Wednesday 30 May 2012

Calling on the People of Plymouth.....

In the space of 5 years, we have documented in excess of 200 sites in & around Plymouth related to military history, surpassing our original expectations way beyond & further. Each site has it’s own story – from a solitary defensive pillbox to a heavily guarded fort to our favourite discoveries, air raid shelters with walls that do indeed tell a story via the graffiti written by the people who sought refuge in them from enemy bombing raids.

Our Facebook page has been running since 2009 with just under 900 members & just recently, this blog has been relaunched to coincide with the next phase of research for a forthcoming Hidden Plymouth book. Also, behind the scenes we have been working on a future exhibition at Maker Heights, chosen for it’s strong connections with Plymouth over the years. A site steeped not only in military history but a site that became a welcome break for families in it’s adventure camp guise. Another venue will be announced later in the year for the first exhibition we will be holding for the very first time within the City boundary at an exclusive location.

We would like to ask the viewers of Hidden Plymouth dig deep into your family roots to share your memories, photographs & stories of World War II.

Was yourself or a member of family a member of Air Raid Precautions?

Ex-services who manned the gun batteries?

Have memories of the air raids & life after the war growing up amongst the rubble of the old city?

Did you have a family member of Churchill’s Secret Army, the Auxilliary Units or the Home Guard?

Any stories, even if not thought of any worth, can help us build a bigger picture of the sites we have documented. Each week we find new snippets of information & add this to our research which has often led to the discovery of something completely forgotten for years.

This is a chance for Plymouth citizens to share their memories with the World & also to help preserve the memory of those who fought to keep the City alive & rebuild from the devastation of the Blitz. Alongside the blog & book, a new website will feature & archive the recollections, images & history alongside what we collate with Hidden Plymouth, also in conjunction with Cyberheritage, over the coming years.

Please get in contact via with your stories. We look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday 27 May 2012

Devonport Park Air Raid Shelters - Part 1

Site Documented - March/April 2009

This is where it all began providing the inspiration for the Hidden Plymouth Blog, with a website to follow in the future that will feature more in-depth on the visits to document & capture some of Plymouth's hidden heritage.  Back in late February 2009, whilst work was taking place on a new long awaited adventure playground for the park, groundworkers accidentally unearthed one of the parks five known World War II underground air raid shelters near to the Fore Street entrances. Although one of the escape hatches was found accidentally & came as a surprise to Plymouth City Council, it was common knowledge to local residents & historians that a shelter was located beneath the site where works was taking place. Indeed, original plans were for a survey of the shelter as part of the works on the new playground & ideas of possibly opening it up for public viewing but this seemed to all change once an access had been discovered.

Since relocating to Devonport in 2007 I had often walked above the locations of the shelters with my son explaining what lay beneath the mounds but little did i think I would be giving him a personal history lesson & guided tour of an important part of Plymouth's Blitz history that would be destroyed within a few weeks of discovery. I had often wondered why none of the air raid shelters in Plymouth had not been preserved & opened for public tours, so there was no way i was going to miss the opportunity to be one of only a few to document it's existence & walk it's passageways. There's nothing like stepping back into time,  into what is essentially a 'time capsule' from World War II, a safe haven for protection from the bombs that rained down from above. Tragically, some shelters in Plymouth took a direct hit with many lives lost but there is no doubt that their protection saved countless lives too. We have met a few people who have shared their childhood memories & personal experiences taking refuge in some of the Plymouth's shelters & will feature this in the near future.

 A few good friendships were formed during this time, our paths crossing thanks to a shared interest in documenting our heritage & online public forum Derelict Places . It also led to a chance meeting with well known local historian Steve Johnson AKA Cyberheritage, a man whose website i had visited many a time (& still do!), due to it's vast library of history & pictures of Plymouth. If you have never visited his online pages, then you don't know what you're missing, go check out Cyberheritage & see for yourself. This was the beginning of many adventures & discoveries to follow!






This was, to say the least, an awesome place to see & was also unique in the fact that it was split into two sections, one for the public & the other for Naval Personnel, presumably for security reasons. Artefacts found within included bottles, corn beef tin, buttons, a child's ring & a zippo lighter. 1940's grafitti also adorned the whitewashed concrete walls including Popeye, semi-naked ladies, a Swastika, & people's names & addresses. City of Plymouth Public Shelter Rules was found at the southern entrance of the shelter, along with original lighting, other posters & evidence of the gas curtains. Also found but removed before these images were taken was a pick axe which would have enabled the occupants to dig their way out in the event of the shelter taking a hit.

Middle entrance directing Naval Personnel into the military only section of the shelter

City of Plymouth Public Shelter Rules


1940's alien's head grafitti

Corned beef or spam?

Hair comb

Considering this shelter had been buried for more than 60 years it was in surprisingly good condition, a little damp understandably, but was well worthy of preserving & opening for future public viewing & would have made an exciting opportunity for the community to get involved had it's fate not been sealed within a few days of discovery. Exactly why more effort was not made to preserve an important piece of our heritage is beyond me & many others who had to witness the destruction of around 80% of this shelter. Hundreds of public air raid shelters were constructed in Plymouth as part of World War II Air Raid Precaution plans, with few remaining today still buried underground or used as storage, but none are open to the public.

The demolition begins!

Above ground image showing half of the shelter's roof

Image taken below ground where the demolition began

With the demolition underway, it soon became apparent that a second shelter lying a few feet away could suffer the same fate, although this was still buried & only a small section of concrete had been exposed. Maybe this would be the shelter they preserve for future but for now we would just have to watch in dismay as yet another piece of heritage is destroyed. A few people were lucky enough to visit & document the shelter unofficially whilst it was "open" & we hope to show some of their images in the future updates. Keep following for Part 2!

Many thanks to Si for endless evenings of fun & laughter!

Welcome to the Hidden Plymouth Blog

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for dropping by to view the blog, & hope it brings enjoyable reading & viewing, as much as we have enjoyed discovering, exploring & documenting the sites we have visited. The blog originally started back in 2008 but somewhat naively, I soon realised that I couldn't keep up with updates simply down to the fact that I would rather be out there in the field getting dirty with the camera not sat in the house on a computer! Coupled with a busy work schedule & changes in personal circumstance, well.... it just wasn't going to happen. Although  I did manage to keep updates via a Facebook group which has steadily grown & as of May 2012 has almost 900 followers which grew fully beyond my expectations.

So, roll forward 3 years since the Hidden Plymouth conception & here it is again, refreshed & with much, much more content to add. 2012 looks set to be a busy year with some changes taking place. Exhibitions forthcoming will be announced in the Summer & we have just confirmed our involvement for an exciting new photography project.....more on that at a later date. Amongst all that, getting wed to the other half of Hidden Plymouth is just around the corner, it's not everyday you meet your future fiance in a tunnel!

The aim is to provide an educational online resource with history & pictorial evidence of the sites before they are lost to modern development or simply the ravages of time. The blog will be an edited version of our findings just to keep you up to date with what's happening, but an in-depth website & book will be forthcoming featuring more pictures, detailed history & ongoing research into the people that built, occupied  & worked in such places. Featured will be railways, Napoleonic fortifications, World War I & II Defences, Cold War bunkers, tunnels, industrial & abandoned buildings, much of which is rapidly disappearing due to modern developments or subject to constant abuse from vandals.  With so many sites having such interesting history over the years, it's astonishing how many seem forgotten about & makes you think whether more should be done about preserving some before it's too late. The people who have the power in Plymouth have been noted as quoting "Plymouth looks forward, not back", which is a great motto for the City but at the cost of losing character by allowing heritage to disappear for good, surely not!

Countless effort & hours of research has gone into acquiring access to sites & we would like to thank all the people who have kindly allowed us permission to visit their land, places of work & homes. Each has helped us to build more of a history to each location along with their own stories & memories from the time they have been in occupancy. Other locations are not as easy though & fraught with danger including confined spaces, poisonous gases, asbestos, sudden drops, unstable buildings & if that wasn't enough there's always the chance of running into hostile people, & even worse, dirty needles discarded by a human generation hooked on the next fix, never a nice site to see. Although we will concentrate on the more "hidden" heritage, we will also feature the well known sites around the City from our own perspective.

With so many sites & limited time & manpower to document & research all of them, we always welcome contributions, be it from a site visit yourself in the past, photos of buildings lost to development or maybe personal memories of a particular location. Please feel free to get in touch with us via or take a moment to leave a comment, feedback is always appreciated.

All images & content are Copyright Hidden Plymouth unless otherwise stated & should you wish to use any image, we kindly request you ask permission via contacting us at the above e-mail address. Failure to do so will result in sending our hunting dog, Foofoo, to come look for you who is highly trained as a hunter/gatherer with 15 years experience :)


Many of the locations are inaccessible to the public, with some structures & buildings in dangerous conditions posing many risk factors. The authors of Hidden Plymouth do not condone trespass of any sort, & we always follow relevant health & safety guidelines during each visit. We will accept no responsibility whatsoever for persons who choose to ignore these warnings & visit the sites we have documented. With that said, let's waste no more time & wish you happy reading!

Hidden Plymouth