by Simon Fowler
The allotments at Manor Road, Richmond have a rare example of an air raid shelter. Most were demolished after the Second World War. A few Anderson shelters, which were designed for domestic use, survive as greenhouses. Indeed, the allotments still have a fine crop of very rusty Anderson shelters which are used by holders to store plants and equipment.
This shelter looks more or less as it was 80 years ago. It is now a toilet block and store. Windows have been punched through the thick walls, but little else has changed, even down to the light fittings. One could easily imagine local residents nervously sheltering from raids on chilly winter evenings.
Yet the shelter was never used – at least for the purpose it was designed.
Richmond’s largest set of allotments lies off Manor Road. During the war there were 187 plots available for annual rent at 25 shillings per plot. Because of their size and location by the railway they were a potential target for enemy aircraft. Indeed, a bomb landed between plots 161 and 163 during a raid on 29 September 1940, demolishing a shed.
The Manor Road Allotment Association in November 1940 petitioned the council to provide a shelter for the allotment holders. It could also be used by the residents of nearby streets as well. As there was a shortage of public shelters in the area, Richmond council readily agreed to build a shelter to accommodate 48 people, although “no bunk beds were to be provided”. Interestingly the Association also cunningly argued that the shelter could be used to “provide much needed accommodation at the end of the war for allotment storage purposes”.
It is not known exactly when the shelter was built (or at what cost), but it was not ready until the following summer. But by then the Blitz was over and the Luftwaffe now rarely raided Britain. The numbers using the shelters across the area rapidly fell away. By the end of 1941 only a few dozen people were sheltering in the hundred or so shelters provided across Richmond each day. In early 1942 the council decided to close all but a few in the main shopping areas, as there seemed to be no point in keeping them open.
All, except two public shelters, were eventually demolished. One survives in East Sheen, and the one here is still used for the purpose it was probably really built for. It is a unique survival and deserves to be protected
This article was originally published in Twickenham and Richmond Tribune, 28 May 2021.
**An allotment holder has now suggested that the shelter was built for use by a barrage balloon crew based in the area. There seems no written evidence for this, but it is possible that it was handed over to Balloon Command as accommodation. Can anyone reading this provide additional information?
You can read more about Richmond and the Second World War in Simon Fowler’s book Richmond at War 1939-1945, available from Richmond Park’s information centre just outside Pembroke Lodge, the Kew Bookshop, the Open Book at King Street in Richmond, Parade’s End Books in Ham and our own online bookshop.