SECOND WORLD WAR
AIR-RAID SHELTER
EXETER UNIVERSITY CAMPUS

Andrew, Jane and Mike Passmore

 

CONTENTS

1. Introduction 2
2. Background 2
3. Location 3
4. Description 3
5. Ground Plan and Elevations 4
6. Photographic Record 5
7. Sources 7
8. Acknowledgments 7

 

COPYRIGHT


Copyright text and photographs © 2011 Andrew, Jane and Mike Passmore
50 Southbrook Road, Countess Wear, Exeter, EX2 6JE.

INTRODUCTION


During the Second World War many types of shelter were used to afford protection to the 
civilian population against an air raid. These ranged from natural caves in some areas of the 
country, and the underground railway in London, to purpose-built structures for use at home 
or  in public  places,  the  latter  provided  as  a  result  of  legislation. The  most  familiar  were 
probably the Anderson and Morrison shelters, as well as street and basement shelters.


Named  after  Sir  John  Anderson,  the  Home Secretary  at  the  outbreak  of  war,  Anderson 
shelters were erected in the gardens of private houses. Partially buried and earth protected,
they were constructed of curved, corrugated iron and could accommodate six people.
The Morrison shelter took its name from Herbert Morrison, Minister  of Supply in  the  early 
days of the war. This shelter was for home, indoor use and comprised a steel-topped frame 
with wire-mesh grilles on all sides. The shelter could be used not only as a sleeping facility
but also as a domestic table.


Both Anderson and Morrison shelters were supplied free to those on low incomes. A report in 
the Exeter City Archives, held at the Devon Record Office, mentions free provision to those 
whose income did not exceed €250 per annum.


Air-raid  shelters  were  also  made  available  to the  general  public  and  took  the  form  of 
basement  shelters,  underground  facilities, or  surface  brick  structures  with  reinforced 
concrete roofs. Entrances/exits to the latter were usually protected by a blast wall, or were 
traversed to safeguard against blast damage.


Within the Exeter City Archives are papers originated by the City Engineer and Surveyor and 
these  record  over  180 above-ground  shelters  in  the  city’s  public  parks  and  streets, and 
basements adapted or earmarked for air-raid protection in public buildings such as the Royal 
Albert Memorial Museum and in a number of business premises.


Most shelters were demolished at the end of the Second World War, some were let to local 
traders for use as storage or workshop facilities, while some simply stood abandoned.

 

BACKGROUND


Two  of  the  authors  of  this  report  – Mike  and  Andrew  Passmore  – are  currently  (2011) 
researching twentieth-century military and civil defence archaeology in Devon, and during a 
presentation to a local history society in February 2011 they were alerted to the possibility 
of two Second World War surface air-raid  shelters  still  to be seen in the grounds of Hope 
Hall at Exeter University, one of the university’s halls of residence.


Contact was  made  with  the  University’s Campus  Services and  a  site  inspection  was 
undertaken with  a member  of  its  staff.  It  was  readily  agreed  that  in  order  to  record  this 
important  feature  of  Exeter’s  wartime  heritage  a  survey  could  be  carried  out. Only  one 
shelter was identified but an adjacent concrete area was noted. No records have been traced 
to suggest that this was the site of a second shelter.


Local street directories record that before, during and after the Second World War Hope Hall 
was a hall of residence for the University College of the South West (UCSW)3 and, given its 
location,  it  is  thus likely  that  the  shelter  was  constructed for  students  rather  than  for  the 
general public. In 1955 UCSW became the University of Exeter4.


A measured survey of the structure’s exterior was undertaken, enabling a scaled plan and 
elevations to be prepared, and a photographic record was compiled. The structure’s doors 
have been blocked and thus there was no opportunity to comment on or record the interior.

The survey results and a selection of photographs are set out below.

 

It should be noted that there is no public access to the site of this structure.

 

LOCATION


The  air-raid  shelter  stands in  the  grounds of  Hope  Hall,  between  a  footpath  and the  east 
elevation of the Hall (National Grid Reference SX 92349381 – centre of the structure).

Enlarged extract from the 1:25 000 scale Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 114, 1997.
© Crown copyright NC/A7

.
DESCRIPTION


The shelter  is  a rectangular  single-storey  building measuring externally  15.97m in  length, 
2.75m in width and 2.17m high. It is constructed of brick laid in English bond, with a 0.17-
0.25m thick (probably reinforced) concrete roof; the roof slopes to the west dispelling water 
away from the entrances. The walls were built on a concrete foundation slab measuring at 
least 0.45m deep. The building is terraced into the hillside and this slab is only visible at the 
south end. Unusually no air vents are present.

 

There  are  three  entrances  to  the  shelter – on  the  east  elevation – all now blocked.  Each 
door is protected by a tall blast wall 0.35m (1ƒ bricks) thick. A concrete path survives along 
most of the length of the shelter, and could be accessed via two steps at its south end. A 
path, now partially obliterated by a later access ramp, led from a door in the west elevation 
of the adjacent student accommodation to the shelter.


In the north elevation boarding obscures an opening of the type seen in other shelters. This 
opening served as an emergency exit, and measures approximately 1.2m wide by 1m high.
Whilst lower than a standard door, this size of opening is comparable with emergency exits 
in other air raid shelters (e.g. at the Imperial, Exeter5).


As  mentioned  above the  structure’s  doors  have  been  blocked  and  thus  there  was  no 
opportunity to record or comment on the interior of the shelter. It was possibly constructed 
for at least fifty occupants who would have sat on benches attached to the walls. The shelter 
would probably have also had some sanitary provision, almost certainly one or two chemical 
toilets. Some shelters with multiple entrances had internal traverses to deflect the effect of 
a bomb blast6, but this seems unlikely in this structure due to the building’s narrow width.
For its age the building is generally in good condition. 

SOURCES

1. Essex-Lopresti, T. 2005. A Brief History of Civil Defence. Civil Defence Association,

Matlock.

Exeter City Archives. Engineer’s and Surveyor’s Papers – Devon Record Office Boxes

56 and 57.

Healey, T. 1993. Life on the Home Front. The Reader’s Digest Association Limited,

London.

Mike Passmore: boyhood recollections.

2. www.exeter.ac.uk.

3. Besley’s Exeter Directories, 1934, 1944 and 1950.

4. www.exeter.ac.uk.

5. Passmore, M, Passmore, J. and Passmore, A. 2008. Second World War Air-Raid

Shelter: The Imperial, Exeter.

6. Henderson, M. 2008. The Air Raid Shelter at Minster in Sheppey Primary School,

Brecon Close, Minster. Archaeology South-East Report No. 2008110.

 

AKNOWLEDGMENTS

The researchers are indebted to the University authorities for permitting access to the site and for allowing the survey to be undertaken. Particularly thanks must go to Nancy Smith, Customer  Services  Manager,  Campus  Services,  for  her  ready  assistance,  and  to  Hugh McCann, Director, Estate Development Service.

All talks are now on the second Thursday of alternate months (February, April, June, August, October & December).                                          All meetings start at 7 pm and are held at JURYS INN, Western Way, Exeter EX1 2DB.                                                                  Free parking is available from 6pm in the Triangle Car Park at the rear of Jurys.                                                                                Walks/visits are usually on the second Wednesday of alternate months (January, March, May, July, September November). 

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