Air Raid Sirens

From Historical Hastings

Hastings had a number of sirens to give warning of the approach of enemy aircraft during and following WW2. These were either mounted at the top of a wooden pole with a control box adjacent, or on the roof of a nearby property, drawing electrical power or steam from the supplies available locally.[1] A campaign to raise funds in order to purchase the siren that stood at the top of Briars Avenue was successful and the siren was relocated to the Brede 'Giants of Steam' at Brede Waterworks, then subsequently transferred to Bexhill Museum. Thus both the first and last sirens saved in the town were by the family team of Graham and Stuart Davis. A video of the siren being tested may be found at this youtube link: Youtube[2].

The sirens made a very loud and long signal or warning sound. For an alert, the siren sound pitch rose and fell alternately, whereas the “All Clear” was a continuous sound from the siren.[3]In the case of the 'steam whistles', an attack was signalled by the whistles sounding intermittently for two minutes, whereas the 'All Clear' was a continuous note for the same duration.

Design and Manufacture

There were two main designs of electrically operated sirens in use in the UK, requiring either a three-phase or single-phase electrical supply. Gent was a siren manufacturer in Leicester, with Carter, a competitor, in Nelson, Lancashire. Originally it was only Gent that got the Government approval for providing sirens in WW2 due to a misunderstanding when tests were carried out. A Complaint[4] was raised in Parliament due to the number of persons out of work in Nelson and following a retest with a similar sized siren, both Gent and Carter gained Government approval as siren suppliers. Although both worked on the same principal, there were subtle design differences and the Carter design was believed to be superior. Certainly other siren manufacturers since have followed the Carter design which relates to the shape of the rotors.[5]

Siren Installations

An initial eighteen sirens were installed pre-war. Testing and upgrades led to finally nineteen, fixed sirens located centrally to locations where concentrations of population and employments were by 1939. The fixed sirens were supplemented by a further nine 'Auxiliary' sirens, together with steam whistles and rattles (used to signify a gas attack).[6]The Hastings & St. Leonards Observer lists sites as the following; Glyne Gap Gasworks; Marina Fire Station; West Marina Railway Station; Shepherd Street Fire Station; Bohemia Police Station; Tramway Depot; Jnc of Briars Avenue and Sedlescombe Road North; Hollington Police Station; Hollington Laundry, Battle Road; Albany Hotel, Hastings; Hastings Railway Station; Watneys Brewery Stores, Bourne Street; Broomgrove Power Station; Halton Fire Station; Bradfords Laundry, Bexhill Road; Freelands Garage, The Green, St. Leonards; Buckshole Pumping Station, Alexandra Park; The Ridge Laundry; The Harold Road Laundry.[7] Many of the sites (such as laundries and fire/power stations) had steam generating equipment suitable for steam whistles, the other sites having electric sirens installed.The steam powered siren mounted on the Broomgrove Power Station was tested in isolation on the 25th July 1939 and was found to have been audible as far away as The Ridge, Middle Street and Hollington[8], although this was reported to have failed on its initial test a week earlier, a 'great cloud of steam' being reported as issuing from it.[9]

Cuckoo Warning

From 1942 onwards, certain towns on or near the South and East coasts that were liable to “Hit and Run” raids were permitted to sound a local "Alarm" signal publicly in addition to the national “Alert” warning. This was due to the fact that "Hit and Run" raiders often arrived over their target before the regional ACTION WARNING was received, but local spotters etc could pick up the enemy aircraft allowing the "Alarm" to be sounded quicker. The system adopted was known as the "Cuckoo" warning. By means of an attachment to a siren, a warning sound of alternating high and low notes could be produced i.e. "cuck" and "oo".[10] This system was known to exist in Hastings, but there were a number of criticisms that the difference between warnings and 'all clear' could easily be confused.[11]

Cold War Usage

Fourteen of the sirens continued in usage post WW2 as early warning sirens for potential attacks as the threats faced during the Cold War grew. A number of tests were held periodically between certainly 1954 and 1958[12].In 1954, the Hastings & St. Leonards Observer reported; "The preliminary test of the air raid warning system which took place recently was not entirely satisfactory, as sirens In Blackman Avenue (near Dymond Road), Mount Road and St. Saviour's Road were not in operation: further tests will be undertaken in due course, of which notice will be given." [13]

Cold War Locations

Siren Number Location Map
1 Fairlight Avenue
Siren 1.JPG
2 Mount Road
3 Ore Place
4 Sedlescombe Road North
Siren 4.jpg
5 Battle Road
Siren 5.jpg
6 Markwick Gardens
Siren 6.jpg
7 St. Saviour's Road
Siren 7.jpg
8 White Rock Road
Siren 8.jpg
9 Lower South Road
Siren 9.jpg
10 The Croft
Siren 10.jpg
11 Broomgrove Power Station
12 Marine Court
Siren 12.jpg
13 Blackman Avenue
14 Rye Road

The mapping is taken from a map produced by Hastings Borough Council in 1952 and is lodged at The Keep, Lewes[14].

Fire Brigade Usage

The sirens saw another resurgence during 1960/1970, being used to summon the reserve firemen to their local stations in the event of a callout. One was certainly known to have existed on the Priory Road Fire Station, with another possibly on the Battle Road Fire Station[15]

Current Day

No complete installations are known to exist locally, most sites being cleared soon after decommissioning. The last site to be cleared was that at the junction of Briars Avenue and Sedlescombe Road North which was removed during 2018, although this siren, now restored is to go on display at Brede Giants of Steam as mentioned above.


References & Notes

  1. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 08 October 1938
  2. Stuart Davis
  3. Liverpool Blitz 70 Article.
  4. Hansard
  5. Norman Langridge (via email)
  6. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 09 December 1939
  7. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 03 June 1939
  8. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 29 July 1939
  9. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 22 July 1939
  10. Civil Defence Suffolk Website
  11. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 11 September 1943
  12. Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 1954-1958
  13. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 23 October 1954
  14. ESRO ref: DH/C 3/2/D7/12