People sought safety from the air raids in many ways, including going to what they felt was a safe spot in the house such as under the stairs. For many, this was not enough, and they sought safety through a shelter, whether that be public or private. Most of the latter were of a fairly generic design, indeed two of the most popular types, the indoor Morrison Shelter and the outdoor Anderson were provided by the government in kit form, for the individual to put together.
This article however is about a very unusual type of private shelter located at 61 Longland Road, Wallasey. This was in fact commissioned by the owner of a house , A J D Jenkins, in response to the raids. Much of the information for this article, along with the photographs of the deeds come from the current owner, to whom I am very grateful. The wartime photographs are from Wallasey Central Library.
When war broke out many people were genuinely concerned that air attacks would start immediately and kill thousands every week, but in fact it would be nearly a year before the enemy began bombing Merseyside. After the initial scare had died down it must have seemed to many that their fears were unfounded, but starting in August 1940, regular raids struck Merseyside.
The owner would have been aware of this, and would have seen the raids increase in intensity and frequency. In October 1940 many nearby roads were hit, including Withens Lane where numbers 87 and 89 took serious damage.
87 and 89 Withens Lane
A note on the deeds states that the plans were commissioned on the 4th November 1940, around three weeks after the raid which inflicted the damage above. Its impossible to know how long it took to complete the work, but during the Christmas Blitz, Withens Lane was hit again. At 61 and 63 Withens Lane 3 people died, whilst at the same time a Nursing Home on the corner of Manor Road and Withens Lane was struck with 13 people losing their lives.
Corner of Urmson Road (left) and Withens Lane showing damage to number 61 and 63 Withens Lane. The man commissioned to design the shelter (D. H. Pettigrew) lived at number 67 Urmson Road.
The Old Persons Home on the corner of Manor Road and Withens Lane. St Mary’s Church can be seen on the left.
The deeds are fascinating for so many reasons, not least because of the amount of thought that went into the plans. The shelter was built underneath an existing garage, with steps leading down to it at one end, and an emergency exit on one side which lead into a footpath running alongside the property. The roof of the shelter would be six inches of reinforced concrete, whilst the emergency exit was to be lined with steel plates. Several air vents were also built into the walls.
The shelter would also include 4 bunk beds, a chemical toilet and a water tap. Not much to ourselves, but enough to the owner and their family to stay in each night there was a raid until the all clear, or if the worst happened and the shelter was trapped by falling rubble, the occupants could last until help could arrive.
It is interesting to speculate whether it would have been easy to obtain materials such as reinforced concrete and steel plate at a time when they would have been much in demand.
Overview of the plans
Three closer shots of the plans
Once completed it must have provided the owner with a sense of security that many in the region did not have. The shelter is now sealed off and like most old shelters regularly fills with water, but it is still there, a testament to the fear the Luftwaffe’s raids instilled in people, and the ingenuity of local people in finding a way to stay safe.
If anyone has similar information, or knows something about the shelter that was in their house or family, do please let me know.