The History Deep Below Clapham Common

Posted by Dr Stephen King, Westminster Tour Guide on Friday, June 4, 2021 Under: Local History

The History Deep Below Clapham Common

Beneath south London there are a series of tunnels. They lie directly under the Northern

Line and those that used them would complain about the early morning rumble of the trains

overhead waking them up. The deep level shelters were originally conceived as much-

needed air-raid shelters and there are sections at Clapham South, North and Clapham

Common station as well as elsewhere on the line.

These were huge tunnels, where bunk beds could house 8,000 people under each station.

They had their own canteens and toilets. Each section was named after a British admiral so

you could find your way around.

Delays in construction did mean that they were not finished until after the worst of the Blitz.

Then, worried about the management costs, the government decided that rather than local

people they were to house British and then American troops. However, the arrival of the V1

and V2 rockets towards the end of the war did see them being brought back into use,

although nighttime use rarely was above a third of their overall capacity.

The original plan was later to join the tunnels and make an express train service. But this,

sadly was not to be.

The Clapham South Shelter played an important role in shaping London’s post-war

communities. The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in 1948, carrying nearly 500

Jamaican men, responding to Britain’s call for labour to rebuild a war-torn nation. Due to

London’s housing shortage many where initially housed in the shelter and found work via the

nearest labour exchange, in Brixton, which was the origin of this neighbourhood’s important

Caribbean heritage.

The tunnels were also used for those visiting the 1951 Festival of Britain, again as London

had a shortage of hotels. Now one deep beneath Clapham is used to grow a range of very

tasty salads!

In : Local History 

Tags: world war ii  clapham  windrush 
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