Subterranean Clapham: Uncovering the World of Constructed Urban Narration31 minute read

Introduction

In June 1944, beneath the streets of Clapham, Clapham South Deep Level Shelter opened its doors to the people of London as they sought shelter from the ruins of London above ground. In 2018 the shelter is used as the site of the Transport Museums Hidden London ‘Subterranean Clapham’ tour. In the space of 75 years later this shelter of refuge has been transformed into a mystical urban space through it’s ‘subterranean’ rebranding. Access to deep level shelters is heavily regulated. Consequently what is known about them often isn’t built through bodily experiences but instead through narratives and imaginations of the space and its history. Therefore it can be understood as a palimpsest of narratives. This project aims to explore how narratives of the past, construct post-war imaginations of Clapham South deep level shelter as an exclusive space. This project is a narrative of the practices of unauthentic urban exploration. Urban exploration concerns the ‘exploration of abandoned, subterranean, or hidden spaces’ (Trigg 2006). It takes an active role in exploring the hidden layers of places. In the case of Clapham South there is a constructed version this is not a natural urban exploration; it is instead a constructed version of it. Instead of breaking into and unlocking the layers of the Subterranean city, visitors are guided down by high-vis clad guides. Rather than decoding the remnants of ruins left by previous inhabitants visitors are presented with clear narratives of the past by a tour guide. This project will therefore explore critically the producers of narratives in Clapham South. In particular it will focus on the role of the Transport Museum’s role in the preservation of London’s underground heritage through its pseudonym ‘Hidden London’. I will argue that principally they offer a prescribed heritage that dictates the official history to the exclusion of other stories and is motivated by economic capital (Garret 2013). It is this official narrative of Clapham South that will be explored in this project.

Purpose and Research of the Project

The project aims to explore how narratives of the past, construct post-war imaginations of Clapham South deep level shelter (from here on referred to as Clapham South) as an exclusive space. This research project will explore how narratives of post war imaginations of Deep Level Shelter affect its current space use as a tour site. It will then critically assess how these narratives of the past are employed to define Clapham South as a site of exclusivity and subsequently renders Clapham South a space of social exclusion. To this effect, the project is a palimpsest of narratives. There is a palimpsestuous texture to narratives. Just as a literal palimpsest has imperfectly erased texts, dominant narratives define spatial knowledge while attempting to erase marginal voices (Dillon, 2005, Garrett 2013). By thinking critically about spaces through the lens of a palimpsest we are allowed to look past the prominent narratives of spaces and recover the ‘lost’ voices of a space. In Clapham South the most prominent producer of dominant is the Transport Museum under the guise of ‘Hidden London’ – this will be explored in section three. These layered memories and narration, as explored through palimpsests offers a freedom of action and thought sought by urban explorers (Trigg, 2006; Garrett, 2012, 2013). The role of an urban explorer is ‘to take control of these narratives, to create the constellations of meaning that we would like to see created, rather than waiting for those narratives and experiences to be offered’ (44, Garrett 2013). In contrast, the tour capitalises on the attraction of urban exploration whilst subverting the palimpsestuous lens at the core of being an urban explorer.


The Site: Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

Clapham South was constructed as one of 8 deep level shelters built around London during WW2 as a response to people sheltering in tube shelters during the blitz. The shelter was completed in 1943, but was not opened till 1944 as a response to new air attacks and was used for nine months during the war. Originally, these shelters were intended to be converted into an express northern line after the war but lack of funding meant this plan never came into fruition. Consequently, in the years following from the war it has been it has been used by multiple groups for various purposes (Appendix E). In 1948 the shelter was used as temporary accommodation for Caribbean migrants from HMT Empire Windrush due to its proximity to Brixton labour exchange. In 1951, Clapham South was used as a hostel for the Festival of Britain. Despite these short term users of the site, the most prominent and longest use of Clapham South as archival storage. Although, it must be noted this is the least documented use of space. Therefore, due to its multiple space uses and users there are multiple narratives that have shaped how Clapham South is currently narrated, principally through the medium of a tour.

Literature Review: understanding place as a narrative

Lefebvre suggests that spaces should be understood as both a product and a medium through which we can understand the changing nature of society (Lefebvre 1991). Clapham South is a      product of the crisis of war, but a medium to understand the capitalist construction of exclusive  urban spaces. Spaces are not static but are the product of dynamic social relations. This organisation of space is never neutral but entangled within complex power arrangements (Lefebvre, 1991, Garret 2012, 2014). Narratives construct our experience of the world: they are transcultural, transhistorical and transnational but also reflective of power (Barthes, 1997). Hence, space acts as a platform to organise narratives that actively directs spatial experiences (Lotman 1970, Ryan 2014, Bieger 2016). This creates a platform for the creation and construction of narratives in which those with the greatest spatial power assert values onto others. Mott and Roberts argue role of gender in urban exploration  is a contested issue that is often ignored in geographical analysis (Mott and Roberts 2013).

The relationship between place and narratives is so interwoven that storytelling is not often conceptualised as a spatial form and practice (Bieger 2016). In Clapham, Hidden London’s creation  of a tour has coded the shelter as a site of exclusivity through the creation of economic barriers to the space. This redefines the space as a site of exclusivity, secrecy and consumption. It constructs a space of economic exclusiveness that bestows secret knowledge about London’s Subterranea. Sibley emphasises that exclusion has become the dominant factor in the creation of social and spatial boundaries (Sibley 1996). By commodifying access to a space there is the creation of an immediate boundary to certain groups from entry. This will be explored in part 3 i.


Methodology

The study of Clapham South was carried out between January and April 2018. It compromises of ethnographical study of the Clapham South Subterranean tour completed on the 8th of February 2018, a number of visits to Clapham and wider archival and media analysis between January – April 2018. The notebook in which I recorded field notes can be found in the appendix (Appendix E).

Research Design

To understand Clapham South as a palimpsest of narratives I used Czarniawska’s framework of ‘collecting stories’ as both written narratives and oral histories as a basis to find alternative narratives (Czarniawska, 2004). To ‘collect stories’ I began by exploring the archives of the Clapham Society and Subterranean Brtianica. I then looked at blogs and reviews of the Clapham South tour, from which I found blogs of urban explorers who had visited before the shelter was comodified. This gave me a large base of alternative narratives of a single place. During the fieldwork I used non-participant observation to inform my study as I found it was the most appropriate method in the intimate setting of a tour. I did not identify myself as a researcher due to the ‘Hawthorne effect’ as if the group is knows they are being observed their behaviour may adapt accordingly (Silverman, 2013).

Limitations

As with any research methods there are limitations to the methods used. Ethnographical research methods are inherently interpretive and so it is therefore important to recognize my own positionality as a researcher. To this effect I have employed the use of the first person to situate myself within the research and to be aware of my own construction of a narrative of Clapham South. What’s more, the first person is a key method of the ‘reflexive turn’ as it offers a chance for reflection, a vantage point for critique and a mode of exposition within my project (Vankatesh, 2013). I also paid to go on the tour and so I joined the elusive group who have been ‘subterranean’. Another key limitation was that my physical access to the space was limited. The underground  shelter is locked to public use and access to it is heavily regulated by The Transport Museum. In addition the price acted as a secondary barrier to multiple visits. However, rather than thinking of this as a limitation this lack of access highlights my central argument that exclusive spaces are constructed to be restricted, and subsequently use regulation to allow access, enforce narratives and to regulate behaviour.


Findings

The findings are split into two sections. The first section ‘Discovering London’s Subterranean Industry’ explores the motivations of urban exploration through the marketization of subterranean urban space. It uses archival and marketing material to explore the interest of people in becoming subterranean explorers. The second section ‘Exploring Subterranean London: Entering Clapham South’ explores the bodily experience of going underground. It employs an ethnography of Clapham South and outlines the key findings.

Discovering London’s Subterranean Industry

London has an insatiable tourist market with an innumerable number of sectors catering to any taste or interest. Tourism accounts for 10% of London’s gross value added income (UNCSBRP, 2014). The fascination of urban exploration has opened a new market to exploit London’s forgotten ruins, derelict and subterranean spaces. There is a clear connection between tourism and consumption: there is a ‘relationship between western leisure practices, consumer culture and the eroticism of tourist experiences’ (Urry 2004). Hidden London captures this dynamic market in which within consumerist culture, consumers pay high fees for entrance to niche urban sites.

Pay to enter: Economic barriers to Subterranean London

Urban exploration is the act of ‘(re)discovering place’ (Garrett, 2013). It subverts economic barriers of preserved spaces by discovering alternative ‘natural’ sites of urban decay, Garrett notes that urban exploration ‘costs nothing but produces a great deal’ (241, Garrett 2013). The ‘(re)discovery’, therefore, is about the intersection of ‘place and the body’. In Clapham South it is clear that the source of this ‘(re)discovery’ is the economic opportunity produced by the subterranean industry. For many years the most profitable use of the space was as archival storage but by opening up the shelter to visitors a new capital is exposed. This introduction of capital creates exclusionary practises such as high ticket costs (Lefebvre 1991, Garrett 2013). Thus, the political-economy of urban spaces highlights how different mobilities of urban exploration is a medium to understand wider elements of capitalist cities in crisis (Lefebvre 1991, Mott and Roberts 2013).

For urban explorers barrier to entry is often legislative, through laws, or physical barriers. Yet, through the marketization of the Subterranean Industry the barrier to entry is economic. While a barrier might decree whether a space is open, economic barriers define to whom a space is open to. Clapham’s Subterranean tour is just over £40 and runs during the day from Wednesday’s to Friday’s. The most obvious barrier to entry the cost – it would take someone on minimum wage 5.3 hours to earn the entrance fee alone. In addition, the time of the tour is around midday throughout the week and is therefore during the working day that creates another, less visible, barrier to entry. On the review website ‘TripAdvisor’ there are several reviewers that highlight the high cost of entry; yet these consumers were able to pay this entry fee (Appendix A). They might complain but they had sufficient economic capability to enable mobility into Clapham South which creates, supports and reinforces uneven mobility in urban spaces.

The hidden body of Hidden London: The heritage and preservation of narratives

Hidden London is the marketed provider of the tour at Clapham South. They are the body that are accredited to the tour in reviews, marketing material and blog posts. However, ‘Hidden London’ is a brand constructed by the London Transport Museum, which itself is part of Transport for London – all of which are emblazoned by the ‘Mayor of London’ stamp. There is a clear, wider authority to the organisation than the initial name ‘Hidden London’ suggests. This situates the tour within a complex web of political-economic power arrangements (Lefebvre 1991). It is imperative to acknowledge  these power relations in order to understand the palimpsetuous layers of narratives they present and to think critically about what they are trying to conserve within the site.

When entering a heritage site preserved by a heritage body what you encounter ‘embodies preservation, research, understanding and heritage’ (Garrett 2013). It becomes corrupted through governing spatial authority that works in the interest of national agendas and is motivated by the accumulation of capital. This ‘heritage’ is consequently manufactured like a commodity (Hewison, 1987). It creates a prescribed legacy that dictates the official history to visitors at the exclusion of other stories. In ‘authentic’ urban exploration, explorers encounter ruins as they were left by the last visitors. They become part of the process of the fragility of ruins: as an induvial they can decide what is treasure and what is rubbish – waste or artefact (Trigg, 2006). In the case of Clapham South The Mayor of London dictates the official narrative of Clapham South as a space of war and national significance for Londoner’s. Yet, this was not the long-term use of space in both planning or actual events. Narratives create a set story of the past that constructs ‘unique’ identities based on histories that create value (Timmermans et al, 2013). Most visitors are not conscious of this constructed narrative they absorb as there are no physical boundaries dividing them from the site of heritage at Clapham South. Instead their bodily experience of being within the site renders the boundaries constructed by Hidden London virtually invisible (Neumann 1988). This will be further explored in part ii.

Exploring Subterranean London: Entering Clapham South

Before you enter Clapham South Deep Level Shelter a long list of rules and regulations are set out. This takes place both when you buy a ticket through terms and conditions, and these are reiterated before admittance below ground into Clapham South. It is a highly ‘purified’ space: with clear regulations that must be conformed to and are monitored by spatial authorities (Sibley 1988, Edensor 2000). Within this underground space links to the outside space are cut off, due to both its location beneath ground and the subsequent lack of internet connection. The space is therefore narrated by the spatial authority, which regulate all aspects of the spatial experience, from the route taken to the narratives given.

Tourists are rarely left to draw their own conclusions about objects or places before them. Instead, they more often confront a body of public discourse – signs, maps, guides and guide books – that repeatedly mark the boundaries of significance and value at tourist sites (24 Neumann 1988)

This ethnographic study will investigate the ‘body of public discourse’ on Hidden London’s Subterranean Clapham tour (Neaumann 1988). It will explore the limited narratives offered by ‘The Story of Clapham South’ and the subsequent masculinist production of space in the shelter.

The Story of Clapham South

(As told by Hidden London The Transport Museum a.k.a TfL a.k.a The Mayor of London)

The tour began outside Clapham Station. After explaining the regulations of the space and checking they had been understood the tour guide exclaimed ‘well let’s get underneath Clapham and hear the story this wonderful shelter’. The heritage industry presents a ‘performance… an entertainment that helps to make the past seem picturesque and pleasing’ (83 Hewison, 1987). The tour guides themselves are volunteers who are given a script with the prescribed narratives of Clapham South from the Transport Museum (Appendix B and E). They led visitors around a predefined route, stopping at specific points around curated photographs or maps of the tunnels (Appendix F). As we walked around the space the group were sandwiched between hidden London volunteers who ensured people did not stray from the official route (Appendix E). This tightly regulated organisation of space confined visitors to the prescribed narratives offered by Hidden London: as Edensor notes ‘the form of space, its organization, materiality, and aesthetic and sensual qualities can influence the kinds of performances that tourists undertake’ (327 Edensor 2000). While there may not have been a glass panel keeping people from interacting with history, but the guarded navigation and selective histories created an invisible barrier to urban exploration.

The validity of the tour as a historical narrative is subjective: ‘very often the image we have of the past is by no means based on reality’ (Faulkner 1978). The imagination of Clapham Souths history was informed by a single retrospective account from Margaret Beaumont, who was a child during the war and this singular narrative of the space during wartime formed the bulk of the hour tour (Appendix D). In addition, there was a clear lack of wider information about the shelter as most questions went unanswered or were to be answered ‘later in the tour’ (Appendix E). As one visitor notes the tour offers ‘facts’ of the past (Appendix B), the limited narrative offers a ‘story’ of the past that are misrepresented as facts by uncritical urban consumers.

 

The Male Gaze for Urban Exploration

Central to the experience of subterranean sites is the nature of their appeal to those who seek them (Fraser 2012). As previously discussed there are physical and economic barriers to exploring Subterranea. In addition to this I will argue there are gendered barriers too (Garrett 2013, Mott and Robberts 2013). On the tour group of nineteen people sixteen were men – all of whom were white, middle class and over 50. The tour guide confirmed this was the tours largest and most prominent group of consumers (Appendix E). As a twenty year old female, I definitely felt out of place. This male domination is not just a phenomena of London’s Subterranea, but is a key theme of urban exploration (Bennett 2013, Mott and Robberts 2013, Fraser 2012). It is an exclusive practise which encompasses selective places. Being within an exclusive space was a key theme within the discussion between the men on the tour. There was a heightened feelings of being in a ‘bizarre’ place amongst them. One participant on the tour noted:

It really is something else, weird, isn’t it being underground and walking these tunnels. Not many people have been down here have they?

 It is clear that he felt the exclusivity of the space was significant to being present in it, rather than understanding the space as a product of war or as a construction of infrastructure. The act of exploring the site is undoubtedly due to the power it bestows upon the explorer (Trigg 2006). Yet, I did not find being underground a bizarre experience, the tunnels of Clapham are reminiscent of Green Park (Figure E). Within London underground spaces, such as the tube, form everyday bodily xperiences. Therefore, the notion of being underground was not the key value of the tour but the core value was being in an exclusive underground space.

 

Another masculine feature of the space was the creation of a visual record of exploration (Mott and Roberts 2013). The photography of urban exploration has often been labelled ‘ruin porn’ – an eroticied notion of exploration. One male participant noted ‘can’t wait to show these to the gang at the pub later’, while another exclaimed while taking a photograph ‘lots of photos for the Facebook’ (Appendix E). We gathered round a photograph of women in bunk beds, with a young boy at the foreground (Figure X). As one man took a photo of the picture the following exchange between two men in the group took place:

‘Look at that little boy, my father was a boy during the war, I’m imagining him down here’ ‘Did he live in London?’

‘No Taunton, Somerset’

The photograph comprised of women was defined by the tour guide as an object to see the shelter through the eyes of a young boy. This stimulated multiple exchanges by the men of the tour while ignoring the shelters predominant use by women during the war. This is evident of the lack of embodiment within analysis of urban spaces and urban exploration. There is an implicit characteristic of embodiment as experienced by the white, able bodied male (Massey 1991, Rose 1991, Mott and Roberts 2013). All of the reviewers of the tour were male, as were the article writers, tour goers and guides. This, I feel, results in the reproduction of a singular male narrative that ‘hyper-masculine’ often overlooking women within the space and leads me to conclude that the shelter has a cultivated intended audience: the retired, white male.


Conclusions

There are multiple possible histories of a place. Barret argues there ‘are constructed through experience, memory, forgetting, political agendas, spontaneous encounters and myth making processes’ (Barret 2013). There are no ‘spontaneous encounters’ on the tour, the narrative is repetitive and direct, all questions will be “answered later in the tour” and the bodily experience is heavily regulated by wall patricians and high-vis clad staff. The constructed experience offers  selective memories and stories of the ‘once forgotten’ shelter underneath Clapham which also reproduce hyper masculine narratives. This is the value of Clapham South, the story of heritage constructs a value due to historical importance of the war. Clapham shelter is a product of war but a medium to understand social exclusion within the city. The antithesis to free urban exploration the tour goers motivation to be within the ‘lifeblood’ of London, underneath the ‘known’ realms of the city whilst conforming to the regulations of urban space. Many people desire a degree of ownership over and physical engagement with a place and its histories (DeLyser 1999). A tour of an underground space gives an illusory experience of this, an opportunity to walk the corridors of history where the restrictive glass replaced by a singular narrative.

Eve Conley


References:

Barthes, R. (1977) Introduction to structural analysis of narratives

Bieger, L. (2016) Some Thoughts on the Spatial Forms and Practices of Storytelling Busquet, G. Political Space in the Work of Henri Lefebvre: Ideology and Utopia Butler, C (2012) ‘Spatial Politics, Everyday Life and the Right to the City’ Czarniawaska, B. (2004) Narratives in Social Science Research

DeLyser, D. (1999) Authenticity on the ground: Engaging the past in a California Ghost Town Annals of the Association of American Geographers 89: 4 64

DeSilvey, C, Ednorson, T. (2012) Reckoning with Ruins Progress in Human Geography

Dillon, S (2005) ‘Reinscribing De Quincey’s palimpsest: the significance of the palimpsest in contemporary literary and cultural studies ‘

Ednorson, T. (2000) Staging Tourists as Perfomers Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 322-344

Ednorson, T. (2017) Caught in the Light: Power, Inequality, and Illumination in From Light to Dark: Daylight, Illumination, and Gloom

Falkner, P. (1978) A Philosophy for the Preservation of our Historical Heritage, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Volume 126

Garrett, B. (2012) Place Hacking: Tales of Urban Exploration Garret, B. (2013)Explore Everything: Place- Hacking the City Versp

Hall, S (1997) ‘Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices’

Hawkins, H. Garret, B. (2015) Thinking Through Explorer Subject-Bodies: A Response to Mott and Roberts in Antipode

Hewison, R. (1987) The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline. London, UK: Methuen Hubbard, P. Kitchin, R and Valentine, G. (2004) ‘Key Thinkers on Space and Place’ Sage, London

Lavrinec, J (2013) Urban Scenography: Emotional and Bodily Experience, Limes: Borderland Studies, 6:1, 21-31

Lefebvre, H. (1991, 1973) ‘The Production of Space’ Blackwell, Oxford

Lotman, J, (1977 [1970]). The Structure of the Artistic Text. Trans. G. Lenhoff and R. Vronn. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Mott, C. Roberts, S. (2013) Not Everyone Has (the) Balls: Urban Exploration and the Persistence of Masculinist Geography Antipode Vol. 46 No. 1 2014 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 229–245

Neumann, M. (1988) Wandering through the museum; Experience and Identity in a Spectator Culture Border/Lines 19-27

Ormond, S. (2016) ‘Changing our Environment, Changing Ourselves: Nature, Labour, Knowledge and Alienation’ Palgrave, London

Pike, D. (2005) Subterranean Cities: The World Beneath Paris and London, 1800-1945, Cornell University Press

Ryan, M. (2014) Space, Place and Story Berlin/Boston, MA: De Gruyter, 109–128. Sibley, D. (1996) Geographies of Exclusion: Society and Difference West Routledge

Trigg, D. (2006) The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia and the Absence of Reason

 

Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUqH1G9ZjJM

Articles on Clapham South

https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whatson/hiddenlondon/clapham-south  https://www.urbanpixxels.com/hidden-london/  https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186338-d10771072-Reviews-or10-   Clapham_South_Subterranean_Shelter_Tour-London_England.html http://www.claphamsociety.com/Articles/article5.html https://www.flickr.com/photos/30218751@N05/39158302432/ https://www.flickr.com/photos/30218751@N05/27408573179/ https://www.flickr.com/photos/30218751@N05/38478340384/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/12105762/Atourofthe-WWII-Clapham-South-   deep-level-shelter-in-pictures.html?frame=3552139

http://alondoninheritance.com/under-london/clapham-south-deep-level-shelter/   http://www.subbrit.org.uk/rsg/sites/c/clapham_south/index.html


Appendicies

It was only possible to transfer appendicies C,D,F,G

Appendix A – Trip Advisor reviews

Not available.

Appendix B – Transport Museum volunteering poster

Not available

Appendix C – Hidden London Marketing Material

Journey 180 steps underground to explore one of eight deep-level shelters that exist across London. Opened to the public in July 1944, Clapham South deep-level shelter has over a mile of subterranean passageways that reveal the extraordinary stories of those who sheltered here, from Londoners seeking refuge during the Blitz, to hopeful Caribbean migrants arriving on the Empire Windrush, and even thrifty visitors to the Festival of Britain,

Appendix D – Clapham Society Archive

Recordings of memories of three people who actually experienced using the deep shelters were then played. Transcriptions follow:

Margaret Barford and her family lived in the deep shelter at Clapham South for two years after their home had been destroyed by a We are grateful to Anne Isherwood and Janet Dickinson for arranging the interview and recording.

‘I was born in a nursing home in Nightingale Lane, Clapham South and lived in Balham with my parents and grandmother. I was six years old when the war started, and living in the road adjacent to the old St James’ Hospital and the railway line at Wandsworth Common, which made us a target for bombing when it started. We had our cellar reinforced and a Morrison table shelter installed in the dining room and survived the Blitz when it started, fairly well. Then the VIs or doodlebugs as they were known started and everything changed. When I was nine years old, I think, a daytime doodlebug came over, and the engine cut out and it crashed on about five houses in a row in our road. I was at school, my father at work. My mother, grandmother and uncle who were in the cellar were safely dug out and rescued. I came home from school to find the shell of our house leaning over and most of our belongings destroyed. We moved to my uncle’s house, also in Balham, but two weeks later the same thing happened there, so we then had two families homeless.

My father was advised that if we went and explained our position at the local town hall we might be eligible for places to sleep in the deep shelters. There were three of these in South London and until now very little was known about them. Rumours abounded that they had been built to house troops in the event of an invasion, but whether this was true was never confirmed. We only knew they were deep beneath the underground, and that was all.

As we were homeless our two families were allocated passes and told the conditions of using them, and so about a year of this type of living began. We were allowed to go down to the shelter from 6 pm onwards and had to come up by 7 am next morning. My father managed to find two rooms for us to use during the day. I was sent to school, he was at work and mother and grandmother stayed in the rooms all day.

Then after tea we began the trek to the shelter. We were allowed to leave bedding on our allocated bunks but nothing else, so personal things were packed and unpacked daily. We caught the bus to Clapham South station, used our passes to go down on the escalator to underground level and then through a door we had never noticed before in the corner, and down spiral stairs to the shelter. These stairs wound round a small lift which the elderly and disabled could use by having a special pass allocated to them. I cannot remember how many stairs there were but it was a great many, and these all had to be climbed again in the morning.

Once down, we made our way to our allocated section of bunks. These sections were named after British admirals. I think ours was Grenville. The steel bunks we had been given were ours to use every day and were positioned in sixes, so a family could be as private as possible. We had two sections for our two families. There was one chair to each six bunks. I slept at the bottom, opposite my grandmother. The floor was concrete and rather cold. There was a tannoy system which relayed news, information and canned music which could be quite annoying for some people after a while. We could not hear anything at all from above ground, although we knew air raids were going on which was quite frightening.

At the head of each section were block toilets and basic washing facilities, rather like a camping site with no real privacy. Also each section had a canteen run by the Red Cross and I particularly remember the jam tarts — a real treat in those days. I don’t

know why! These and other edibles and endless cups of tea were on sale and all these canteens were run by volunteers.

Frequently a section would have a concert party to entertain them, which was free, and we thought was great fun. Other sections were invited and it was like a big party. Sometimes there would be dances or sing-songs to keep us occupied and as happy as possible.

Children were eventually persuaded to bed and sleep and the air-conditioners would be turned up full strength and I remember it being very cold during the night. Lights were dimmed but never out, so we were not in the dark. My mother always put me in a nightdress and I went to bed as usual, but I do not think many of the adults undressed fully. They just had shelter clothes.

It was always an early start in the morning which I hated, but we all had to be out by 7 am. We must have looked like a stream of refugees emerging into the daylight. Then back to our own two rooms for breakfast, hoping they were still standing! I presume some type of cleaning took place in the shelters during the day, but I really did not worry much at that age.

Looking back, in my innocence, I loved this type of living. I was an only child which meant I found many friends and raced around the shelter in comparative safety and had a freedom I did not have at home. However, I can remember my mother being very worried. She was never settled until my father was safely home from work. He was a newspaper man, just too old to be called up. She worried about my grandmother who was not in the best of health, and about me as she did not think this was the right way to bring me up. She worried about our constant packing and unpacking every day, whether I had enough sleep, and was concerned about the amount of bomb damage we would find when we came up each morning.

However, we were lucky. We were the privileged ones with passes to comparative safety. We all survived and on the whole were fairly happy and optimistic. I remember the time with affection. I was a child and thought everyone lived like this. I would love the opportunity to go down there again. I often wonder what the shelters are used for now.’

(2) The memory of Clapham resident and Society member, Michael Green, relates to the Goodge Street deep shelter (which was in the North London part of the scheme), where as a young officer doing his National Service he stayed with his men overnight en route to embark at Southampton in 1951.

‘Fifty-seven years ago I was a young officer in the Northamptonshire regiment on National Service, and was stationed at Colchester. During any transit to the ports on the south coast it was necessary to stay in London overnight if an early start was required the following day. We were accommodated in the shelter system under the London Underground, of which that under Goodge Street station brings back certain memories. There was, I recollect, rather a pokey entrance somewhere in the vicinity of the station. Once the necessary documentation had been sorted out at the entrance there was a trip down in an old noisy steel lift which seemed to go on downwards for ever. The accommodation below was off a warren of tunnels with duck-boarded floors. The bedding on the steel bunks was quite comfortable, but my abiding memory was the stuffiness of the atmosphere. There was, of course, a ventilation system of sorts, but no movement of air such as you get in the underground system proper. Another aspect of staying in such a place was a sense of time dislocation. The electric lighting was on 24 hours a day and on waking in the morning it was difficult psychologically to be sure what time of day it might be, without a watch. Prisoners subject in recent times to extreme rendition must have much worse experiences of such time-disorientation.

I do not recollect any arrangements for food, which I must have brought with me from Colchester.

My memories of such an occasion are bound up with one of the more uncomfortable experiences of my young life at the time. I had been ordered to escort a company of infantry from the Colchester barracks to Portsmouth for embarkation to the Far East. My job was to take down all their documentation and see them on to the boat. It was when we were about to board the train at Waterloo that I discovered that although I had all their personal documentation with me I had failed to bring the travel passes — effectively passports — which were sitting back in my room at Colchester. I was worried sick since there was no way I could get back to Colchester and return in time to catch the boat. I remember a porter saying to me as I wandered disconsolately down the platform “Are you alright, mate? You look as if you have just seen a ghost.” Fortunately, the NCOs to the unit had a set of blank forms which I got them to fill in for each of the 50 men, all the way down to Portsmouth. They were not amused. But such were the exigencies of the service for a 20-year old subaltern in 1951.’

(3) Finally, we are grateful to Clare Dow for putting us in contact with Bernard Masson, who as a French student visiting England in 1950 and again in 1951 stayed overnight in the deep shelter at Clapham South.

‘In 1950 and 1951 I travelled from Paris to London on my way to the west of England to attend student camps. We needed somewhere to stay, and the address of the deep shelters was given to us by the Concordia organisation, which had sent us to England. There was a hut reception area at the surface level. We just had to turn up, check in, and were issued with a rough sort of hairy, army-type blanket and a pillow and allocated a specific bunk. The cost was about two shillings [10p] or half-a-crown [12½ p] if I remember rightly. It was very, very, very primitive. The bunks were quite stiff, but in fact, we didn’t mind too much because we were all excited to be in a foreign country.

The war was just behind us, so we had been in difficult situations and 1951 was the Festival of Britain and it was a great pleasure to see the revival after so many dark years, and seeing for example, the new Festival Hall, the Skylon and even Donald Campbell’s Bluebird. So this was quite exciting.

In 1951 I even came with my bicycle on the ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven and then I just left my bicycle on the Common, where I was told it was quite safe. And I found it the next morning. This is my recollection of these exciting years.’

Appendix E – Fieldnotes

Not available.

Appendix F – Images on the tour

Appendix G

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