Tag Archives: David Lodge

Preparation for World War Two – Going Underground

At the time of the anniversary of evacuation Running Past, started to look at some of the preparations for war on the ‘Home Front’ with Lewisham children being evacuated to Kent then Surrey.  We return now to some of the preparations that were made to try to keep the civilian population that remained in Lewisham as safe as possible from the air attacks that were expected soon after war broke out – looking here at air raid shelters.

In theory, planning had started just after World War 1 with the setting up of the Air Raid Precautions Committee in 1924.  As regular readers of Running Past will recall, there had been devastating air raids during World War 1 on both Glenview Road in Hither Green with a Zeppelin attack (above), and with a Gotha airplane attack on Sydenham Road which also bombed the area around Staplehurst Road and Hither Green Station. However, little progress had been made because of the apparently irreconcilable conflict between the need to send the public underground for shelter from air attack but the need to keep them above ground for in the event of gas attacks.  The latter had been expected as a result of gas attacks during World War 1.

During the Munich Crisis of September 1938 the Government instructed local authorities to start building trench air raid shelters with precast concrete walls which were then covered.  They became a permanent feature in the lead up to war.

There were a series of public shelters in Lewisham High Street under the planted area that ran down most of the market (see above from a couple of decades before World War 2) – they had to cope with day time raids when the town centre would be busy (1). One of these was to be hit by a V-1 flying bomb in July 1944. There were also large public shelters opposite Lewisham Hospital and in the grounds of Robertson’s Golden Shred works on Bromley Road (2).

Running Past covered a couple of the Lee shelters that were located in Manor House Gardens – one in the Ice House, and the other seemingly under the grass almost next to it – the likely outline appeared in the drought of 2018.  A third was under the lawn in front of Manor House Library was mentioned in passing in the Lewisham ARP log (3).

A large one was also constructed in the grounds of Merchant Taylors’ almshouses (above), although it isn’t clear whether this was just for the inhabitants of the almshouses or for wider use.  There is a ‘ghost sign’ on the external wall to the almshouses on the corner of Brandram and Lee High Roads – although it has faded and it isn’t certain whether it is pointing to Manor House Gardens or the almshouses.

Some local streets also had communal shelters too – one is shown at the back of a photograph of a VE Day street party in Taunton Road in Lee.

The public shelters were not bomb-proof and many people were killed in direct hits – this included one on the Albion Way shelter in Lewisham where 41 people died on 11 September 1940.  There was another street air raid shelter in the next road – Mercia Grove.  Memories of which were included on the BBC website around the 50th anniversary of VE Day – which was described

At the bottom of the stairs there were four bays. Each bay had a wooden slatted seat at either side, along its length. …We soon made the shelter comfortable, with rugs for the floor and a paraffin stove for warmth and to boil a kettle. We slept on the floor and on the benches. After a while, bunks were installed. These served as seats during the day when it was a public shelter and at night we were issued shelter tickets and a designated bunk number. .. Soon there was a sink installed and a small portable oven, for which we paid a small rental fee. When the blitz was at its height we went down at 6.30 after the evening meal, until the all clear, or until it was time to get ready to go to work the next day. On the long summer evenings (double British summertime) we played gramophone records in the street and danced to the music, when all was quiet, no Jerry’s above.

Other locations too were used as air raid shelters, including underneath railway arches, such as those in Ladywell which, like its Lee counterparts, had a painted sign showing the way to it which still survives above it.

Below, a probably more permanent one than was possible under the arches in Ladywell is pictured from elsewhere in SE London. There were also railway arch shelters at Plough Bridge (sheltering 40, close to Lewisham Station); Morley Road (95) and Catford Hill (105) (4).


Elsewhere in London tube stations were used, but this clearly wasn’t an option in south east London. Initially cellars and basements of larger houses, churches and factories were also used but their use brought with it dangers of collapse of the building above with heavy masonry or machinery coming through from higher floors.   A few buildings built just ahead of World War Two were built with air raid shelters, such as one in East Sheen, covered in the excellent Flickering Lamps blog.

One of the stranger public shelters used by Lee and Hither Green residents involved catching a train to Chislehurst to shelter in the caves; even when London had been free of attacks for a couple of months in July 1941, 2,000 still sheltered there every night (5).

Not all air raid shelters were communal ones, it wasn’t always feasible for people to quickly get to the public ones, so individual household ones were developed – Anderson shelters (below) which were external and the internal Morrison ones.

Anderson shelters were named after Sir John Anderson, who was the Government Minister responsible for air-raid precautions prior to the outbreak of World War II.  They were made from 14 galvanised steel panels bolted together and were 1.8 m high, 2 metres long and 1.4 metres wide, and were buried 1.2 metres deep and then covered with 40 centimetres of soil.  They ‘housed’ six and were issued free to all householders who earned less than £5 a week, which was most people in areas such as Lewisham; those with a higher income were charged £7 for them.  In Lewisham around 23,000 were issued – so about 192,000 could be accommodated (6).

Running Past visited a partially fictional Anderson shelter on the Brockley/New Cross borders when looking at one of the early works of one of Lewisham’s best known authors – David Lodge’s Out of The Shelter.

While they performed well apart from dealing with direct hits, as they were buried in the ground they tended to be cold and damp, not the place to spend lots of consecutive nights – something common at the height of the German Bombing campaign.  The level of waterlogging led some Lewisham families to go back to the original advice and hide under the stairs.

My former next door neighbours  Jack (actually George) and Doris had an Anderson Shelter in their garden which was still dug into its original place by his first wife’s parents; while the soil covering of the roof was removed, they used it as a shed until they died in the late 1990s.  This was not uncommon – while local authorities collected the shelters as scrap many hung on to them, with several memories of playing in them in and around Lewisham into the 1960s.

Morrison Shelters were indoor shelters which, in theory at least, could be used as tables between air raids.  They were named after the Minister of Home Security at the time that they were first issued – Herbert Morrison, who was to become Labour MP for Lewisham South in the 1945 General Election.

Pictured below, they were effectively a cage 2 metres, by 1.2 metres and 0.75 metres high with a steel plate top and mesh sides. They had to be assembled IKEA-like by the household, with tools supplied.  Like the Anderson Shelters, they were provided free to low income households.  Around 500,000 were distributed during the Blitz with a further 100,000 ahead of V-1 attacks.  They were much more effective than the Anderson Shelters in preventing protecting households even withstanding some direct hits.

In posts in the not too distant future we will look at other World War 2 preparations on the Home Front – gas masks, warning sirens, the Women’s Voluntary Services and the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens.


  1. Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 – 1945 p41
  2. ibid p42
  3. The ARP log for Lewisham is a fragile document that lists (virtually) all the attacks, property by property, raid by raid – we will come back to this in future posts.
  4. Blake op cit p43
  5. ibid p43
  6. ibid p41


Picture credits



A Picture of the Pictures – The Brockley Picture Theatre

For a borough which had no purpose built cinema for about 15 year during the period between the ABC in Catford closing in 2001 and the Curzon Goldsmiths opening in early 2016, Lewisham has a rich cinematic history with a plethora of closed and lost cinemas.  They are documented well on the Lewisham’s Lost Cinema site, as well as Ken George’s excellent, but out of print, ‘Two Sixpennies Please.’ (1)

Running Past tends to focus on Lee, Hither Green and Blackheath, but the Brockley Picture Theatre it is a cinema that holds an interest for me in that it is one that I associate with my favourite local author, David Lodge.  Running Past has covered Lodge’s ‘Out of the Shelter’ before, and one day the blog will probably return to his first novel, ‘The Picturegoers,’ which was published in 1960.  Lodge grew up at 81 Millmark Grove, parallel to Shardloes Road and, as the closest cinema to his former home, it is the one I associate him most, although it had closed by the time Lodge was writing the novel.  But it was a painting on the ArtUK website, that really ‘sparked’ my interest.

unknown artist; The Ritz Cinema, Brockley; Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-ritz-cinema-brockley-193961

See ‘Painting Note’ below for Copyright issues

The Brockley Picture Theatre was on a triangular site at the corner of Foxberry Road and Coulgate Street, any signs of it are long gone – it is now (June 2016) an almost finished block of flats, having been a garage in the relatively recent past, but with current land values and a location adjacent to Brockley station development was inevitability.

ritz 4

The cinema opened in September 1913 with a capacity of around 700. It had a 40 feet wide proscenium and a 16 feet deep stage.  The initial ticket prices were 3d and 6d (2) and it was noted by Ken George, partially quoting a local newspaper (3)

‘Daintily served teas are provided and everything is done to make visitors comfortable. The result is they go again and again!’ For the patrons’ further delight, the Waldovski string band was engaged ‘at enormous expense’, which was taking a chance, as no music licence had been applied for, or given.

It was re-named numerous times – changing to the Palladium Cinema in 1915; one of the films shown early in its new incarnation was Shielding Shadow starring the Canadian actress Grace Darmond, a ticket for which was recently discovered in via a customer of Browns of Brockley who was doing some renovation work.


It became the Giralda in 1929 when sound equipment for ‘talkies’ was introduced – without a proper licence from the licencing authority, the London County Council who ended up taking the owners to court in 1931 (4). Names continued to change, it was re-badged as the New Palladium in 1936 and finally the Ritz during World War 2.


ritz 1

Available on creative commons via Cinema Treasures – see note here

The Ritz Cinema was closed on 14th March 1956 with a double bill of Charles Drake in ‘Tobor the Great’ (below – poster available by Creative Commons) and John Derek in ‘The Fortune Hunter.’ It remained empty for a few years, perhaps whilst its owner, the Brockley Theatre Company, tried to find a buyer.  However, there was a voluntary winding up of the company in early 1959, with the company liquidated later that year.  The building was demolished the following year.

ritz 3


The painting of the cinema at the ‘top’ of the post was completed before its closure, while the listing on the ArtUK website gives it as an unknown artist; there is the name ‘Cockell’ and the date ‘1956’ clearly visible in the bottom left hand corner.  A Google search elicits nothing more about the artist with this limited knowledge though.  The ‘picture painted’ has an attractive charm of fading glory, the letters peeling with a guarded looking ‘meeting’ in front of the cinema, amidst the abandoned newsprint in an age that clearly predates the mass market motor car.  The detail of the presumably air force surplus duffel coat – would have probably helped date, had the ‘1956’ not been marked.


  1. Ken George (1986) ‘Two Sixpennies Please: Lewisham’s Early Cinemas’
  2. ibid p37
  3. ibid p37
  4. ibid p39

Painting  Note

The Lewisham Archives own the copyright to the picture; it is made available through the Art UK site which in turn allows its use for non-commercial research such as this.

E Nesbit, The Railway Children and Lewisham

It was a simple street name sign in Grove Park that this post had its origins in …

Between 1894 and 1899 Edith Nesbit lived at Three Gables in Baring Road – roughly between the Ringway Centre and Stratfield House flats. Grove Park was then a popular middle-class residential area and still with a number of small farms. The home backed onto the railway and there are suggestions that it may have inspired the Railway Children. Three Gables has long gone, although part of its garden is now Grove Park Nature Reserve, but Nesbit’s time there is remembered with a path which forms part of the Green Chain Walk.

There have been suggestions that the character of Albert Perks, played by Bernard Cribbens in the 1970 film version, was modelled on Southern Railway employee, William Thomson, who worked at Grove Park station and lived in Chinbrook Road.

She had moved to Well Hall by the time she wrote ‘The Railway Children’ though, a four-storey house next to the ‘Tudor Barn’, Well Hall House – shown in ‘engraving’ on the information board in, what is now known as, Well Hall Pleasaunce.  Her name is also remebered in an unattractive cul-de-sac between the Pleasaunce and the elevated A2 dual-carriageway leading to a bowling club.


The backdrop to the children’s novel was a thinly disguised version of the Dreyfus Affair, whilst Nesbit was writing ‘The Railway Children’ Dreyfus had been pardoned, with the acquittal almost coinciding with the publication in early 1906.

I must admit to not having read ‘The Railway Children’ since school and my recollections of it are more shaped by the 1970 Lionel Jeffries film than the book and the current theatre production at the specially built Kings Cross Theatre. The film and play at least, evoke an almost idealised Edwardian rural middle class lifestyle.

The Railway Children Books About Town bench - Greewnwich 2014

The Railway Children Books About Town bench – Greewnwich 2014

Nesbit’s own adult life was very far removed from this; she was one of the co-founders of one of the Labour Party’s forerunners, the Fabian Society and had brief links with Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, although found it a little too radical for her. Another author with Lewisham connections, David Lodge, covered the period at Well Hall in passing in his biographical novel of H G Wells, ‘A Man of Parts.’ She effectively lived in a ménage-a trois with her husband, Hubert Bland, and his mistress. Nesbit too had numerous affairs, including one with a young George Bernard Shaw.

As for her other Lewisham links, Edith Nesbit lived in several locations in Blackheath, Lewisham and Lee before her stay at Three Gables. The first seems to have been 16 Dartmouth Row, Blackheath (top left photo, below) where she moved in 1879 prior to her marriage to Herbert Bland. They moved to 28 Elswick Road, off Loampit Vale in Lewisham in 1882 (top right) which was recognised as part of Lewisham’s maroon plaque scheme.


She seems to have spent several years around Lee; the 1891 Kelly’s directory has her husband living at 2 Birch Grove, just off what is now the South Circular. There is also a small park and children’s playground at the corner of Osberton and Leland Roads which bears her name, reflecting the time the she lived in the nearby Dorville Road

Whilst at Three Gables she wrote a couple of children’s books with local connections ‘The Treasure Seekers’ (1898) where the Bastables children’s ‘ancestral home’ was ‘a semi-detached and has a garden, not a large one’ at 150 Lewisham Road, before moving to The Red House in Blackheath in ‘The Wouldbegoods: Being the Further Adventures of the Treasure Seekers’ (1899)’

A quick skim read through on-line finds mentions of The Quaggy and the Lewisham Workhouse (now Hospital) in the ‘New Treasure Seekers’ (1904) concerning attempts to get rid of a Christmas Pudding with an unintentionally soapy taste paid for by subscription by the wealthy folks of Blackheath Park and Granville Park.

Nesbit was important in children’s literature with her biographer, Julia Briggs, suggesting that she was ‘the first modern writer for children’, and credited her with having invented the children’s adventure story – paving the way for the likes for Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ after World War 1 and Enid Blyton (whose life in Shortlands was touched upon in the blog last year) ‘Famous Five’ around 40 years later.

Literary Lewisham – David Lodge’s ‘Out of the Shelter’

I have thought about some posts about the literary heritage of Lewisham since I have been writing this blog – the idea partly coming from a display at one of the few remaining bookshops in the Borough – The Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham. But it was the Micro Library on Lewisham Way that spurred me into action. My thoughts on opening the door were to look for an author with a Lewisham connection – sadly I found nothing – but it got me thinking.

A very good starting point for Literary Lewisham is David Lodge – he grew up in the borders of New Cross and Brockley – an area he frequently fictionally returns to in the thinly veiled disguise of ‘Brickley.’ There is a part of me that likes to be specific and ordered about location so I have assumed, probably incorrectly, that Lodge to have grown up somewhere in area around Malpass Road.

David Lodge is also a good place to begin because he is one of my favourite authors and I have read all his novels, a number more than once. I know many of the places he has written about and our paths crossed briefly in a paternoster lift in Birmingham, the ‘Rummage’ of ‘Changing Places’ and ‘Small World.’

‘Out of the Shelter’ is one of his lesser known works, but deserves a much wider audience. It is essentially a coming of age novel which, Lodge acknowledges in the postscript to the 1983 edition, has some strong autobiographical themes to it. Elements of it resonate considerably with my own growing up.

It starts during the Blitz around the area in which he grew up; the street is probably an amalgam of several in the area, although my mental map of the book had it as Shardloes Road, due to its proximity to the railway and, no doubt, the completely unconnected air raid shelter sign at its junction with Lewisham Way.

The early part of the book concerns Lodge’s fictional self growing up during the war including the death of his best friend just outside the Anderson shelter she should have been inside with him. But it also includes his evacuation to the Surrey/Sussex boarders, the V2 attack on Woolworth’s in New Cross, and his trips to The Valley.

Most of the narrative centres on a holiday to see his much older sister in Heidelberg; it is the real coming of age of Timothy and the coming out of the shelter of family, conservative values and Catholicism. Lodge uses the trip to juxtapose the privations of Britain in 1951 of rationing and austerity, with the conspicuous consumption in the American zone in Germany.

His real skill is in the depth and warmth he gives to his characters – in ‘Out of the Shelter’ he subtly uses them to put some different perspectives on WW2 such as the excessive destruction of German cities, with the consequent loss of life of British airmen, conscientious objection and the way in which ordinary Germans felt forced to go along with the Nazi regime.

At the time of its first publication ‘Out of the Shelter’ didn’t sell and Lodge was not happy with it leading to him re-editing it when it was re-published in 1983. It was probably this version that ended up on the long-list for the ‘Lost Booker’ – which was deservedly won by J.G. Farrell’s fantastic ‘Troubles.’ This should take nothing away from ‘Out of the Shelter’ which is a delightful book.