Air Raid Shelters at Halstead


On the north side of Factory Lane, in Halstead, stand two blocks of industrial tenements built by Courtaulds in 1872. These, apparently, housed some of the staff of the factory which stood immediately S of the buildings. Behind the tenements is a large tract of land now divided into fenced-off gardens and rough ground. This latter area has a number of air raid shelters on it which have survived from World War Two. They fall into two different types, an underground type, of which there are a surprising quantity, and a single large above-ground shelter

The below-ground shelters appear as long mounds of earth with a sloping entrance at one end and an escape hatch at the other. Inside, they can be seen to be of a modular panel construction - rounded sections of prefabricated concrete, cemented together to form an arched tunnel estimated to be around 24’ (7.3 m) long x 6’6" ( 2 m) high. They differ from the more common ‘Stanton’ shelters which had parabolic sections bolted together to form a vaulted interior. Wartime leaflets, among them one produced by the British Reinforced Concrete Engineering Company Limited, show that a number of companies manufactured air raid shelters similar to the Halstead design. 

The shelters are sited in two off-set rows. On an aerial photograph taken in 1960 it is possible to make out thirteen in total although trees obscure the site and make an accurate count at that time impossible. A plan of the site dated 1987 shows, in fact, fifteen surviving. It is not known how many now remain as the area is difficult to access through the many trees, bushes and brambles but it is very possible that all fifteen still survive. <3>

At TL 8141 3052 stands a very large, brick-built surface shelter. It is rectangular in plan, with a doorway entrance at each end. Inside, there are two open rooms and two adjacent doorways which probably lead to toilet cubicles. This type of shelter would have been designed to accommodate large numbers of people, very many more than the below-ground type.

It is difficult to estimate how many people in total could have been accommodated in all the shelters on the site, perhaps around 400/500. It is clear that they must have been constructed to hold the Courtaulds employees in the event of an air attack. These would have come from both the factory and the company tenements.

It has been found that this concentration is very rare in Essex and it is possible that this is, in fact, the largest surviving group in the County. At the time of compiling this report, six have been recorded at Colchester Garrison and nine at Shoeburyness Old Ranges. At both sites, recommendations have been made that they be protected through the planning process.

The Halstead shelters are of a type not, so far, recorded by the World War Two Defences in Essex project although they were probably once common, similar types being made by a number of companies. It is not known whether others survive elsewhere.

Similarly, large surface shelters may now be rare. No others of this size have so far been recorded in the County. Although it is probable that a few others do survive, they can number no more than a handful.

In summary, if the fifteen (or anything close to it) underground air raid shelters do still survive, they, together with the surface shelter, will probably constitute the most comprehensive group of air raid shelters in Essex. In addition, not only is the whole group in one concentrated area, there are two types the above and below ground models. The majority of these, below ground, are of a type not previously recorded in the County but were probably a standard design, produced and sold commercially.

On the criteria of Rarity, Typicality, Group Value and Condition, every effort should be made, initially through the planning process and ultimately as Scheduled Monuments, to ensure their continued survival.

Entrance to air raid shelter

Entrance to air raid shelter

Inside an air raid shelter

Inside an air raid shelter

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