Sunday, 17 February 2013

North Prospect School Air Raid Shelters

During the regeneration of North Prospect in Summer of last year, another two WWII air raid shelters were discovered within days of each other during demolition work on the school. Last documented in 1989, when work on a new playground was halted after groundworkers broke through a roof section of the southern shelter, the smaller of the two, but this time round the larger north shelter had been uncovered too & archaeologists from Exeter were able to document both before their demolition. We managed to grab some exclusive photos from the southern shelter only & what follows is our account, with some fantastic graffiti from the period but very little artefacts left lying around.

Filled in stairwell of the original entrance

Infill through one of the escape hatches

Making the way through to the next section

Section of shelter with roof collapse & toilet cubicles

As you can see, this was one of the squarer type of construction with the precast sections & girders fitted additionally for extra strength at a later date. Some of the girders were found to have a combination British Steel & Earl of Dudley Steel markings on them indicating these were manufactured in the Midlands, although it is thought the concrete sections originate from quarries in Cornwall. One section of the shelter had suffered major roof collapse near to one of the toilet blocks.

Looking down a section of shelter with the passageway to the right leading to entrance

Torchlight shines from the distant passageway

A view showing the steel girders added for extra strength

Crumbling sandstone from the walls of the shelter

Earl of Dudley Steel girder section

The graffiti varied from child's drawings to adult humor & rude sketches, some of which would have shocked the schoolkids of the time & I wonder if the drawings came from older teenagers or adults. Maps of the 2 shelters were sketched onto one section, an almost cartoon sketch of Winston Churchill adorned another, name calling & random signatures could be found in other areas on the walls. For it's size, it contained a fair amount of graffiti & we documented what we could find in the time that we had.

Barrage balloon & banter



Shelter map

Name calling scirbbled out

More examples of name calling

Sir Winston

Pat Brookes

Luftwaffe aircraft

Mary had a little lamb....the rude version 1940's style

No.2 Class Section
Candle with pin through found atop a girder just inside the entrance to the shelter

Although the pencil sketches were great in number, the artefacts were much fewer with by far the best being a candle made of pigs fat with a pin through for the holder. This was found on top of the girder immediately next to the entrance. This would have seen use during the raids no doubt. We were told a couple of years before they were uncovered that there was a shower block in one of the shelters but looking the archaeologist's plans, there was no evidence to support this. 

Shelter sections piled up awaiting disposal from the northern playground shelter

Another view of the shelter sections

Notice the heras fencing in the foreground covering the exposed sections of air raid shelter in the northern playground

A few days later, we were passing on a lunch break from work when we noticed a pile of shelter rubble & pulled over to grab a few photos on the camera phone, making them probably the last photos of the now demolished shelters. There we have it, another 2 have gone but how many remain is anyone's guess!

Were you a child who sheltered here during WWII? Do you have a member fo family who attended the school with memories of the Plymouth Blitz? If so please get in touch as we would appreciate any stories to add to the archives. Contact us via

Excursions - Morwellham Quay (2010)

This is a visit from the archives from back in March 2010, during a trip out checking out sites further up the River Tamar. We happened to swing by Morwellham Quay for a cuppa in the tea shop only to find it desolated, over the first hour only a couple of locals appeared during our roam around & we headed along the water's edge along the mine railway up to the entrance. It felt strange walking down here as the train should have been rolling along with families to enter the mine for tours. A solo canoeist paddles past us on his way up the Tamar & we exchange 'good day' nods before heading back to the quayside. It was only later that we realised the once popular attraction was in a state of limbo struggling to stay open. That, however was back in 2010 & thankfully this great site was given a new lease of life & has grown from strength to strength which is great to hear!

Windows to the sky

Rusted rails from the mining era

Mineral wagons awaiting their next move

A rusty noose frames the mineral carts

I first visited Morwellham in 2007 with my Son & the place was teaming with visitors, so it was hard to believe the place was so quiet but at the same time was such a great experience to sit around the site in complete silence bar nature. It made us wonder what would happen if the attraction were to close & the effect it would have on the local community. We plan to revisit this fantastic historic mining community again soon & show the changes three years on. Until then, we leave you with a few more photos from back in 2010.

Nobody's Sweet Home

Through the workshop window

Rustic transport

Water wheel


The mines of Morwellham Quay

All trains cancelled today

Mirror tracks

Morwellham Quay - 2010

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Plymouth From Above - Aerial Surreal

Just before the closure of Plymouth Airport in 2011, we took the opportunity to grab a bird's eye view of Plymouth & the surrounding areas & view the many sites we have been documenting from the air. Something we had been wanting to do for a long while is see the forts & defensive structures from the air, to study how the landscapes have changed over time. We even managed to document some of the surrounding military & industrial landscapes including the former RAF Harrowbeer WWII airfield at Yelverton, & the vast moonscape looking China Clay pits of Lee Moor. Bring back Plymouth Airport, that's what I say!

Welcome to Plymouth!

Marsh Mills - atop the hill foliage conceals Efford & Laira Forts
Laira Bridge

Oreston & Radford Lake

Pre-flight I had mapped out a list of fortifications I wanted to capture from above, but it was only evident when we were a few hundred feet up that the task was going to be a tad difficult than planned. After all, this was my first experience of aerial photography, combine that with reading a map & a list from was worth the wait that's for sure. As soon as we reached the view of Staddon Heights, I could finally see the levels of fortifications that protected the the Eastern approaches of Plymouth Sound. Flying over the Breakwater we headed over to Mount Edgcumbe, into Cornish airspace to seek out the Palmerston Forts that protected the Western flanks.....we weren't to be disappointed.

Staddon Fort & Golf Club

Staddon Heights Defences & Bovisand
Flying over the Breakwater looking over Drake's Island, The Hoe & beyond

Fort Picklecombe - now a private estate stunningly converetd

The only downside to the flight was the low mist that you can clearly see in some of the photos, hence the low visibility in the coastal images. Flying over the Tamar Bridges was a great highlight, as was over our house (had to get a photo, you know the drill!) & seeing the way areas of Plymouth have developed comparing with our maps of 1890.

 The Tamar Bridge & Brunel's masterpiece - The Royal Albert bridge

A misty day over the Tamar

Agaton Fort nestled among the housing at Ernesettle

Crownhill Fort & a view toward the now closed Plymouth Airport

The huge clay pits of Lee Moor look amazing on the ground but above adds a totally different dimension, giving a true sense of scale. The bright blue pits of blue water surrounding the white clay look breathtaking, a man-made lunar landscape set amid stunning natural landscapes. It truly does make for phenonemenal viewing & it's right on our doorstep!

The stunning variations of landscape at Lee Moor

The Dewerstone

After flying over the Dewerstone, we headed directly for the former WWII airfield RAF Harrowbeer at Yelverton. I have documented RAF bases all over the UK but this was a first for seeing it as a fighter pilot would. I've walked the airfield many a time & always try pop in for a nice brew at Knightstone Tea Rooms where there is a fantastic archive on display.

Looking across Yelverton & the former RAF Harrowbeer airfield

Fighter pens at RAF Harrowbeer

The Rock & a WWII fighter pen

Then back to Plymouth & a sound landing to head off documenting another site on land this time. I for one, do hope that the Viable group can bring the airport back to life as I think there would be many Plymothians wanting to take the views in for themselves! What do you think?

Bring back Plymouth Airport!