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In August 1936, the Home Office of the British Government directed every municipality in Britain to develop an Air Raid Precautionary (ARP) programme, primarily to establish and maintain air raid shelters for the local population in the event of war. The Westminster City Council (WCC) in London instructed the Westminster City Engineer’s Office forthwith to begin programme responsibilities including the following: in 1937 and early 1938 to establish criteria and policy relevant to ARP activities, and develop voluntary cooperation with local commercial businesses; in 1938 and 1939 to survey the basements of all residential and commercial buildings within the Westminster City boundaries for their suitability or potential modification as shelters; to supervise the modification of basements to provide basement shelters in commercial buildings, and to provide ongoing maintenance, signage and hours of opening; to decide upon criteria for requisitioning or decommissioning a shelter, and to supervise all inspections of such shelters, also to undertake ARP matters not directly related to shelters, but of engineering concern.
During World War II the Engineer’s Office was damaged by enemy action in March 1940, and the office was moved from Alhambra House to Fanum House until September 1945. The City Engineer’s Office was responsible for furnishing, staffing, modification and operation of the temporary headquarters. Formal decommissioning of air raid shelters began on 30 May 1945, but matters concerning the former shelters routinely reached the office until the mid-1950s. With the commencement of the Cold War, the City Engineer’s Office also was prepared to redo the survey of basements. A few completed forms from this survey are extant, reaching into the 1960s.
Scope and content
The fonds consists of correspondence, memos, drawings, maps, and photographs, arranged into six series.
Series 1: Survey of Basements, 1938-1939, 1.6 m of textual records and graphic material. Arrangement is alphabetical by street address.
This series includes the names of tenants and owners, the status of the building (occupied or vacant), the date of construction where known, additions or deletions of street numbers over time, either through deletions or renumbering, sketches or engineering drawings of potentially suitable basements (for either private or public shelters), and a personal opinion from the surveyor as to the condition of the property, and its suitability for ARP purposes. It contains hand-completed survey forms, arranged first by City ward, and then by streets within the ward, describing basements of most buildings in the City, both residential and commercial (late 1938 to early 1939). The series also contains a published portfolio of the Planning Department’s proposed use for properties compared to their 1937 usage. There is also a detailed street map showing the ward boundaries.
Series 2: Air Raid Shelters, Works Department, 1938-1953; predominant 1938-1946, 6 m of textual records and graphic material. Arranged alphabetically by individual addresses.
This series deals with maintenance of air raid shelters for more than 50 persons. It describes individual addresses with chronologically arranged sequences of information including completed owner/tenant forms from 1938-1939 indicating the number of persons in the establishment, the nature of a potential shelter, and other details, with relevant correspondence. There is information on: addresses where strengthening, maintenance, problems, and finally decommissioning took place; completed forms, relevant correspondence, and submission dates for businesses who applied for Home Security Grants which were funded by the National government, not by the City; and matters concerning a variety of air raid shelter issues at addresses where the basements were considered for air raid shelters, but were either never developed, or did not meet City/County criteria, e.g. church buildings.
Series 3: City Engineer’s office files, 1928-1963; predominant 1937-1946, 4.1 m of textual records and graphic material.
This series covers a broad range of topics relevant to the City Engineer’s Office and covered under the ARP designation, which, despite its title, was far broader than “Air Raid Precautionary” systems. The City Engineers dealt with, for example: road safety during blackouts ( white paint, lighting of crosswalks, traffic patterns, and a design for “cat’s eyes”); sandbagging; casualty stations and their operation; debris removal and street repairs; personnel matters regarding draft deferments; recycling of salvaged materials; fuel supplies and storage; construction and equipping of field kitchens; waste food treatment plants; the activities of ARP wardens and their posts; collection and collation of all individual air raid incidents; and even practical issues in setting up and dismantling reviewing stands for numerous parades. The series also includes some advertising material and samples of materials used in blackout curtains, sisal rope, and sandbag preservation.
Series 4: Correspondence, 1939-1940, 32 cm of textual records.
This series contains letters, predominantly 1939-1940, to the City Engineer’s Office, in three areas: supply and retrieval of armlets for ARP wardens; complaints and concerns of local business owners with regard to their air raid shelters; claims for reimbursement in the operation of the shelters.
Series 5: Drawings (engineering or architectural) accompanying home security applications, 1933-1941, 32 cm of graphic material. Arrangement is alphabetical by street address.
Drawings of proposed shelters in commercial buildings, some of whose owners applied through the City Engineer’s Office to the National Government for Home Security Grants for the development of air raid shelters therein. Many relate to addresses in Series 2, where the applicants for Home Security Grants (CBS2 applications) were successful. The City retained at least one copy of the required drawings, and applied its own identification numbers to them, beginning with “W”. Some drawings do not match any of the addresses in Series 2; their status is unclear.
Series 6: Advertising leaflets, road closures, accounts ledger, 1940-1945, 32 cm of textual records.
This series contains a group of manufactures’ advertising leaflets of products relevant to the City Engineer’s ARP activities. There is also a single accounting ledger detailing the costs incurred in supporting the public air raid shelters for more than a year. Finally, the series contains a single set of forms detailing road closures in Westminster for part of the period.