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The Organisation of Tube Shelters in WWII

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A 1924 Government directive had ruled out the use of stations as shelters in the event of air raids but Londoners had other ideas.

Card allowing a named person to enter Russell Square for sheltering. 1943. LT001247/003

During an interview in 2017 shelterer Les Gaskin explained that many people bought tickets for the tube and then simply refused to leave.

A mass of shelterers asleep in a Tube station passageway. 1944. LT000503/036

"We used to go down there to find somewhere to sleep....you had to buy a ticket...to get down there...they didn't want people on the Underground initially but if you bought a ticket that was it!"

Extract from oral history with Les Gaskin, child shelterer on the Underground during WWII. Interview recorded 20 Jul 2017. Les Gaskin Ticket

Once the decision was made to formally admit shelterers they came in their thousands. On 21st September 1940 around 120,000 people were seeking refuge in London's underground stations. By October this had risen to 124,000, with 2,750 sheltering at King's Cross alone.

Graph showing number of people sheltering in the Tube between Autumn 1940 and April 1941. 1941. LT000074/006

Technically, it was the responsibility of each local authority to provide for the shelterers, in particular sanitary and cleaning arrangements, provision of first aid and medical posts, installation of bunks, prevention of disease, and appointment of marshals. Yet by November 1940 it became clear to the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) that if thousands of people were to be entering their premises, staying overnight, and needing to be got out before tube services resumed in the morning, these responsibilities should be theirs.

Photograph showing Tube shelterers sleeping on an escalator at Piccadilly Circus Underground station. Image courtesy of London Transport Museum. LTM 1998 89538

Admittance to stations became more controlled. On 30th November 1940, Westminster City Council became the first local authority to introduce the issuing of shelter reservation tickets.

Card allowing a named person to enter Russell Square for sheltering. 1943. LT001247/003

Persons in verminous condition were refused entry or removed so as to limit infections.

Reverse of shelter card for Russell Square, showing conditions of issue. 1943. LT001247/003

Safety below ground was a major concern for the LPTB and shelterers were constantly requested to comply with 'conditions of use'.

Leaflet given to shelterers in Tube stations highlighting safety issues. 1941. LT001247/003

Leaflet given to shelterers in Tube stations highlighting safety issues. 1941. LT001247/003

Letter outlining the problems associated with storing shelterers' parcels including lack of station space, vermin infestation, and lack of personal cleanliness. November 1940. LT000341/053

Concern over the well-being of the shelterers and the need to prevent the spread of infection led to the establishment of medical and first aid posts.

A list of Tube stations at which it was proposed to provide drinking water fountains for shelterers. 1941. LT000341/054

The first of these opened at South Kensington station on 20 December 1940. In total, 86 posts were established at a cost of £12,590 including equipment - over £710,000 in today's money.

Medical First Aid Post at Notting Hill Gate Station. 1944. LT000503/036

Plan of lockable partitioned area to be sited at the end of a platform, with facilities including: consulting space, tables, cupboards, 2 3-tier bunk beds, lavatory, and isolation space. 1941. LT000341/087/013

Acting as agents of and in unison with local authorities, the London Passenger Transport Board embarked on a truly remarkable nightly transformation of many of its stations.

Article describing how medical units with the equipment of a doctor's surgery were installed in Underground stations to serve air raid shelterers. March 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_018_00002

26 LPTB women formed a brigade of the St John’s Ambulance, headed by Lady Ambulance Officer Miss Mabel Curd. After a full days work they volunteered at the medical aid posts set up on the Underground.

Article about how women took second jobs as nurses at Medical First Aid Stations during air raids. March 1942. LT00030/078 Pennyfare_030_00003

A letter of thanks from the Physician-in-Ordinary to the King, Lord Horder, to London Passenger Transport Board for the provision of secure air raid shelters equipped with medical, canteen and hygiene facilities. January 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_016_00001

On 29th October 1940, the first refreshments service opened at Hyde Park station. By 11 November, 40-50 gallons of liquid were being sold nightly.

Catering staff ready to serve refreshments. 1944. LT000503/036

Not all refreshments were up to the shelterers' standards! This report explains that a chemical reaction between tea leaves and the copper of the tea urns was causing a discolouration of tea and the shelterers' complained. The solution was to add a small portion of citric acid.

Discussion of the discolouration of tea experiment. 1941. LT000257/011/005/006/ 004/001

By 7th December 1940, 124 platform canteen points had been opened at 71 stations serving approximately 112,000 people.

A shelterers' platform canteen at Christmas. Image courtesy of the London Transport Museum. 22 Dec 1944. LTM 1998 20798

Yet it was still felt that more could be done and very quickly refreshment trains started making trips up and down the lines.

"Tube Refreshments Special" train. Image courtesy of the London Transport Museum. Dec 1940. LTM 1998/84948

During the Christmas season, almost 800 LPTB staff worked to create celebratory meals for people staying in all-night shelters. This article outlines the design and manufacture of equipment, railway depots converted into food depots, and the nightly food drops of the Tube Refreshment Special. “So off we went, as far as Liverpool Street, at every station leaving buns and cakes, Cornish pasties and apple turnovers, packets of tea and cocoa, and sausages and pies that at night are put into ovens on the platforms.”

Activities of London Transport Tube Refreshments Committee. January 1941. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_016_00002

As bombing in London intensified, the British Government commissioned the LPTB to construct a number of deep level shelters in order to provide greater capacity and protect more civilians.

Contract to build new tunnels for deep level shelters at certain Northern Line stations. July 1941. LT000176/021

Shelters were completed at Belsize Park, Camden Town, Chancery Lane, Goodge Street, Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South. These shelters were finished in 1942, each with the capacity to house 8000 people.

Contract to build new tunnels for deep level shelters at certain Northern Line stations. July 1941. LT000176/021

Article describing the creation of an air raid shelter in South London Tube tunnels. December 1939. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_003_00004

Article announcing the conversion of King William Street Station into an air raid shelter. June 1940. LT000030/078 Pennyfare_009_00002

Census of people sheltering at each station on the Underground. 31 January 1941. LT000074/006

London Underground Map annotated to show shelters. 1944. LT000341/008/013

A graph showing the nightly average and peak numbers of people sheltering overnight in Tube stations and tunnels each month between September 1940 and May 1945. LT000074/006

The last night of sheltering was on 6 May 1945. VE Day was about to be announced and only 344 people went below ground for the final time. Measures to close the shelters came into effect from 7 May 1945. Closure notices were posted, sheltering tickets were no longer issued, and storage of personal effects ceased.

Instructions for ending use of Tube stations by shelterers. May 1945. LT000341/032/019

During the course of the war, an estimated 63,000,000 people took shelter in London's tube stations. LPTB put together this report outlining events from the first (unauthorised) use of Tube stations on 7 September 1940 to clearance and station cleaning in July 1945 to ensure that this unexpected, but significant, part of the organisation’s Second World War Story was not forgotten.

Chronology of events related to sheltering at Tube stations from September 1940 until June 1945. LT000503/036/003

Chronology of events related to sheltering at Tube stations from September 1940 until June 1945. LT000503/036/004

Chronology of events related to sheltering at Tube stations from September 1940 until June 1945. LT000503/036/005

Chronology of events related to sheltering at Tube stations from September 1940 until June 1945. LT000503/036/006

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