An unusual four roomed shelter with day and night rooms, still with some original fittings, underneath a raised central garden area in St Leonards Court.
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This World War II air raid shelter was built in 1938 for the protection of the residents of St Leonards Court, Palmers Road, East Sheen from aerial attack. It accommodated 48 people, approximately half the number of flats.
The shelter protected residents from the blitz in 1940-41, flying bombs in 1944 and then V2 rockets in 1944-5. One resident said it was so uncomfortable that he preferred to risk death in his own bed in his flat.
Structure and Layout
The entrance to the shelter is above ground via a brick turret with a tile roof and a metal weather vane. There are four compartments either side of the central corridor, running from the entrance down a narrow flight of stairs. Closest to the entrance are separate male and female day rooms, fitted with benches and chemical toilets. At the rear of the shelter are two sleeping areas designed to accommodate triple tiered bunks, each with its individual electric light, hooks and hand painted numeral. There are metal rungs that lead up to escape hatches at the far end of the sleeping quarters, these provided the only exit if the main entrance became unusable.
The shelter retains many of the original wooden benches, shelves, light fittings and paintwork features however only a few of the bunk bed boards still remain.
Heating was basic, in the form of a cast iron stove. It was unusual to have individual accommodation, a stove and electricity supply that served individual compartments in an underground shelter.
Restoration and Future Use
The air raid shelter was successfully recommended for Grade II listing on 23rd July 2009 under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. The reasons for the Grade II designation decision by the Secretary of State in consultation with English Heritage are as follows:
• It was built to a high specification providing individual accommodation above the normal government-led standard.
• Unusually, most of its fittings survive to give a clear impression of how the shelter was used.
• Rare for an air raid shelter, it is incorporated within the landscaped setting of a contemporary block of flats, St Leonards Court.
The shelter has since been added to English Heritage’s “At Risk” register as the building is in slow decay with no agreed solution.
The Environment Trust is involved with the conservation of the air raid shelter as an educational resource for schools and the community. The Trust is working collaboratively with local residents as part of a steering group to conserve this heritage building for future generations and as testimony to the way in which people’s lives were affected by the threat of aerial attack in WWII.
The Steering Group
• Environment Trust
• Mortlake with East Sheen Society
• St Leonards Court Residents Association
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