Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Air Raid Shelter
I was born in Greenwich and grew up in Circus Street. I now live down on the coast near Dungeness. I remember my Dad telling me about a tunnel that went from somewhere near the swing park up to Blackheath. It was supposedly used during the war. I have searched on the net but can find nothing about it. Do you know of it at all?
I have tried everywhere for info about the Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich Park During the war it was used as an air raid shelter by the local residents my wife being one of those. Can you help me please?
I think it’s time to discuss the role of Greenwich Park in the war again… Happily I had a good chat with Dominic of the exemplary Subterranean Greenwich And Kent some time ago about this very subject, and, as luck would have it, Stephen of Blitzwalkers (next Greenwich at Warwalk Sat 18th September, btw) and I were going against Basil Fawlty’s advice and talking about the war just yesterday.
As we discussed a few months ago, Greenwich Park saw its fair share of action during WWII – and not all of it of the blast variety – the lower part near the Queen’s House was actually rather lovely, turned into allotments. But there were also several buildings in there – could they be used for air-raid shelters?
I guess we have to know a little about the underground geography around the west end of the Park, and even though Dominic has carefully explained it all, I’m still not sure I totally have it. The issue is that there are only so many words for ‘reservoir’ and ‘conduit’ and there appear to be several candidates for their use on the west side of the park (and not a few on the east…)
Dominic and his partner in cavery, Per, have inspected a highly detailed 1700-ish plan of the Standard Reservoir house, and the underground reservoir immediately behind it. Now I think that that’s what I’ve always thought was the Conduit House, the dour little Hawksmoor building halfway up the hill. This one (as photographed by Stephen):
A few yards uphill from the building is a very large underground reservoir, which heads across towards the observatory for about 20 yards – it was opened during the war for assessment as a possible air raid shelter (I’ve seen a photo that proves that unequivocally).” I think Dominic means the big round reservoir, which, thinking about its underground nature probably would have been ideal. Apparently the Park’s a bit of a Swiss Cheese at that point, with plenty of tunnels and even another (now lost) conduit building.
It seems, though, that the wartime authorities actually decided on the Hawksmoor building, reinforcing it for use as Public Air Raid Shelter No. 4, and though Stephens’s not sure where the other three were, (certainly from the Subterranean Greenwich guys’ account of visiting the “hobbit hole” near the children’s playground, that one would have been far too teeny – not to mention wet - to get panicky people inside) he tells me “There were also Trench Shelters over near the Park Vista entrance but given the reputation of these – one in Kennington Park collapsed after a near miss early in the Blitz with over 50 being killed – I shouldn’t think these were used much. As far as I know these were daytime-only shelters – i.e. for use of the public when the park was open – local residents in Crooms Hill for example would all have had Anderson shelters in their gardens.”
So, I’m pretty convinced that the air raid shelter that Jack’s wife and June’s dad remember is the Hawksmoor building – it even has ‘Greenwich Hospital’ carved on the outside. Happily, it never got a direct hit, though it had a very near miss on the night of 21st October 1940 when a bomb fell 25 yards from the entrance…
The picture at the top, by the way, is a total cheat. It’s a Faded Greenwich photo sent to me by Frank, of a fabulous Air Raid Shelter signpost – but it’s nowhere near Greenwich Park, or even Greenwich, though I’m sure we had them all over the place at the time. This splendid example is actually in Deptford High Street.
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