Belsize Park Deep Level Shelter

Posted on 11 June 2014 by Andy   |    

Belsize Park DLS In December 1940, having failed to prevent the general public using the platforms on London's Underground system as bomb shelters, the Government's Ministry of Home Security decided that it would construct a number of dedicated, deep level air raid shelters.

Originally, ten were planned to be built below existing stations on the London Underground, but in 1941 work on the shelter at St Paul's was abandoned, for fear of the tunnels undermining the foundations of the Cathedral above.

Shortly afterwards, work on the shelter at Oval was also abandoned due to repeated flooding (this provided the inspiration for the book's abandoned tunnel at Belsize Park which, as far as I am aware, does not exist in fact).

Eight shelters were constructed in all:- at Clapham South; Clapham Common; Clapham North; Stockwell; Goodge
Street; Camden Town; Chancery Lane; and of course, at Belsize Park. They were completed in 1942 but, mindful of the great cost of maintaining them once opened, the Cabinet decided to hold them in reserve for use in the event of
intensified bombing.

Such an intensification came in June 1944, when Germany deployed the V1 'Doodlebug' in its attacks on London. This was followed, in September of the same year, by deployment of the V2 rocket. The arrival of these 'flying bombs' prompted the Government to open a number of the deep level shelters to the public for the first time. The shelter at Belsize Park opened on 23rd July 1944.

Construction of the shelters had been undertaken by five contractors, all with experience of tunnelling in London: - Kinnear, Moodie and Co., Charles Brand and Son Ltd., John Cochrane and Sons Ltd., Edmund Nuttall, Sons and Company Ltd., and Balfour, Beaty and Company Ltd.

Downside Crescent

With regard to electrical installations (undertaken in the book by the fictional Banks Electrical Company Ltd. or 'BELCO') a number of companies were employed including the Hewittic Electric Company Ltd. (later part of the GEC Group) which made the mercury rectifiers, used to convert mains alternating current to the direct current required by the lift machinery.

Belsize Park

Each of the shelters consisted of two 1,400ft parallel, interconnected tunnels. The diameter was 16ft where cast iron was used for the lining, and 16ft 6 inches where the lining was reinforced concrete. The tunnels were, in fact, divided into two decks:- an upper and a lower deck, with a foul air duct running above the upper deck and below the lower deck. In The Shelter, these details are omitted for the sake of simplicity, so that there is only one floor.

Sleeping accommodation was provided in the form of metal bunks (as in the book). The shelters were designed to accommodate 12,000 people but, by the time they opened, the capacity had been reduced and each shelter was equipped with approximately 8,000 bunks.

Each of the shelters had two pairs of shafts sited some distance from each other so that if one was blocked as a result of bombing, escape could be made via the other.

An additional means of escape was provided by way of a smoke proof access shaft to the host Underground station.
Each pair of shafts was arranged so that one shaft was used for ventilation and the other for the lift and stairs. In the latter case, each shaft had two sets of interlaced spiral stairs:- one to the upper and the other to the lower deck. In The Shelter, because there is only one level, so there is only one spiral stair case.

The lifts were, in fact, principally for the transportation of equipment and supplies. Shelterers would have used the stairs. At 9 cwt., the lifts are somewhat smaller in reality than is implied in the book. Whether there are hatches in the ceilings of the lift cars (as in the book) is unknown to the author.

Entrances to the two main shaft pairs, at all of the shelters consisted of a circular, reinforced, concrete 'pillbox' and a square, brick-built, ventilation tower. There were usually small, brick built extensions to the side of the main door. The control and staff rooms, mentioned in The Shelter, are fictional. At Belsize Park, the two shelter entrance buildings are still present and visible at street level. The northern entrance is situated between numbers 212 and 210, Haverstock Hill, London NW3 (this entrance is not mentioned in the book) and the other is on the corner of Haverstock Hill and Downside Crescent. All of the shelters are provided with ventilation, sanitation, nurses' and wardens' posts, canteens and other facilities.

Belsize Park

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