RogerBW's Blog

Clapham South Deep Shelter 19 October 2015

On Sunday I visited the Clapham South deep-level shelter. Images follow: cc-by-sa on everything.

The entrance doesn't look like much from outside.

There's a small commemorative plaque showing the overall layout.

The lift is no longer in use, so it's 180 steps down.

The structure is mostly the standard steel-tube section used in much of the Underground.

Most of the hoops are from the London Passenger Transport Board, though one or two are from the London Electric Railway (late 1800s). Nobody knows where they were found.

Each shelter had sixteen sections given initials A-P. Clapham South got "British naval heroes" as the mnemonic.

It was planned that the shelters would be used for deep express rail lines after the war, and London Transport had already done the ground surveys, so they were built along the existing routes of Northern and Central lines – at minor stations which the express lines would bypass. The tunnels are 16'6" in diameter, big enough to run main-line trains but not for platforms.

Medical room.

Sites of electricity and water supply.

One of the tunnel segments – upper half only, as flooring was put in half-way down them. (The cross-passages are more conventional tubes, stacked to form a figure-8 configuration, presumably to reduce the amount of spoil to be removed.)

The overall plan. Two access stairways, and each tunnel segmented in four, to make the total of sixteen dormitory areas.

Later construction shifted from steel to pre-cast concrete.

Propaganda photo from the Evening News.

What prompted the opening, in 1944.

Through another small tunnel (the recreation area).

Lower half of the tunnel.

Original triple-deck beds. (Mattresses were brought by the shelterers, and removed each day.) The boards weren't present; they came in later when the place was used for document storage.

Ventilation outlet.

Along the upper bunks.

Photo of original lavatories. (Four of these facilities per sex, for 8,000 inhabitants.) Being below the sewerage level, they were elsan-type chemical toilets; when they filled, they had to be decanted by hand into the large container barely visible at the end of the row. The holding tanks would be pressurised and the contents blown into the mains sewers with compressed air.

A segment of tunnel used as a canteen area.

Exit stairs to the main Undergound station.

More shelter signs.

Sites of alarms, since removed.

The springwork to go under the mattresses.

After the war, there was no money for the express railways. (It's been suggested that this was never more than a pipe-dream anyway.) The sites were used for military cadets, for the people off the Windrush who had nowhere else to go (which is why Coldharbour Lane had such a sudden Jamaican community; it was the nearest labour exchange), as extra accommodation for the Festival of Britain and eventually for document storage. Clapham North now houses a hydroponic farm. The sites are unsuitable for most commercial purposes, because there are only the two stairways to get people out in emergency.

The main staircase. Note that it's a double helix: the second set of steps leads directly to the lower level.

More photos (not by me) here and here.


  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 10:47am on 19 October 2015

    Well, they can use it for the Archives in the TV adaptation of THE LAUNDRY FILES.

    I wonder what our own, our very own Big Secret Hole In The Ground at Wycombe Abbey is like and what they are going to do with it now.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:10am on 19 October 2015

    They've been used occasionally for filming - Doctor Who, Survivors, Blake's 7. They don't look all that much unlike standard tunnels of the era. WWII signage would probably help, though.

    I don't know much about Wycombe Abbey but Gothic-revival is always a good start.

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