St Leonards Air Raid Shelter is a hidden historic gem in Mortlake. It was built to serve residents of St Leonards Court a four-storey block of 83 flats in Palmers Road, East Sheen that was completed in 1938. It was extended in 1940/41. The shelter is under the grass in the raised central courtyard. It is Grade II listed. .

The shelter protected residents from the blitz in 1940-41, flying bombs in 1944 and then V2 rockets in 1944-5. One resident said it was so uncomfortable that he preferred to risk death in his own bed in his flat.

Structure and Layout

The entrance to the shelter is above ground via a brick turret with a tile roof and a metal weather vane. There are four compartments either side of the central corridor, running from the entrance down a narrow flight of stairs. Closest to the entrance are separate male and female day rooms, fitted with benches and chemical toilets. At the rear of the shelter are two sleeping areas designed to accommodate triple tiered bunks. There are forty-eight bunks in total, each with its individual electric light, hooks and hand painted numeral. 

There are metal rungs that lead up to escape hatches at the far end of the sleeping quarters; these provided the only exit if the main entrance became unusable.

The shelter retains many of the original wooden benches, shelves, light fittings and paintwork features; however only a few of the bunk bed boards still remain.

Heating was basic, in the form of a cast iron stove. It was unusual to have individual accommodation, a stove, and an electricity supply that served individual compartments, in an underground shelter.

The Shelter during the Second World War

If a siren went off to warn of a raid, residents would have about 15 to 30 minutes to get into the shelter. The worst time was probably during the period September to November 1940, when four bombs landed in the area near the flats.

The resident mentioned above rented a bunk for his daughter. He said that there was a one-off hire fee of £7.00 per bunk (about £390 by today’s prices). (£7.00 was also the cost that householders with an income of over £5.00 a week were expected to pay for an Anderson shelter.) However, although he rented the bunk, he also said that it was too noisy to sleep there every night, so they normally slept on a mattress in the corridor of their flat.

Fire duty was shared by the male residents, who included a vacuum cleaner salesman, a chartered standard engineer, a tax inspector, and two civil service higher clerical officers. An incendiary bomb apparently caused a fire on a corner of the roof, but this was successfully extinguished.

Restoration and Future Use

The air raid shelter was successfully recommended for Grade II listing on 23rd July 2009 under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. The reasons for the Grade II designation decision by the Secretary of State in consultation with Historic England are as follows:

* It was built to a high specification providing individual accommodation above the normal government-led standard.

* Unusually, most of its fittings survive to give a clear impression of how the shelter was used.

* Rare for an air raid shelter, it is incorporated within the landscaped setting of a contemporary block of flats, St Leonards Court.

For complex reasons that are currently making maintenance difficult, the shelter is also on Historic Englands’s At Risk” register. Environment Trust is involved in its conservationas an educational resource for schools and the community. Along with local residents, the Trust belongs to a steering group that is working towards the conservation of the building as testimony to the way in which people’s lives were affected by the threat of aerial attack in the Second World War.

Air Raid Shelter Heritage ConservationThe air raid shelter is opened to the public as part of the Open House London event.