falmouth.

With the escape hatch showing daylight behind us, it's a different story for the remaining sections

Rusty bench fixings, an escape hatch & toilet cubicles

Turn right & we are at the end, looking at the Tavistock Road entrance with original infill
Bottles from the wartime era - made in Falmouth on the left & Exeter  on the right

What came as a surprise was actually how clean this shelter was left after resealing it, but we're glad that somebody had the ounce to leave a few items of interest for future generations to discover. Of the little graffiti found, it was interesting nonetheless & the best of which led to the choosing of it's nickname. This was the first time we had come across a toilet cubicle with only half a wall as opposed to full height seen in the photos above. This led us to believe that this was most likely the mens urinal where buckets would have been used. It's possible that this was also used as a store for the Warden, for first aid, safety escape tools & equipment such as stirrup pumps. Sadly there was no evidence of this left behind but.....a single brick in that wall was etched with something special.

The half wall toilet cubicle looks unassuming but on one brick on the rear side  is an inscription

The answer to this is that the person may still be alive today

At this point it made us think that we need to write deeper into into the visit but we wanted to give you a good look at the shelter from within. Please keep on reading for the remainder of our findings including some humorous drawings. Until then we leave you with this fantastic aerial shot of the site before demolition taken by Matt Sayer & posted on the Hidden Plymouth Facebook page.


  1. Very nice. I like the inclines for gas curtains on the entrance.

    1. That was one of the best features seeing the entrance in full bar a little damage to the roof.

  2. Brilliant find...Thank you

    1. We were glad to document it for you all to see & are just writing up Part 2 to follow soon!

  3. Don't get me wrong, the Uni is an extremely large employer in this city now, especially since most of its campus seems to cover the City Centre, but, they are also responsible for the destruction of most of Plymouth's wartime and post wartime buildings...i.e. the Hoe Centre for one. What about the celebration of our past as a Maritime City? all we have is an anchor from Ark Royal, beside what will be an enormous blue/green monstrosity on Armada Way.

  4. Why would we want to demolsh such an amazing discovery!