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The Organisation of Tube Shelters in WWII

Object Type: Folder
In Folder: WWII Showcase

Date of Document

The Organisation of Tube Shelters

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

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

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

Within three and a half weeks almost all sheltering equipment has been removed from public areas of operational stations.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

The Organisation of Tube Shelters 2

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