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Air Raid Shelter

Typical school air raid shelter at Whitehawk school
©Photo by Tony Mould

A shelter at Patcham Juniors

On a recent visit to my old school, the Downs, Ditchling Road to view the air raid shelter under the playground, it was suggested that most of the schools in Brighton had air raid shelters. After looking at the Patcham Juniors website, history of the school section, it would appear that there was a shelter.  It was described in the 1980’s as being under where the community centre, and the new part of Margaret Hardy stood.  

Location problems

However, I’m finding it hard to picture whereabouts this is, as the school is now Patcham High and has even newer buildings added to it.   Does anyone remember ever using the shelter or being told about it as I would be very interested in hearing about where they were? I wonder if like the Downs School they are still under there somewhere?

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  • There were two sets of air raid shelters. In the playing ground which faces East, near Ladies Mile, there were a line of solidly built concrete bunkers, extending about 5′ high, and with a door leading to a slightly sunken interior.  If you look at the picture of Empire Day 1957 or 1958, you can see the tops of them, in the top right hand of the picture. By the time I was at the school, in the 1960s, the shelters were storage for items such as Girl Guide camping equipment. I do not know when the bunkers were removed.

    An elderly lady at the Local History Group could remember using the shelters sunk into the bank of the playing fields, just below the playground, but facing Winfield Avenue.  She said that when the siren went off, the pupils were gathered by the door, and sent by the head master to run out 6 at a time to the shelter.  This was to keep casualties to a minimum, in case of direct attack. I never saw the shelter, but my older brother, who left in the 1950s, says he was familiar with it.  Although out of bounds to pupils, it was a popular place for a crafty cigarette. It is certain a newer building now sits on top of it, but my brother thought it possible that the entrance was simply permanently sealed off during building works, and the tunnels may still be there.

    Another souvenir of the war was that an air raid siren fixed on the school canteen was regularly tested, to make sure it was in good working order, up until at least 1965, when I left to go to Varndean. I seem to remember there were air raid shelters at Varndean Girls School, too.  They were also dug into a bank, also out of bounds, and also popular for a quick smoke!

    By Georgie Hole (30/05/2018)
  • We used to play in these shelters which were built into the bank of the playing field.  Although I attended Patcham infants, juniors and 2 years at seniors, I never actually used the shelters there or the small concrete ones in the playground.There were “emergency” escape hatches with steel ladders to be used if the entrances were blocked up.  These are now covered with new buildings (well new to me as I remember the first Prefabs being put up) and my classroom was in the biology lab under Miss Smart.  Mr Goldsmith (carpentry) used another prefab and I had the strap from him twice where he ran across the room before bringing down the strap on my bare hand.  He should have been locked up! Miss Honeysett was the head of infants and Mr Budleigh the Seniors. “Daisy” West taught music and lived in Warmdene Road.

    By John Snelling (08/06/2018)

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