Thanks to London Transport Museum’s Hidden London programme, a number of lost Tube stations and forgotten tunnels are occasionally open to the public. One such gem is Clapham South’s deep-level shelter.
Descending 180 steps and 36m down you get to an engineering marvel: a series of tunnels built during World War Two to protect London’s citizens during the Blitz. At the height of the Luftwaffe’s bombing raids the Government commissioned 8 shelters, capable of holding some 64,000 citizens and well away from any potential raid.
They employed miners to hand dig 2x 30m vertical shafts down. Then the miners created 2 horizontal shafts, each one over 400m in length. These were named after British naval commanders, from Anson (Lord Admiral 1697 - 1762) to Parry (Arctic explorer 1790 - 1855).
Conditions were pretty primitive. Those seeking refuge had to bring their own bedding and provisions but there was free medical care available and a canteen selling food. London Transport wasn’t subject to rationing, so jam tarts and sandwiches were available and proved very popular, though they complained about the exorbitant price for tea (2d).
Quarters were cramped, smelly and smokey but safe. The shelters became available after the Blitz eased off but when the V-1 and V-2 rockets began to hit London they came back into use. After the War the tunnels’ use was changed to offer cheap if basic accommodation. When some West Indian immigrants arrived on the Empire Windrush in 1948, they ended up staying underground.
Fortunately they soon found accommodation and work, many appropriately with London Underground, and no one stayed more than a month. Later on the shelter was used for the Festival of Britain in 1951. For 3s a night you could stay a night, then catch the F1 bus direct to the festival. Up until the late 1990s it was used for storing archives and now it’s occasionally open to the public. Register with the London Transport Museum to register as they sell out quickly!