Dormant for 70 years, South London’s war-time tunnels now open to the public for the first time

International Transportation
Beds on display (Diamond Geezer / Flickr)

Beds on display (Diamond Geezer / Flickr)

On the surface, Clapham South is your standard Northern Line tube station, complete with art deco decorum to boot. Situated in South London in what was once a gritty part of the capital, but now a typically gentrified area, there are more than just tube tunnels that run below the ground. 

Clapham South station at street level (Bob Walker / Flickr)

Clapham South station at street level (Bob Walker / Flickr)

One hundred twenty feet and approximately 178 steps down, one can now find the place where many South Londoner’s took refuge during World War II. The tunnels at Clapham, now open to the public for the first time, once catered for over 8,000 people.

After a public protest for more deep level shelter protection, tunnels were dug by hand such was the desperation of the local population. As Londoners clamoured for beds, air raid tickets were issued with strict guidance on what shelter to go to and even what bed to use.

After lying dormant for 70 years, the tunnels and beds left untouched have been reopened. The original signs remain and thanks to a few tactful inceptions courtesy of Transport for London (TfL) and The London Transport Museum, the tunnels offer an immersive view into the life of a Londoner during war time. TfL say that they hope the tunnels will also be a useful stream for revenue.

Jamaican migrants queue for their beds (Courtesy BBC)

Jamaican migrants queue for their beds (Courtesy BBC)

After the war, the tunnels remained in use, acting as temporary homes for immigrants invited to Britain from the West Indies. Most of the beds were used by Jamaicans who had travelled across on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Clapham South wasn’t the only station used for refuge. In fact many tube stations doubled up as shelters during the war. At the other end of the Northern Line, American talk show host Jerry Springer was born at Highgate tube station as his mother took shelter during an air raid in 1944.

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