We’ll Meet Again: Shelters

As part of the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs (1939-45), we look at the various ways in which people from the borough were protecting themselves during air-raids in the Second World War.

From 1 September 1939, mass evacuations from cities were followed by nightly blackouts, with those left behind facing sirens, bombing, fires, and for many, death. British homes were now the front line, with ruins being left where family homes, schools and businesses once stood.

Preparations for air bombardment began prior to the Second World War, with the British government providing air-raid shelters to families for free or for a small fee, depending on their income. Over the course of the war, shelters would take a number of forms and provide security for the people of Islington and Finsbury, and throughout Britain.

Islington received the very first of the Anderson air-raid shelters in Britain, prior to the outbreak of war. These shelters were open and below ground level, and as a result they were often cold, damp and noisy, but did help protect those inside to a degree. In response to the installation of the shelters in 1939, Islington’s Mayor Douglas assured the Minister for Civil Defence that, “Islington Council would do their utmost to carry through their duties in connection with the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) loyally and efficiently.”

1.5 million Anderson shelters were distributed in the months immediately leading up to the outbreak of war. Mrs Treadwell of Tiber Street was one of the first to receive a shelter, but felt dubious about its protective qualities. She told The Times newspaper, “If trouble does come, I’ll feel safer than in the house. In any case, we can always use it as a summer house!” When production ended 3.6 million Anderson shelters had been produced.  

Throughout the war other locations, such as underground stations, were used to bunker down, and a variety of shelters were developed. By 1944, Islington’s communal shelters had private rooms, each with three adult bunks and three children’s bunks. The rooms also featured electric lighting and each had an electric heater – a vast world apart from the simplicity of Anderson shelters.

Islington’s Shelters

Air-raid trenches, Islington Green, 24 January 1939

Sir John Anderson (centre), Minister for Civil Defence inspects new air-raid trenches on Islington Green. During the visit he formally handed over the trenches to Islington Mayor Douglas Jackson (right). Also present was Lord Wolmar (right), topped by members of Islington Council.

The previous year, serious civil defence efforts began. Cellars and basements were taken over as shelters, and trenches, such as these on Islington Green, were dug in the parks and residential open spaces. Buildings were also sandbagged and barrage balloons tethered over London.

Anderson Shelter, Carlsbad Street, Islington, February 1939

Cllr Douglas Jackson, the Mayor of Islington, visits the location of London’s first steel air-raid or ‘Anderson’ shelter. Resident Mrs Spong of 3 Carlsbad Street (now York Way Court) is seen here with her son Ernest. Named after Minister for Civil Defence, Sir John Anderson, and issued free to anyone earning less than £250-per-year, the shelters were made from corrugated steel sections.

Their bases were buried three feet in the ground and the tops covered with earth. These shelters gave good protection, except in the case of a direct hit. This photograph appeared on the front page of the Daily Sketch on 2 March 1939.

Hugh Myddelton School, Finsbury, 4 September 1940

Pupils of Hugh Myddleton School in Corporation Row, Clerkenwell, reading comics and playing cards in the school shelter during an air-raid drill.

Many children were evacuated from London to rural areas, and overseas evacuation was introduced in June 1940. Over 2,500 children were sent to Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and thousands more were fostered privately in Canada and the USA. Those children who remained in Islington quickly became familiar with the various shelters that were available, especially in their schools.

[IWM: D1546]

Public air-raid shelter, Islington, 1940/41

An ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden, wearing Pattern No.41 overalls, sits with three young women in an unidentified public shelter in Islington during the London Blitz.

This ‘moral-boosting’ photograph was taken by Bill Brandt, the Ministry of Information’s official photographer. It would appear in ministry publications and popular magazines, such as the Picture Post.

Air-raid shelter, Islington, 1 November 1940

Islington residents displaying ‘Blitz spirit’, sharing drinks with neighbours while sheltering in an unidentified underground location.

Many Londoners used tube stations and underground tunnels as air-raid shelters. They preferred to use the tunnels and platforms because they felt safest deep underground. Stations were fitted with bunks, supplied with first-aid facilities and equipped with chemical toilets. An estimated 170,000 people sheltered in the tunnels and stations during the war.

Communal air-raid shelters, Islington, 8 April 1944

This photograph shows new communal shelters constructed in an Islington street in 1944.

These contained private quarters and were built in areas where there were three and four-storey houses that could not be provided with either Anderson or Morrison shelters; the latter form of shelter were steel cages with mesh sides.

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing more images from the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs (1939-45). Next week we’ll be exploring the bomb damage to Islington and Finsbury during the Second World War.

One thought on “We’ll Meet Again: Shelters

Add yours

  1. Wonderful to see the images brought to life in colour and really informative about the life of the Borough during the war.


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