An urban view — 09 September 2011

With the Blitz at its height in 1940 and the need to find safe accommodation for Londoners the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison at the time announced the decision to construct a series of Deep Level Shelters to be dug under the existing tube network. The idea being that after the war these tunnels could then be utilised as railway tunnels and linked up to form a new express underground system.

[T]en sites were chosen which were completed in 1942. Four sites were given over for civilian use while the remainder to house military and civil authorities, each could accommodate up to 8,000 individuals on two separate levels and were built at a cost of £40 per head. One at the Oval was abandoned for fear of flooding by the river Effra and another to be built at St. Paul’s never started with worries about the stability of the cathedral. Evidence of the other shelters can be found at Belsize Park, Camden Town, Chancery Lane, Clapham Common, Clapham North, Clapham South and Stockwell.

Another at Goodge Street was built for the Americans, reinforced above ground by a circular pill box, housing staircases and lift machinery with slits in the walls to enable  this heavily defended bunker protection from the most determined attack it even had an anti-aircraft emplacement on its roof.

Now named the Eisenhower Centre this unremarkable candy striped concrete structure (now painted a rather boring navy) was the headquarters of ‘Eik’ the United States President and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and during the latter years of World War II was used to plan the D-Day invasion of Europe. This seemingly little building was kitted out to support 8,000 support staff with bunk beds, self contained with ventilation systems, gas filtration units and a hydraulic sewerage system.

One in south London had a rather curious final use, in 1948 the Clapham Common Deep Level Shelter became briefly home to several hundred Commonwealth citizens who had arrived on the SS Empire  Windrush, laying the foundations for nearby Brixton’s Afro-Caribbean community.

Needless to say the high speed rail link was abandoned – where have we heard that before – and after a fire in 1956 the Eisenhower Centre was closed for many years. It is now used for commercial storage, with its bunk beds making useful shelving it is rumoured that Sir Paul McCartney stashes his gold and platinum disks within its vaults.

The title of this post, Kilroy Was Here, comes from graffiti first drawn by Americans during the Second World War. Thanks to the contributor of this photo is Christopher Hilton.

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