London deep-level shelters

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One of the entrances to the Stockwell shelter now decorated as a war memorial
One of the entrances to Clapham South.
An upper level of one of the Belsize Park tunnels.

The London deep-level shelters are eight deep-level air-raid shelters that were built under London Underground stations during World War II.


Each shelter consists of a pair of parallel tunnels 16 feet 6 inches (5.03 m) in diameter and 1,200 feet (370 m) long. Each tunnel is subdivided into two decks, and each shelter was designed to hold up to 8,000 people. It was planned that after the war the shelters would be used as part of new express tube lines paralleling parts of the existing Northern and Central lines. Existing tube lines typically had 11-foot-8.25-inch (3.56 m) diameter running tunnels and about 21 feet (6.4 m) at stations; thus the shelter tunnels would not have been suitable as platform tunnels and were constructed at stations the new lines would have bypassed. However, they would have been suitable as running tunnels for main-line size trains. (One existing tube, the Northern City Line opened in 1904, used a similar size of tunnel for this reason, although in fact main-line trains did not use it until 1976.)

Ten shelters were planned, but only eight were completed: at Chancery Lane station on the Central line and Belsize Park, Camden Town, Goodge Street, Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common, and Clapham South on the Northern line. The other two were to be at St. Paul's station on the Central line and Oval station on the Northern. The working shaft for the shelter at Oval now functions as a ventilation shaft for the station.[1]

The shelters were started in 1940 and completed in 1942. They were originally all used by the government, but as bombing intensified five of them were opened to the public in 1944: Stockwell, Clapham North, Camden Town, Belsize Park and Clapham South. The Goodge Street shelter was used by General Eisenhower, and the Chancery Lane shelter was used as a communications centre.

Post-war use[edit]

In 1948 the Clapham South shelter was used to house the first immigrants from the West Indies who had arrived on the MV Empire Windrush.

After the war, the Goodge Street shelter continued to be used by the army until the 1950s, and the Chancery Lane shelter was converted into Kingsway telephone exchange, as well as being expanded to serve as a Cold War government shelter.

The Clapham North shelter was purchased in 2014 by the Zero Carbon Food company, who use the shelter as a hydroponic farm.

In popular culture[edit]

The Goodge Street shelter appeared in studio mock-up form in the 1968 BBC Doctor Who story The Web of Fear, while the real location appeared as itself in the 1988 feature film Hidden City, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff.

The Camden Town shelter was used to represent parts of Oval tube station in the 1976 two-part story The Lights of London in the BBC television series Survivors. The director of the second episode was Pennant Roberts, who subsequently directed the 1977 Doctor Who story The Sun Makers, in which the same shelter was used for scenes set in tunnels under Pluto. Roberts subsequently worked on the BBC series Blake's 7, in which the shelter was used for the interior of the titular artificial planet in the 1980 story Ultraworld, although the episode itself was directed by Vere Lorrimer. The shelter was also used to represent parts of a secret underground facility in the vicinity of Down Street tube station in the 2005 feature film Creep.

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ "Abandonment of St Paul's and Oval shelters". Retrieved 2010-05-24. 
  • Emmerson, A. and Beard, T. (2004) London's Secret Tubes, Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1-85414-283-6

External links[edit]