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Saturday, 29 December 2018

Clapham Common Deep Shelter, The Drum and the Balham Station Bombing

The Brothers Hartnall's recent show at the Hammersmith Apollo meant a night in the smoke courtesy of Airbnb in W6. This allowed a lovely wander south of the river around Clapham Common and then a perambulation south to Balham Station on the day after the night before. We're going to have to backtrack here however and begin at the end of my days walk at Balham Underground Station which sits astride Balham High Road and was built in 1926 as part of the extension of the City and South London Railway to a design by Charles Holden, Frank Pick's architect of choice who had previously worked on war cemeteries in France and who brought his simple, modernist style to London Transport infrastructure. Like many of the stations on the Tube network Balham was used by the civilian population as a bomb shelter during World War II. This was initially discouraged by the government who believed that the population would remain in the Tube network after the bombing had ended. At the start of the Blitz however on 8th September 1940 a crowd broke through the locked gates at Liverpool St Station and the day afterwards the Minister for Home Security rescinded the policy and the population sought protection in the relentless bombing thereafter. On the Booking Hall at Balham are two plaques noting the events of 14-15 October 1940, when a 1,400 kg fell on the road above the north end of the platform, leaving a crater into which a double-decker bus crashed providing an iconic image of the Blitz. The tunnel partially collapsed and was filed with earth and water from fractured water and sewage pipes. Sixty-six were killed in an event that was hushed up by the authorities for fear of dissuading the civilian population from seeking shelter in the tube network. The event was used in Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, although the incorrect date is used in both the book and its film adaptation. These issues arelso noted further along the network by a very swish black and white Clapham Society plaque on the corner of Clapham High Street and Clapham Park Road which marks the entrance to Clapham Deep Shelter which was built in late 1942 after the government set up the London Passenger Transport Board who in turn came up with the idea of five deep shelters south of the river at at Clapham South, Clapham Common, Clapham North, Stockwell and Oval – and five to the north. These, it was intended would exist under the existing train tunnels but be connected to the existing Tube stations.The shelters were intended to have twin parallel tunnels 5 metres in diameter and 365 meters long divided into two decks that would accommodate 8000 people. By the time these were finished however the Blitz was all but over and the tunnels were repurposed, first as accommodation for American troops and after the invasion of Europe as a government installation and so was fitted out as offices and an extensive system of teleprinters, telephones and other telecommunications equipment were installed. After the war the Clapham Common shelter was used as an archive for government records until its decommissioning in 1952. This however was not the end of the line so to speak. In 2012 the site was re-employed as a hydroponic farm where produce can be growth for local use without racking up food miles. The Clapham South shelter situated on Balham Hill was used differently firstly as temporary accommodation for some of Britain's first postwar Caribbean immigrants who arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in 1948 as well as hotel accommodation for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and for visitors to the Queen’s coronation in 1953.