Air Raid Shelters
In common with many other seaside towns, Hastings suffered from a number of air attacks during WW2. The preparations actually began during the mid/late 1930s with various designs and suggestions as to how best the town's citizens could be protected. A number of options were explored, even including a sewer and the spaces under the concrete flooring of Hastings Railway Station. Official guidance at the time suggested that open trenches gave the best protection against blast, although not a direct hit. A number of demonstration trenches were dug at points in the town, and the idea was implemented at several sites including the Hastings Grammar School and Filsham Waterworks.Warnings of an attack were by a system of Air Raid Sirens and whistles or rattles with varying efficiency.
Hastings was perhaps fortunate compared with many south coast towns in that they had underground car parks constructed out of concrete which would provide protection from all but direct-hits. At the time, Hastings was the only town in the UK that had such facilities. During 1939, after a deputation from the council met with central government was told "Hastings was considered a 'safe' town and thus not subject to air attack, central government fully supported the usage of these car parks for the protection of shoppers caught in the open and only those", but would not fund construction of public shelters. It was reported that residents whose property had basements could open these up to neighbours and a certain amount of re-inforcement could possibly be funded centrally.The sentiment that Hastings was a safe location persisted through 1939 and into 1940, although a number of private and enterprising firms were advertising air raid shelters in the local papers.
Local Authority Shelters
In May 1940, the Hastings & St Leonards Observer reported that following a revised survey, construction of a number of shelters had started for "the benefit of those who may be in the streets when an alarm was sounded". Additional requirements for shelters were considered necessary during June 1940 and a number of tenders requested for building shelters in the following locations;* Queens Road,
Tenders were accepted for constructing the following shelters;
Ore (200 persons); Heppell and Sweetman
(100 persons); J. H. Hobbs &
Battle Road (100 Persons); J. H. Hobbs.
Tenders for constructing the shelters at the remaining locations were to be accepted as soon as possible.Further shelters were constructed during July 1940 with tenders for constructing additional ones in the Old Town (100 Persons); Heppell and Sweetman and Central Hastings (100 Persons); William Godwin Ltd.These shelters together with additional premises with basements etc would provide shelter for 5000 people in total.An extensive shelter was constructed underground beneath the Torfield allotments with the entrance on Old London Road. Post war, there was a successful planning application to utilise the tunnels as a mushroom farm, although this did not come to fruition.
Shelters provided by Local Business
This advertorial reads:"Mastin, Bros., in the event of an air raid warning, continue as nearly as possible. “Business as usual.” An observer will give due notice should raiders approach very near and customers and staff will be warned by a loud buzzer to proceed immediately to a commodious basement showroom and comfort and safety.
Messrs. Plummer Roddis, Ltd. have taken every possible precaution to ensure the safety of their patrons during air raids, The lower store of their spacious premises lend themselves specially for this purpose.
A very spacious shelter, entirely below ground level, has been constructed at the premises of Messrs. Wilshin's, Queen’s-road. Here, the arrangements include candles—should the electric light supply fail first aid equipment, and even periodicals for customers to read. The shelter is admirably ventilated and has two exits.
The old-established store of Messrs. H. A. Jepson Ltd. are pleased that their staff have expressed their willingness to serve customers in the usual way during siren periods. In order further to help their customers to shop in comfort this store will in future remain open during the lunch hour.
Two exits are also to be found in the shelter at the rear of Messrs. Bryant's, Queen’s-road, where a pathway at the back forms a natural trench, The shelter is backed by solid earth and lined with concrete.
There is no danger from glass in the shelter below the premises of Messrs, Compton's, Norman-road St. Leonards, because, although it is excellently ventilated, there are no windows. It is entirely below ground level and magazines and chairs are provided for the use and comfort of customers during raid warnings.
Messrs, A. Maconie. Ltd, 29 Robertson-street, also possess a comfortable shelter for the use of customers during air raid warning periods while Messrs. Stratfords, George-street, have converted a cellar into a strengthened and well-protected shelter with two exits.
At White and Norton's an ideal shelter has been made in the old caves at the base of the White Rock, which forms the back of the Premises; varied as are the suggestions as to the uses to which these caves were put in days gone by, it is safe to say that they have never previously been utilised in a more commendable manner. At the outbreak of hostilities, they were completely cleared and electric light was installed, with the result that a unique and comfortable shelter has been provided.
Messrs. Dengates also have a well ventilated concrete-bound shelter underneath their store at 203, Queen's-road, and customers can feel full confidence owing to the fact that there are three floors, all of reinforced concrete, above them."
St Clements Caves provided a ready shelter for over 100 citizens and there are several other caverns dotted around the town (not necessarily on the sea-front - to which access was prohibited) that were pressed into use. The caverns at Rock-a-Nore, together with other caverns behind White Rock and other exposed cliff faces were utilised. One enterprising company White & Norton's even went so far as to advertise their caves as being 'The most interesting and safe shelter' in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer during 1940.
List of Public Shelters
"Hastings Wartime Memories and Photographs" provides the following list of public shelters in the borough:-
Provision at Schools
In addition to the public shelters, many schools constructed shelters within their grounds to shelter pupils in the event of an air raid. Initially most of these took the form of trench shelters, such as those dug by Hastings Grammar School pupils, but by 1939, there were certainly brick and concrete shelters at the following schools; West Marina School, Ore Village School, Sandown School, Hastings Grammar School (200 persons), Priory Road School (both trenches and conventional shelter), The High School was known to have a reinforced basement, All Saints Junior School, Hollington School & Silverhill School to name but a few.
Map of Shelters
Other than the few custom-built shelters, such as the one located in Ghyllside Avenue, there were two commonly utilised types of domestic shelters. These were the Anderson Shelter and the Morrison Shelter. The Anderson shelter was made of sheets of corrugated iron, designed for easy assembly by the householder. The shelter had to be dug into a 4ft deep pit in the ground, with the soil being heaped on top to of the curved sheets to provide cover against nearby bomb blasts. This shelter, whilst affording more space than the alternative Morrison design, due to being outside was often cold and damp to its inhabitants.The Morrison shelter was essentially a metal cage, with a solid top and heavy wire-mesh sides into which the occupants of a property could crawl and lie down during a raid. Assembly from the flat-packed form in which they were delivered was more complex than the alternative with approximately 300 separate components requiring assembly, but the shelter did double up as a table when not in use.
In addition to the defences listed above, there were a number of properties such as churches etc that had extensive subterranean undercrofts or basements due in part to the topology of Hastings.
In addition to many private shelters located in gardens, three shelters still exist to this day; the Torfield shelters at the foot of the Old London Road hill, an additional shelter near the junction of the same road with Robertsons Hill and the third just above the junction of Old London Road and Mount Road.
"Hastings Wartime Memories and Photographs" Nathan Dylan Goodwin (2011) ISBN: 9781860777165
References & Notes
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 1st Oct 1938
- Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 01 April 1939
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer July 1939 to May 1940 and beyond.
- Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 25 May 1940
- Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 15 June 1940
- East Sussex County Council Archive The Keep MES33581
- Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 10 August 1940
- Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 09 April 1949
- Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 07 September 1940
- Hastings Borough Council Planning application ref: HS/75/00600
- East Sussex County Council Archive The Keep DH/C/22/101
- East Sussex County Council Archive The Keep DH/C/22/107
- East Sussex County Council Archive The Keep DH/C/22/102
- East Sussex County Council Archive The Keep DH/C/22/103
- British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 2 November 1940 Pg. 0003