Shelters & Civil defence Act

The need to provide structural precautions against air raids was largely ignored during the inter-war years despite estimates of the scale of attack being 200 tons of bombs in the first 24 hours, 150 tons in the second 24 hours and 100 tons in each subsequent 24 hours in 1925, rising to an average of 700 tons of bombs daily by 1939. This was largely due to cost – it was assumed the cost in terms of bricks, mortar, concrete etc would be so high as to make the provision of structural air raid precautions for the population prohibitive. There was also the conflict of needing to get people underground in the case of protection against bombs or keeping them above ground in the case of attack by gas. It was much cheaper to issue every member of the public with a protective gas mask than build air raid shelters.

The Munich crisis (which arose in September 1938) altered the Government’s attitude to the provision of air raid shelters. In January 1939 a forth division of the ARP Department (later absorbed into a single department – The Ministry of Home Security) was formed to prepare shelter legislation. The Civil Defence Act of 1939 gave local authorities the following rights in terms of air raid shelters:

  • Local authorities could declare any building or part of a building for the use as a public air raid shelter if it was suitable or could be made suitable.
  • Local authorities with the powers to construct under ground car parks (Public Health Act 1925, Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935) were authorized to construct such underground car parks to be suitable as air raid shelters.
  • Local authorities were authorized to provide public air raid shelters on any highway or land adjoining the highway.
  • Local authorities were authorized to advance money to the owner of any dwelling for the purpose of providing a permanent air-raid shelter if the owner had not been provided with a free air-raid shelter.
  • Where the owner of a dwelling had been provided with a free shelter the local authority had to give advice on where the shelter was to be constructed.
  • Where the occupier of a basement had been provided with appliances for strengthening it for use as an air-raid shelter, the local authority was required to affix the appliances.
    • In addition the Act required owners of factories, mines and commercial buildings to make adequate arrangements for air-raid shelter for people working on the premises.

      In the early part of the War Suffolk was considered safe (children from London were even initially evacuated from London to Suffolk) and there was little done in the way of air raid shelter provision. Even on the first allocation of Anderson Shelters, Ipswich Emergency Committee Minutes note a slow uptake and it was not until the fall of France that demand significantly increased. Although Suffolk never suffered the scale of air raids such as the major cities or the Baedeker raids, it never the less did suffer under so called ‘tip and run raids’ and the ‘Fringe Target Campaign’ which lasted from late 1941 to 1943. These raids resulted in an increase need for shelters.

      Right: Bomb damage in Myrtle Road,
      Ipswich - June 1943. Part of the so
      called "Fringe Target Campaign".

      Enterprise versus Bureaucracy – The Development of Structural Air-Raid Precautions during the 2nd World War, Lord Barker of Windrush, O.B.E., Sc.D.,F.R.S., C.Eng, Pergamon Press 1978
      The Civil defence Act 1939, The Journal of the Auctioneers’ and Estate Agents’ Institute of the United Kingdom, Vol 19, Supplement No 2, August 1939


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