Communal spirit – is this York’s only shared WW2 garden shelter?

We’re delighted that Roger & Jo A. have contacted Raids Over York to let us know about the fabulous WW2 air-raid shelter that they have in their own garden … and in their neighbour’s garden too!

Yes, as far as we know, this is the only remaining example of a traditional-brick shelter that was shared by two neighbours by straddling their garden boundary. (But do tell us if you know otherwise!)

The shelter, which is off Rawcliffe Lane, is halfway down the pair of parallel private gardens, and set away from the building (a pair of semis-).

As seen in the image below, by the fence which connects with the shelter plum in its middle rear point, it is a very evenly shared shelter!

Rear elevation.

The image below is the ‘front elevation,’ with a passage seen running behind the tree trunk that connects across the two gardens and forms the front part of the shelter.

Front right of the shelter – which is admittedly aptly camouflaged from its original intent by a lean-to greenhouse, trellises and even a tree stump!

There is an opening from the passageway to the shelter. It is centred and would have afforded ample accommodation for two families within.

Communal passageway running across both gardens. The entrance to the shelter’s accommodation is on the righthand side of the passageway.

The shelter has what is becoming understood as of a typical York-pedigree: with a 6 inch/ 150mm concrete slab roof and brick walls that are two courses 9 inches/ c.220mm thick.

Corrugated iron sheets and iron bars across the entrance support the substantial concrete slab roof.

The passageway with its entrance to

As the shelter’s inner sanctum was sat central and off the passageway, it would have been well protected from blast damage by the supporting outer passage wall which doubled-up as a shielding barrier. It therefore would have offered greater protection than the other brick shelters we have seen in York. It is not known, however, if this is the reason for its unique, shared-use design.

Rear of the shelter showing ample shelter within (centre and left) and the passage to the front (right-handside). [ What looks like a window in the shelter on the other side of the fence (extreme left) is actually the top of a set of stepladders. ]

Indeed, it isn’t known why this shelter was built as a shared shelter for presumably two neighbouring families. Possibly it was more economic and cost-effective in terms of materials and labour to build shared shelters like this than two individual ones? Or maybe it was because the Rawcliffe Lane homes were relatively newly built by the time of the war, and, with large, long gardens and no brick boundary walls between them, it permitted the building of this type of shelter without too much need for damaging or demolishing the owners’ property? (Especially when compared to the traditional York terrace properties with their modest brick-back yards.)

Such material considerations do not take into account the human drive to stick together in times of adversity. Perhaps the shared shelter was welcomed by the two families as a means of keeping up spirits between them, and to share company and a cup of tea during the many nights of false air-raid alarms … and of course the handful of alarms that were genuine.

During one of York’s raids, the tiles of these semis- were blown off. The then owners, Mr & Mrs Blades, must surely have been grateful for their robust shelter on that occasion at least, and no doubt reassured by the family of the other semi- being safe and alongside them in the shelter.

Such communal spirit for this shelter continues to this day. Roger & Jo A. and their neighbours, Alison & Graham R. continue to share the shelter as a garden storage.

What a great find for Raids Over York!


With thanks to Roger & Jo A. for the information and images.

3 thoughts on “Communal spirit – is this York’s only shared WW2 garden shelter?

  1. Were these York shelters built by the council? Presumably the concrete roofs would have been precast elsewhere and transported. Wherever they were cast, they would have required substantial lifting equipment to place them on top of the brick walls. Are there any ‘blueprint’ construction drawings still in existence, or photographs of construction in progress?

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    1. Hi Aa, We’ve not found any records to show they were designed and commissioned by the Council (York Corporation in those days) – and we would love to know more about the procurement process of them.

      There’s a surprising amount of variation of the shelters, which seems to respond to the needs of the particular site in terms of family size and size of yard etc. This would question whether the concrete roofs were cast off site or in situ (some have board airings on the underside to suggest they were shuttered and presumably in place)? But this is conjecture until any archive records can be found and provide the relevant information!

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