Air Raid Shelters

In the spring of 1939, several months before the beginning of World War Two, the local Education Committee was “anxious to afford protection in the event of a national emergency” for the local school children[1]. They formed a sub-committee to identify suitable sites and on a visit to Rosebery Street School on 24th April, noticed a piece of land belonging to Messenger & Co., Ltd., adjacent to the Arora works, just opposite one of the school entrances. Whilst on-site they approached Frederick Grogan, who suggested that the Committee write to the Directors. They duly sent the letter, the following day, seeking permission to use the piece of land, of unspecified size, for air raid shelters for Rosebery Street School. Due to the fact that the area was “so low-lying”, it was considered impossible to dig trenches of sufficient depth, therefore “over-head” shelters would be used instead. The firm’s immediate response appears to have been positive, although despite the Education Committee’s apparent eagerness to proceed rapidly, the tenders for building the shelters were only sent out in September. The’ reason for the apparent delay was probably due to negotiations with other land owners, as the tender covered ten schools in the town[2], including Rendell Street[3], Rosebery Street, Limehurst[4], Shelthorpe[5], Emmanuel[6], St Mary’s Girls[7], Cobden Street Boys and Girls[8], Cobden Street Infants[9], Warner[10] and St Mary’s Boys Schools[11].

All the shelters were to be built to the same basic design, specified by architect, Francis D. Haynes, practising as Albert E. King & Co., No. 19, Baxter Gate, Loughborough. It involved digging a trench and lining it with Messrs John Ellis & Sons, pre-cast concrete trench linings. Sandbags were then to be used to protect those portions of the concrete linings exposed above ground, initially a double thickness and then a single thickness across the top of the roof. Toilets were also to be provided, each 5ft. long and 3ft. 6in, wide, screened from the trench by full height, and 2ft. 6in. wide frame, using tongue and groove boarding painted with Solignum[12]. Each location had a specific set of design specifications to meet the exact requirements of both school and the site. In the case of Rosebery Street, the trenches were to be in two portions, excavated to a depth of 2ft., with the top of the shelter 5ft. above ground level. A double layer of sandbags was to be laid to a height of 3ft. 6in., with a single layer over the rest. Although there is no mention of the number of children and teachers to be accommodated, the specification allowed for 124 yards of trench linings, with six sets of entrance steps, 6 gas-proof timber and 6 gas-proof steel doors, 8 escape ladders, together with 12 chemical closets and screens[13].

Thomas Barker & Sons won the tender, to the value of £9,987[14] to provide shelters for all the schools, with the Rosebery Street School contract valued at £2,138.

Whilst the tender process was progressing negotiations between the Education Committee and the firm was still on-going. On 30th October Mr. C.H. Harris, Secretary for Education at the Local Education Committee, wrote asking them if it acceptable for the Committee to give an undertaking “to make good the land at your request any time after the cessation of hostilities[15]. The letter also offered the firm the opportunity to put forward any other conditions, they might wish to add.

Four days later, the firm duly responded, highlighting the fact that they were awaiting the draft agreement the Education Authority agreed to provide at the initial meeting back in April. Also at that meeting the firm suggested that they receive rent for the field on which the shelters were to be built. It appears that despite no agreement, building work was already underway and the firm were less than impressed, stating that “….the field or what remains of the field is in a state of upheaval which presumably is necessary….” They also demanded that the field or what remained of it be properly levelled and surfaced with grass or seeded after shelters had been built. They also wanted the fences, gates, the approach at the end of Storer Road and the entrance way to the Arora factory along Rosebery Street to be made good. This included carting away all the brick ends and other building rubbish rather than simply burying them as was the norm. It appears that Messrs. Barkers & Sons came across an unmarked drain and catch-pit, whilst excavating the site resulting in the firm requesting that these along with the new drain, should be properly surveyed and added to a site plan.

In subsequent negotiations, the firm’s opening gambit on the annual rent was £5, to which the Committee responded with an offer of £2-10s, stating that they “will be put to considerable expense in the matter and the field after the removal of the trenches, will certainly be in a much better condition than when it was taken over by the committee[16].

Whilst the firm was prepared to be flexible on the rental, they thought that £5 was fair; however, they were keen that these negotiations did not hold up the lease agreement, so both parties agree to remove any pricing from the agreement. On 20th December, Mr. A. Gwynne Davies, solicitor and Clerk to the Town Council, forwarded a draft agreement for the firm’s approval. However, it appears that final agreement was only reached the following July, with the firm’s solicitors C.W. & F.H. Toone, of Leicester Road, Loughborough, acknowledging receipt[17].

 

Letter from Air Raid Precautions Department, April 1939

The two parties finally agreed on an annual rent of £3; however, having received no payment by the middle of March, 1941, the firm duly wrote to Mr. Gwynne Davies requesting £4 5s. 0d., covering the seventeen months from 31st July 1939 up to the end of 1940. Having received no response they wrote another letter on 24th April, requesting payment. This drew a same-day response from Mr. Harris, Secretary of the Education Committee, enclosing a cheque for the £4 5s. 0d. Obviously even then the various parts of the council were not “joined-up” as on 28th April, Mr. Gwynne Davies wrote back to Messenger’s stating that he’d asked Mr. Harris to deal with the matter. Almost another year passes and nothing appears to have changed. On 19th February 1942, the firm again wrote to Mr. Gwynne Davies asking for payment for the previous year. The payment was forthcoming on 24th March and on the following year on 24th May. However, for the three following years, namely 1943 to 1945, payments were received in late January the following year.

Aerial Photograph taken 15 July 1952 – see Britain from the Air website for details

The Arora factory is located towards the bottom left hand corner of the above photograph; the Rosebery Street School air raid shelters can be seen just above the factory. 

Following the end of the War, the firm wrote on 12th June 1946, to Mr. C.H. Harris, at the Education Offices, in Ashby Road, confirming an earlier telephone conversation requesting the demolition of the air raid shelters. Mr. Harris was asked to contact Frederick Grogan to arrange when they would begin the removal and “restoring of the site to its previous condition as provided for, all being done to the satisfaction of ourselves and Mr. Grogan of course[18].

Whilst the matter was put before the June meeting of the Buildings and Sites Committee, nothing appears to have happened in the next four years. In April 1950, the firm again wrote to Mr. C. H. Harris seeking for payment of the rent arrears and asking what arrangements were in hand for demolishing the shelters. Entries in Arora’s accounts for the period shows that the Leicestershire Education Committee paid the £12 arrears covering the years from 1946 to 1949 and continued to pay the yearly £3 rent up to 1955, when the accounts stop[19].

There are no known records detailing exactly what arrangements the Arora Company made regarding air raid shelters for their own workers. The accounts simply record that they spent £2 1s. 6d. in 1939, £9 7s. 6s. in 1941 and £10 12s. 6d. on “air raid precautions[20]. The total of £22 1s. 6d., appears to be a totally derisory amount, unless of course, they utilised whatever arrangements Messenger’s made for its workforce.


References:

  1. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/294.
  2. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE1360/121.
  3. Air Raid shelters located adjacent to the School.
  4. Air Raid shelters located on two corners of playing field adjacent.
  5. Air Raid shelters located in one corner of playing fields.
  6. Air Raid shelters located in Southfield Park Victoria Street, near Burton Walks.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Air Raid shelters located in Southfield Park Leicester Road, adjacent to Corporation Trenches.
  9. Air Raid shelters located at the rear of Druid’s Arms Inn, Pinfold Gate.
  10. Air Raid shelters located in Southfield Park Leicester Road, adjacent to Corporation Trenches.
  11. Air Raid shelters located at rear of Messrs Marriott’s Joinery Works, Hastings Street.
  12. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE1360/121.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Excluding the cost of the pre-cast concrete linings, gas-proof doors, etc.
  15. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/294.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/09.
  20. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/08.