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More Facts Emerge About Guildford’s Wartime Air-raid Shelters

Published on: 14 Mar, 2013
Updated on: 20 Mar, 2013

By David Rose

More details have emerged concerning Guildford’s wartime air-raid shelters, some of which survive today, but mostly go un-noticed.

Following on from my appeal in a previous story, click to view, Peter Bullen added a reply mentioning the air-raid shelters that survive at the former Holy Trinity School. I was keeping that fact back for this follow-up story! So, here they are, as photographed last autumn.

In fact, a number of schools had air-raid shelters. I have been told there were shelters at Stoughton Infant and Junior School and at Westborough School. Can anyone add further details of these or of others at local schools?

Surviving air-raid shelters  around the edge of the playground at the former Holy Trinity School, Pewley Hill.

Surviving air-raid shelters around the edge of the playground at the former Holy Trinity School, Pewley Hill.

Where these shelters at Holy Trinity School for use by nearby residents as well as by pupils and staff?

Where these shelters at Holy Trinity School for use by nearby residents as well as by pupils and staff?

Reader Norman Hamshere, who lived in Chestnut Road, off Recreation Road, during the Second World War, emailed me the following details.

“I see you mention in the Dragon that we stayed in our homes during the air raids, which sounded rather foolhardy when there was a brand new shelter at the end of the road.

“These were of course Victorian houses and ours was built in 1896 at a cost of £60 (those were the days) with coal cellars. Early in the war, before my father joined the army to give Monty a hand in Egypt, he fixed two substantial iron pipes as props along the centre line of our celler as an insurance should the house be bombed.

“Later on the council had the same idea and went round fitting all the cellers with wooden props, including ours, and obviously not impressed with Dad’s handywork.

“Unfortunately, after a coal delivery down the coal shute the council prop was knocked sideways and probably finished up as firewood.

“My father’s props were still in the house when it was sold during the 1990s. My daughter Sue, also a Dragon reader, commented that the shelters you showed looked just like brick garages and would be unlikely to withstand a bomb blast.

“I can only think of one in the Guildford area that was actually put to the test and that was of course the one in Stoke Rec, when the V1 exploded, maybe less than 50 yards away. So they were stronger than they looked.

“At the bottom of Ludlow Road was the site of a shelter where at one time there was a toy soldier display. I’m sure the site must have been cleared during road widening, but this is only a guess. I suggest you nip along there and grab an 80-plus  senior for more details.”

I emailed the photos of the surviving shelters in Recreation Road, on Merrow Downs, off Epsom Road, and in Bailie Road to fellow historian John Glanfield. He has conducted a good deal of research into the prison of war camp that stood on Merrow Down, plus I was a member of a team John put together in June 2011 to excavate the site of an ARP “semi-bunker” that also once stood on Merrow Downs. This is John’s reply after studying the photos.

“The photos are interesting, particularly the Merrow pair. Looks certain they were both built by the same firm even if the structural design should differ somewhat. The giveaway is the identical and highly distinctive angled tile finish surrounding the concrete roof slab. Such decoration would not figure in any Home Office or Ministry of Works specification. As to the builder, only a local firm is likely to spend time and materials on embellishment like this. For dating, you say all three are not in a Surrey Ad list of shelters. When was it published? I’d be surprised if they are not early builds.

“The two Merrow shelters and the ARP semi-bunker that we excavated midway between them seem all of a piece. A local lady tells me she remembers as a girl that the High Path/Holford Road shelter had an air-raid alarm on a post. What looks like its base is near the shelter’s east entrance.

“The modular precast concrete semi-bunker is a Stanton type. Stanton Ironworks Co Ltd of Nottingham produced many such shelters at that time.”

We also know that Ernest Howard Shepard, the illustrator of AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, was resident at Long Meadow, Longdown Road, off One Tree Hill, Guildford, during the Second World War.

Research by historian Frank Phillipson has revealed that Shepard was second in command of “B” Company of the Guildford Home Guard and was also responsible for the Home Guard in Merrow and the downs area.

And that in 1939 the head ARP warden for Merrow was V. Harding of “Eynesbury”, Horseshoe Lane East, Merrow.


Does anyone recognise this location as being in Guildford? It is from the Dennis Bros collection of images.

Does anyone recognise this location as being in Guildford? It is from the Dennis Bros collection of images.

The former curator of Guildford Museum, Matthew Alexander, reminded me of an interesting photo that is part of the Dennis Bros collection (now at the Surrey History centre) that shows what appears to be a public air-raid shelter with a Dennis Bros appliance next to it.

The question is, was this photo taken in the Guildford area? Does anyone recognise it?

Matthew and I agree that it may not be in Guildford at all, but it is worth showing here.

Remains of an air-raid shelter in a garden of a house in Onslow Village.

Remains of an air-raid shelter in a garden of a house in Onslow Village.

Here’s another one that exists in a garden of a house in Onslow Village, as photographed recently by Bernard Parke.

Do get in touch if you have further details about air-raid shelters, or know of once that I may not have heard of. Call me on 01483 838960, or email to

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Responses to More Facts Emerge About Guildford’s Wartime Air-raid Shelters

  1. Peter Bullen Reply

    March 15, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Based on the slope of the road behind the shelter, could it have been toward the top left hand corner of the car park in Tunsgate (where Tunsgate Square now stands)? I’m sure there was a large white gate into that area from Castle Street and there appears to be part of such a gate immediately behind the Dennis lorry.

  2. David Rose Reply

    March 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Peter, that is interesting that you think the location could be behind Tunsgate / Castle Street area, as Matthew Alexander and I both came to the conclusion that if anywhere in Guildford it looks a bit like ‘Sydenham Road / South Street area’.
    Wonder if anyone else can add some thoughts.

  3. Fred Smith Reply

    March 15, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    From January 1987 until June 1996 I was the Surrey
    Police Civil Defence Officer (each Chief Constable in the UK had the resposible to the Home Office)for CD Defence matters in their own Force areas).

    Part of my role was to be responsible for all of the air raid sirens in Surrey, of which there were 20, located on the tops of buildings and on street poles. The sirens, which had replaced the WW2 ones, were kept in case of nuclear attack on the the UK and were part of the three minute warning system.

    I was interested to read the article concerning air raid shelters and in particular the one on Merrow Downs at the top of Down Road. I can confirm that next to the shelter was a pole on which a nuclear warning siren was located (it having replaced the WW2 variety which was there then).

    Although these sirens would have been actuated remotely from Police Stations if needed, there were similar controls postioned near to the sirens and in the case of the Merrow Downs one, these were in the air raid shelter.

    One of my tasks, every six months, was to give each siren a ‘flick test’ (they were not allowed to be fully activated in peace time) to ensure that they worked correctly.

    On one occasion, when I went to the siren at Box Hill, someone had left a notice on the siren control cabinet at the base of the pole, which read ‘PLEASE DO NOT TEST THE SIREN AS THERE ARE DOVES NESTING IN IT’. Birds often used to build their nests in them and when I pressed the button, you can guess what would happened. I recall I left this one until the next test when they had flown away. Ahhhh.

    The sirens were all removed in 1993 when the cold war ended and ‘peace’ broke out and I was employed on another job of Emergency Planning.

  4. John Foster Reply

    March 15, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Like Peter, my immediate reaction was Tunsgate car park, although I can’t remember the shelter at that position although my younger brother David can.
    There was one at the higher level behind the chapel. My father was was the shelter marshal for that one.
    It was at times filled with tear gas and anyone could don their gas masks and enter.
    On assurance from the man attending the sessions that it would be safe to do so, we boys used to enter without our masks and see who could last out the longest.
    Has Peter any connection with Bullen’s sweet shop that was in South Street? I can fill in some interesting things around that area about that time.

  5. David Rose Reply

    March 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Thanks John.

    Yes please, more memories of Tunsgate / South Street!

    If you and Peter would like to hook up, please let me know and I will forward respective email addresses to you both.

  6. Frank Phillipson. Reply

    March 17, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Holy Trinity School Shelter.
    The Head ARP Warden for the Trinity Ward Mr RG Bowers approached the education authority to get permission for the public in the vicinity of Holy Trinity School to use the school shelters at night. Permission was granted with the proviso that the wardens ensured that the privilege was not abused. The shelter was to be available for them between 5pm and 8:30am. Many took advantage of the opportunity and were issued with identity cards to gain access to the shelter. The shelter would accommodate “a few hundred”.
    From Surrey Ad. 14th Dec. 1940.

  7. Pam Salvador Reply

    June 5, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I went to Stoughton Junior and primary school, and remember the air raid shelters there. We were led out from the classrooms with our gas masks on into the shelters and stayed until the all clear went.

    We also had a shelter in our back garden in Shepherds Hill Stoughton. I used to hate it as it was dark and smelt damp. We didn’t go there very often but when the doodlebugs came over my mother and father would make us lie under the table until they had gone over.

    I remember seeing Field Marshal Montgomery at the Barracks and the convoys of tanks going along the road.
    My Auntie was a Major during the war and was on the battlefield so we heard many stories about that. She even met Gracie Fields on the Isle of Capri, Italy.

    I came to New Zealand in 1951, as a schoolgirl, and I now live in Auckland.

    • Martin Giles Reply

      June 5, 2013 at 10:17 am

      Thank you for sharing these memories Pam. It is always good to hear from former Guildfordians from different parts of the world. One of the joys of the internet is that it is accessible to so many, right across the globe, allowing communication such as this.

      I am glad that you have found The Guildford Dragon NEWS and hope you keep reading and enjoying it. David Rose, who writes and edits all the history content (amongst other things), is very knowledgeable on Guildford’s history, especially 19th and 20th century, and he is the best selling author of Guildford history books.

  8. Pam Salvador Reply

    June 8, 2013 at 11:33 am

    I was recently contacted by L.Miguda of the Guildford County School,Farnham Rd. to see if I remembered the whereabouts of any air raid shelters in the grounds of the Guildford County School for Girls, as it was so named when I attended in 1949-50.
    I could not remember any but maybe you would have some information on this matter.
    Regards Pam Salvador

  9. David Rose Reply

    June 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    I do not have any info about shelters at The County School.
    But I was also contacted by the school last year regarding it during wartime.
    I mentioned the bullet holes on the front of the building courtesy of a German aircraft in 1942, and its use as a Red Cross hospital during World War I.
    I offered to visit the school and talk to pupils about these aspects of its history. Although the school was really keen, no one has ever got back to me. Their loss I guess!

  10. Bernard Parke Reply

    June 8, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    There must have been shelters there.

    There certainly were shelters at St Johns Preparatory school opposite.

    This building is now a hotel.

  11. Roger Edwards Reply

    April 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Hello Pam,
    I remember the brick air raid shelters situated in the playground of Stoughton Infabt School. They were very smelly as their location was closer to a small boy’s need than the boy’s toilets.
    When the siren went we all had to walk (not run) quickly to the shelter. Once there, often or not, school milk was issued.
    Some naughty children would suck milk from their straws and in the darkness blow the contents into another pupil’s ear. There were often cries of ‘Milky Ear’.
    Like most kids of the era we drove our teachers mad by making rude noises with our gas masks. I remember the distraction later when the shelters were knocked down at the end of the war. This was when I was at Stoughton Junior School.
    See my memories regarding wartime Guildford in the Through Time section of the Dragon website.
    What was your maiden name? Would we have known each other at school?
    Roger Edwards, formerly of Byrefield Road, Stoughton, 1937-54.

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