Anderson shelter file photo [29286]

Anderson Shelter Air Raid Shelter

Country of OriginUnited Kingdom
TypeAir Raid Shelter
Length2.000 m
Width1.400 m
Height1.800 m


ww2dbaseIn the years leading up to the war the British Government was increasingly concerned about how the public should be protected from air raids. In 1938, J. B. S. Haldane published a book called simply ARP in which he proposed that miles of brick lined tunnels be sunk into the London clay with multiple entrances and a complex system of ventilation. Haldane's suggestion was, however, rejected as being too costly, requiring too long to build and likely to create a shelter mentality through inactivity that might affect the normal functioning of the nation.

In Apr 1939 a government White Paper was published based on the recommendations of the Hailey Conference – an independent commission of experts - which rejected deep shelters in favour of dispersal and household protection with people spread out either in their own homes, in garden shelters or in small localised shelters. The White Paper endorsed the use of a corrugated steel garden shelter covered in earth. It was known as the Anderson shelter – though not, as is commonly thought, named after Sir John Anderson, 1st Viscount Waverley, the Lord Privy Seal and soon to be Neville Chamberlain's Home Secretary but for one of the designers, Dr. David Anderson.

On 25 Feb 1939 the first of two and a half million Anderson shelters began to be issued to households in vulnerable areas. The first went up in Islington in north London, but soon the shelters were springing up all over the country. Anyone earning less than £250 per year received a free shelter. Those with a higher income were charged £7 for their shelter. For people with no outdoor space, materials could be provided to strengthen a "refuge room". And for anyone not at home, or without outdoor space or "refuge room", communal street shelters with brick wall and concrete roofs would be offered. These feeble brick "Surface shelters" were not fondly remembered being notoriously used by prostitutes and people needing to relieve themselves. Nor were they particularly well built leading to a number of reported collapses during raids.

The Anderson shelter, designed by William Patterson and Oscar Carl Kerrison and built by John Summers and Sons of Shotton, were primarily designed to shelter up to six people from shrapnel and flying debris if not necessarily from a direct hit by a bomb. The 6 feet tall constructions were made of 14 curved and straight galvanised corrugated steel panels bolted together at the top with tapered rear and front walls, one with a door. The shelters often included a drainage sump in the floor to collect any rainwater that might sink in and the whole thing was buried 4ft into the ground with the roof covered with soil and turf. They were big enough for six people to fit into, though at a squeeze. The Andersons's chief problem was a lack of basic comfort. It was small, cold and dark and difficult for a family of four to six to bear over long winter nights. A lot of the shelters became waterlogged too. Nor did they cut out the frightening sounds of the bombing. Every member of the household was instructed to head to the shelter as soon as they heard the haunting air raid sirens, but with no lighting, heating or toilet facilities. It was not surprising that, as the Blitz wore on, many people started to desert their Andersons for the relative comfort of the house.

Many people who depended on Anderson shelters tried to make them look more appealing by decorating the outside with flower beds and plants. Actress Ann Todd, whose husband Nigel was a Spitfire pilot in the RAF, account of sheltering in an Anderson was typical of any people's experiences during the Blitz. With her young son she took advantage of the extra space to put in a few cushions, a table and toys for her son. But, despite her attempts at airing the shelter it still smelt of damp. Some communities even held competitions for the best looking plot. The sunken, corrugated huts even proved useful after the war with many owners opting to keep them in their gardens to house everything from chickens to garden tools. However, the large amount of time spent during the war in air raid shelters did come at a price with some children having to undergo sun-lamp treatment afterwards to deal with problems caused by the lack of sunlight and fresh fruit.

Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of the raids: "These cruel, wanton, indiscriminate bombings of London are of course, a part of Hitler's invasion plans. He hopes by killing large numbers of civilians and women and children that he will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty Imperial city. Little does he know the spirit of the British nation or the tough fibre of the Londoners?"

Even Buckingham Palace was bombed by the Luftwaffe. Queen Elizabeth who regularly visited some of the bombed areas with the King said: "I'm glad we've been bombed. Now I feel we can look the East End in the face."

Although Cold, cramped and uncomfortable the protection offered by Anderson shelters unquestionably saved many civilian lives in British cities through those dark and dreadful months of the war.

Marion McMullen: A Sheltered Life (Lincolnshire Echo, 28 February 2019)
Joshua Levine: The Secret History of the Blitz (Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2015)
Eden Camp - The People's War 1939-45 (Eden Camp, 2001)
John Nichol: Spitfire (Simon & Schuster, 2018)

Last Major Revision: Dec 2019

Anderson Shelter Timeline

25 Feb 1939 In Britain, the first of two and a half million Anderson shelters began to be issued to households in vulnerable areas.
11 Jun 1940 British law dictated that all British citizens who owned an Anderson shelter must have it installed by this date.

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