The underground world that London forgot: Eerie images show one of the capital’s abandoned World War II bomb shelters that could house 8,000 people up to 140ft below the surface during air raids
An abandoned London deep level shelter’s dark and dusty tunnels have been photographed by an urban explorer almost 80 years since they were in use by Britons sheltering from intense bombing.
Images taken of Belsize Park Deep Level Shelter, in Haverstock Hill, show the metal bedframes where families would have spent terrified nights waiting for the all-clear siren following night-long air raids towards the end of World War II.
Another photograph showed the rounded tunnels where crowds of up to 8,000 Londoners spent hours waiting for the bombing to end.
Eight deep level shelters, built beneath the London Underground, were opened in the capital to protect people from incessant bombing in the summer of 1944. The others were built underneath the Northern Line in Camden Town, Chancery Lane, Goodge Street, Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South.
Urban explorer Abandoned UK said each tunnel was filled with bunk beds, with the entire shelter fitted out with two medical bays and eight canteens serving pastries, pies and hot drinks for the thousands of people who crammed into the space during each air raid.
The Belsize Park shelter mirrored the Belsize Park tube station and was first put to use in July 1944, when bombing intensified in the capital. The government had originally planned to build ten of these shelters, but construction wasn’t complete on any until 1942, when the Blitz air raids were over.
Officials used the shelters as communications and strategy hubs until 1944, when bombing worsened again and five of the seven completed shelters were opened to the public, including Belsize Park.
The Belsize Park Deep Shelter was left untouched until the 1990s, when the government sold several of the shelters to Transport for London, who then leased the space to Abbot Datastore as a storage space for several years. Since Abbot Datastore stopped using the shelter, it has once again been left abandoned.
Other photographs show the staircases down to the shelter, benches where families would have sat, and a mercury arc rectifier, which was used to convert high-voltage energy into direct current for use throughout the shelter.
Images taken of Belsize Park Deep Level Shelter, in Haverstock Hill, show the metal bedframes where families would have spent terrified nights waiting for the all-clear siren following numerous air raids towards the end of World War II. The shelters were commissioned during the Blitz, when bombing was regular in Britain’s cities. The shelters were dug by hand at a depth of 98ft and each was 1,312-ft long. But by the time they had been built in 1942 the Blitz had ended
A bay of six beds is pictured by urban explorer Abandoned UK. Residents aiming to take refuge in the shelters would have been issued a ticket which guaranteed them a bunk for one night to ensure fairness. These tunnels were first put to their intended use in July 1944, when bombing in the city again intensified after a period of relative calm. The bunk beds were made of metal frames, a spring-based mattress and a fabric cover
At the time of construction, only five shelters were intended for public use, while the other two were kept for private use by government officials, who were deemed far more important than the average Londoner. Once opened crowds piled into the tunnels to get out of the way of the stream of bombs being dropped on the city. After the war, in 1956, one of the shelters – in Goodge Street – suffered a fire, leading to the government deciding that the shelters were not suitable for use by people
The Belsize Park Deep Shelter (exterior pictured) was left untouched until the 1990s, when the government sold several of the shelters to Transport for London, who then leased the space to Abbot Datastore as a storage space for several years. Since Abbot Datastore stopped using the shelter, it has once again been left abandoned
A diagram of the shelter shows how the lift shaft leads down to a series of connected tunnels featuring toilet facilities, medical posts, warden posts, areas filled with bunks and other necessary equipment. There is also a vent shaft and appropriate ventilation to ensure fresh air was brought into the tunnels
Despite no longer being in service, the lift leading to the safety of the shelter is still in working order. Shortly after the Allied D-Day landings in northern France on 6 June 1944, Germany began a new air offensive on London using V1 flying bombs and later V2 rockets to try to cripple the capital’s infrastructure
A ‘no smoking’ sign from the 1940s in the shelter. While during the Blitz Londoners had to shelter on the floor in Tube stations, these deep shelters were kitted out specifically for the purpose of housing people during air raids. There were bunk beds, canteens, and toilet facilities – which was a far cry from the buckets used when bombing first began
Terrified Londoners waited underground during air raids without knowing whether their homes would still be standing once they returned to ground level. Pictured left is a bench where families may have huddled together in crowded conditions. Right, leftover documents are scattered on the floor from the 1990s when the tunnels were used for storage
The electrical box for the shelter is pictured almost 80 years after it was used to ensure those waiting during air raids were not in darkness. To stay warm people could bring their own bedding into the shelter with them, and if they gained a permit they were allowed to leave these underground, saving the inconvenience of constantly bringing it with them
The shelter was kitted out with a heating system, left, and a switchboard, right, so officials could communicate while it was used by the Government before opening to the public in 1944. This ensured the shelter was not cut off from the world above ground – even if it was deep beneath the surface
Lights along the tunnels leading to the bunks still work and offer a glimpse into what it mus have been like to be living through the period of intense bombing in the capital as the war continued to rage on for its fifth year. Londoners may have been used to fearing for the future of their homes at this point
The tunnels in the shelter mirror the ones in the underground stations, with the same methods used to dig as were used to create the London Tube system. It offered families a safe place to wait for air raids to end during the height of German bombing in 1944 following D-Day. Some of the other shelters were later used as temporary accommodation for some of the first migrants from Jamaica aboard the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948 and for visitors to the Festival of Britain in 1951
A Pepsi bottle from the 1990s alludes to the shelter’s use as a storage area for Abbot Datastore. This plastic bottle has spent two decades underground since it was left behind, most likely by a worker. Belsize Park consists of two circular turrets, which give access to a lift shaft and spiral staircase down to the twin tunnels below
A label on one of the boxes suggests it contains the payroll files for the cast and crew of the 17-minute documentary Alien Autopsy, a black-and-white film supposedly depicting a secret medical examination or autopsy of an alien by the United States military. It was released in 1995 by London-based entrepreneur Ray Santilli
One of the electrical boxes for the shelter is pictured left. Right, the air ventilation ensured those spending hours underground did not die of suffocation while trying to stay safe from the bombing above ground. The shelters were kitted out with everything needed to keep people safe while spending the night there
The mercury arc rectifier converts high-voltage current into direct current. The dust on the top of the mechanism has been drawn on, suggesting the urban explorer is not the first to head down into the tunnels despite their closure decades ago
London’s abandoned deep-level shelters: The public underground bunkers thousands of Londoners spent hours inside during WWII air raids
During the height of the Blitz in London the government commissioned the building of ten deep-level shelters to keep Londoners safe from the constant threat of bombs.
But by the time shelters, built to accommodate up to 8,000 people, were complete the Blitz had ended and the threat was perceived to be over.
Work began on the tunnels in 1940 as part of a dash to prepare the capital against the imminent Nazi attack and possible invasion that some feared Hitler would launch. Triple decker beds were installed throughout in case thousands of people had to be housed at short notice.
They were completed within eight months, but at tragic cost because 11 workers were killed in the effort.
The shelters ran along the Northern Line at Belsize Park, Camden Town, Chancery Lane, Goodge Street, Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South.
They were not used until 1944, when the worst of the Blitz was over and the tide was turning back in the Allies’ favour after the Soviet Union and the US joined Britain against Germany.
The eight buildings (two had been abandoned during construction) were used for military storage and staff accommodation. By July 1944, however, the Germans launched a further bombing campaign in retaliation following the D-Day landings and the shelters were opened to the public for the first time.
The Nazis had started firing V1 and V2 rockets across the English Channel, with between 100 and 150 fired each day, killing 2,700 people and injuring more than 6,000 by the end of the war.
The shelters ran along the Northern Line at Belsize Park, Camden Town, Chancery Lane, Goodge Street, Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South
Lights would go out at 10.30pm on the dot, and come back on at 7am, with visitors given 30 minutes to get out. People whose homes had been destroyed would be allowed to store their possessions below ground while there were two medical rooms with nurses on hand to treat any injuries. Pictured, Belsize Park shelter in use
Tickets were issued to reduce queuing and allow Londoners access to a bunk bed for the night under a fair system, with each shelter also built with canteens available – a step up from the absence of any resources when Britons used the London Underground for shelter during the Blitz. Pictured, Belsize Park shelter while it was in use
The tunnels divide into 16 separate shelters and were meant to be used by those who did not have their own in their back garden to protect themselves against Luftwaffe raids.
Lights would go out at 10.30pm on the dot, and come back on at 7am, with visitors given 30 minutes to get out.
People whose homes had been destroyed would be allowed to store their possessions below ground while there were two medical rooms with nurses on hand to treat any injuries.
Although hygiene would not have been highest on the list of priorities, there were eight blocks of toilets and washing facilities that would have been cleaned out once a week.
Tickets were issued to reduce queuing and allow Londoners access to a bunk bed for the night under a fair system, with each shelter also built with canteens available – a step up from the absence of any resources when Britons used the London Underground for shelter during the Blitz.
They were pressed into service again in 1948 to house an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean, and again three years later when they became a temporary base for visitors to the Festival of Britain.
At Belsize Park only one tunnel was ever used as a shelter. Bunks were fitted along the outer wall of each section – a single at the top, a double in the middle and a single at the bottom.
Along the inner wall bunks were fitted across the passage and formed bays. There were 4,380 bunks in total and each was allocated to a named person, meaning if they didn’t turn up the bunk remained unused. The southern tunnel was reserved for other, unrecorded government uses.
The entrance to Belsize Park Deep Shelter still has the Abbot Datastore logo from when it was used for storage by the company through the 1990s – the last time it was in use
There are two entrances to the Camden Town shelter, one in Buck Street and the other in Underhill Street, behind the Marks and Spencer car park.
Just inside the main entrance there are a number of small rooms now used as an office by the archive company who rent the shelter.
Then comes the top of the lift shaft with a twin spiral staircases around it, one to each of the lower levels. There is a map on the wall titled ‘Camden Town deep shelter’ showing the layout.
The entrance to the Camden Town deep shelter is now covered in graffiti. Just inside the main entrance there are a number of small rooms now used as an office by the archive company who rent the shelter
The shelter at Chancery Lane was converted to a telephone exchange after the war. It lacks a drum-shaped surface building, but signs of its existence include a wood-lined ventilation shaft on Leather Lane.
The Chancery Lane shelter does not have the same rounded facade as the others, but a clue to its existence includes this wooden ventilation shaft
General Eisenhower used the subterranean site at Goodge Street as his headquarters during the build up to D-Day. It’s now used for document storage.
Goodge Street shelter continued is use as an army transit centre until it was damaged by a fire on May 21 1956.
The Stockwell deep-level shelter is located below Stockwell station and features two parallel tunnels, measuring 16ft in diameter and split horizontally with upper and lower levels. The shelters were accessed by two pillbox-shaped entrance shafts.
One, on Stockwell’s traffic island, is now a colourful World War II memorial, while the other is on Studley Road.
The entrance to the Stockwell deep level shelter is covered in a dramatic and brightly-coloured World War II mural
Clapham North deep-level shelter was leased to urban farm ‘Growing Underground’ for trials of their hydroponic growing of salads and herbs in 2015. It was not considered cost-effective to restore the lift so the enterprise moved to nearby Clapham Common deep-level shelter a few years later.
This is now where the ‘Growing Underground’ urban farm has been set up.
The mile-long length of tunnels at Clapham South are the deepest of the deep-level shelters and sit beneath the Northern line.
The mile-long length of tunnels at Clapham South are the deepest of the deep-level shelters and sit beneath the Northern line