Air Raid Shelters In Greenwich Park

When someone mentions the words ‘crop marks’ I tend to think of lost Anglo-Saxon villages somewhere in the west country, shown up for the first time in 1000 years by grainy black and white photographs taken from a bi-plane in 1935.

This, folks, is a modern version. It’s taken from one of the cranes working on the new wing at the National Maritime Musuem, looking over the hoardings into Greenwich Park. Rachel, who sent this to me, also included a map made by the Royal Commission of Historical Monuments archaeological survey of the park, showing the sites of air raid shelters.

They don’t immediately corrulate, but if you turn the map upside down:

somehow it all seems a bit clearer. If you want to know what the shelters actually looked like, click here.

We spent some time talking about air raid shelters in Greenwich Park a few weeks ago, but while things like the reservoirs aren’t going to be knocked down immediately after the war, huts like these would have been swept away along with the allotments next door to them as soon as danger had passed, and without the dry summer we’ve just seen, might have been forgotten altogether.

LOCOG are aware of these marks – simple, perhaps, but rather important in the history of real local people, rather than kings, queens and salty sea-dogs. Sadly the report by the Museum of London service doesn’t really think they’re anything to bother about – certainly not important enough to prevent building a stadium over them.

I don’t know – perhaps you agree. But Rachel doesn’t. She feels that these marks should be preserved as much as the four pieces of mosaic that mark the Roman Temple further up the hill, arguing that it all adds to Greenwich’s spirit of place. She says

“Heritage” is not something fixed in amber; it is added to, with every passing season or event.  Greenwich Park is every bit about ordinary people’s history, not just about the royals. During the Blitz, which went on for 8 months (7 September 1940-11 May 1941), the rich and royal could leave London.  Most ordinary Londoners had to stay and stick it out – and they suffered terribly.  Those air raid shelters are part of their heritage.  Standing in the Park just south of the Queen’s House, it is easy to imagine the trench shelter and – in one’s mind’s eye – see the barrage balloons over the trees to the west and glimpse something of how vulnerable and almost completely helpless people were when hundreds of bombers and fighters and flying bombs appeared in waves over London.

For day after night after day after night of unimaginably savagery …. for 76 consecutive nights (Bermondsey was bombed for 57 consecutive nights), with yet more to come in subsequent years.  Watching huge fires burn in the docks, the light so bright and red that people’s faces watching on this side of the River reflected the red.  Waking up each day to yet more destroyed homes, landmarks, shops and factories; every day more children didn’t answer at school roll call; the life expectancy of a Battle of Britain pilot during 1940 was 6-7 days.  (One of those was the young man to whom my mother was first affianced.)

I feel that we should preserve the evidence of trench shelters, etc, as much as we do the Roman remains because the history of the Park derives from what ordinary people did with or made of it just as much as from what Kings and King’s landscape designers did.  In this instance, learning about the arrangements for the civilians in the Park would illuminate the past and help succeeding generations respect what ordinary people in London endured during WWII.

What do you think? Should we be ensuring LOCOG build the Olympic Stadium around these marks, or just accept that this is a recorded piece of history and move on?

BTW Sev told me about a BBC report that I missed and now can’t find where Robert Hall  interviewed a man from Greenwich, who explained that a bomb had dropped on the foreshore and damaged the foot tunnel. The pictures were taken from the north shore and the witness said that the temporary repairs to the tunnel (steel frames bolted together) were still present to this day.

Who’d have guessed those rusty bolts were ‘temporary’ war damage repairs…


the attachments to this post:

air raid shelter map reverse
air raid shelter map reverse

air raid shelter photo loww
air raid shelter photo loww

air raid shelter photo low
air raid shelter photo low

air raid shelter photo loww
air raid shelter photo loww


10 Comments to “Air Raid Shelters In Greenwich Park”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by darryl1974, Derek Brown. Derek Brown said: RT @darryl1974: Air raid shelters in Greenwich Park: http://bit.ly/c0pDBr #locog [...]

  2. Marcelo says:

    Thanks very much for this. With every one of these post I fall for Greenwich even more. And I get very angry at these corporate clown “whoring” (new word for you) this town for some Olympic dream which will be another flop like the millennium party. Please keep this coming!

  3. OldChina says:

    My feeling is that if we can preserve the lines easily and cheaply (or simply by not digging the park up) then we should (are the 2012 works going to obliterate them?). I must admit I hadn’t noticed them before so will make a point of seeing them this weekend.

    Btw, there was a moving documentary on the channel “Yesterday” last night called The First Night Of The Blitz. Bound to be repeated if you missed it.

  4. Sev says:

    If you visit the following website –
    http://www.portcities.org.uk/london/server/show/conMediaFile.509/Air-raid-shelters-in-the-grounds-of-the-National-Maritime-Museum.html you’ll see digging in progress for the shelter for 50 NMM staff. According to a local newsagent, the building was stopped half way through because it was in the wrong location. The shelter was then moved to south of Queens House into Greenwich Park itself. Don’t know if this is true but it makes for interesting folklore. The original site is of course in the area where the Time Team some years ago found evidence of Henry VIII’s tilt yard.

    I heard another tale of a lady who went down one of the shelters in the Park. She lived in Burney Street but, apparently, in those days, if a house was vacant, you could take possession of it; and on this basis she moved to Gloucester Circus. She now lives in East Greenwich.

  5. TPlautus says:

    Events such as the Olympics, perhaps?

    The whole of London is a palimpsest. Is there any evidence that anything to do with the archaeology of these bomb shelters will be lost as a result of holding the horse events in the park, or is this just an example of clutching at straws in desperation?

  6. I think we need to ensure that the evidence of these shelters is preserved. Unlike the trench shelters in Kennington Park which were hit with horrendous loss of life, these survived unscathed but this makes them no less important in my view.

  7. Stephen says:

    You can seem them on Google Earth

  8. Indigo says:

    There is a nice little field visit/lesson plan about these trench shelters – primary level – that would just write itself. Bringing in how influential were the events of 1940-1941 in shaping the British trait of feeling that we are at our best when we are on our own, and this partly explains our suspicion of authorities that say “only two weeks to save the world” and “terror terror terror” and of the EU and the euro.

  9. anon says:

    My dad took this picture!

  10. Yo! Thank him for me, will you?