Boys' Air Raid Shelter at St John’s Primary School, Redhill
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Pendleton Road, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 6QG
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- Statutory Address:
- Pendleton Road, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 6QG
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Reigate and Banstead (District Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Second World War air raid shelter, constructed 1939 with a series of murals painted 1939-1941.
Reasons for Designation
The St John’s School boys' air raid shelter, with its set of painted mural scenes of 1939-1941, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a well-preserved example of a late-1930s reinforced-concrete ‘cut-and-cover’ air raid shelter; an important shelter type of the period which remains in its original configuration with its entrance, ventilation system, and several fittings retained;
* for the series of characterful murals painted by the school boys between 1939 and 1941, which are a remarkable feature in an air raid shelter of this period and vividly evoke an important part of the way the Second World War was experienced by school children. The murals survive well and have considerable rarity value, being the only known example of a complete decorative scheme produced for a school air raid shelter.
Air raid shelters were built in vast numbers across the country in the lead up to the Second World War. From the later 1930s all new factories were obliged to provide purpose-built shelters and many schools and colleges made provisions for their students and staff as protection from daytime raids. The form and quality of construction of air raid shelters differed greatly. Some were simple lean-to buildings set against walls or existing structures, whilst others were more sophisticated underground shelters. St John's School in Redhill lay directly under the flight path of Luftwaffe raids on London and as a result the shelters for boys, girls and infants employed a more robust ‘cut and cover’ form of construction; with earth excavated prior to the construction of the reinforced-concrete trench network, with the spoil then used to conceal the shelter and give additional protection. The separate school shelters were completed by the end of 1939.
The shelter designated for the boys is slightly smaller than that provided for the girls and infants (which is situated on the opposite side of the school). However, the main distinguishing feature of the boys’ shelter is the series of colourful, decorative murals, which illustrate a range of fantasy and adventure stories. The murals, which are painted directly onto the shuttered concrete walls, include scenes from Treasure Island, The Pilgrim's Progress, Beowulf, Robin Hood, Snow White, Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels. These were painted under the instruction of the art teacher at St John’s School, Mr Allen, between late 1939 and the summer of 1941 and are understood to be the only example of this type of decoration in a school shelter known to survive. A Pathé film of 7 July 1941 which featured in the ‘Blitz and Pieces’ series captured the final stages of the painting, in which the narrator suggests that the project was intended to keep the boys occupied during air raids. This would be in line with the contemporary governmental guidance to ensure 'that time spent in shelters is not time wasted' (as noted in the Board of Education Circular 1535, dated 18 December 1940). However, given the 272 boys at St John’s School would have completely filled the benches with little room to manoeuvre, let alone paint, makes this seem rather improbable. A 2007 short film about the shelter which interviewed former pupils demonstrates that most of the painting mainly took place during the boys’ art classes, with the planning and some of the more detailed work carried out by their teachers. Stylistically, the murals reflect the bold, colourful designs popularised by the successful ceramic artist Clarice Cliff in the late 1920s and 1930s.
Second World War cut and cover air raid shelter, constructed 1939 with a series of murals painted 1939-1941 by the schoolboys and teachers of St John’s School.
MATERIALS: reinforced concrete with brick walls to the entrance.
PLAN: the shelter is mostly set beneath the meadow adjacent to the playground and is comprised of a rectangular network of corridors with a projecting southern section for the latrines. The entrance is positioned in the south-east corner of the playground, set against the school’s southern boundary wall.
EXTERIOR: the only visible elements of the shelter at ground level are the entrance and the head of the ventilation shaft. The entrance consists of a purple brick screen wall laid in Flemish bond with a concrete footing and red brick capping. There are concrete stairs and a steel door secures the shelter. The head of the ventilation shaft (set to the south of the entrance) is square with a concrete cover raised on red bricks.
INTERIOR: the walls are of shuttered, reinforced concrete with the murals painted above the bench level in sections throughout the shelter. The first mural, on the left of the entrance, features scenes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. On the opposing wall John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is illustrated. Circulating the shelter clockwise, the next murals feature scenes from Beowulf on both sides of the shelter, with the southern projecting section of the shelter illustrating the tale of Robin Hood and, at the end, Snow White. Returning back along the passage which runs parallel with the entrance section, there are illustrations of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, including scenes of Crusoe making his own shelter. The final mural in the return section adjacent to the entrance features scenes from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. This section is incomplete, featuring only an opening scene of Gulliver visiting the palace. In the remaining section of wall the sky is painted and a grid structure is marked out beneath in preparation for further scenes which were never painted.
Within the shelter, in addition to the murals, there is evidence of occupation by the boys during the war, including fragments of scrawled graffiti, including games of noughts-and-crosses, small pictures, scribbles and initials. The paired sets of supports for the sections of bench seating remain in place throughout, although the seating itself has since been removed. The cabling for the lighting remains in parts of the shelter and one original oval bulkhead light survives.
Books and journals
Cocroft, W, Schofield, J, Devlin, D, Thomas, R, War Art, (2006), 73
Morecroft, Sue, 'Education and the School Air Raid Shelter' in Industrial Archaeology News, , Vol. 144, (2008), 5-6
Spencer, Jan, 'Air Raid Shelters at St John’s School, Redhill' in Surrey Industrial History Group, , Vol. 172, (November 2009), 8
Sowan, Paul, 'St John’s Schools World War II Air Raid Shelters, Redhill, Surrey' in Subterranea, , Vol. 20, (September 2009), 60-62
A virtual walk-through of the boys' air raid shelter at St John's Primary School, Redhill (2007), accessed 17 August 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GlZ-aaTyG8
BBC Surrey History: Art in the Air Raids, accessed 21 July 2020 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/southerncounties/content/articles/2008/09/23/air_raid_feature.shtml
British Pathé: Shelter Paintings Issue Title Blitz And Pieces, 1941, accessed 7 July 2020 from https://www.britishpathe.com/video/shelter-paintings-issue-title-blitz-and-pieces
St John's School Shelters, Redhill, accessed 21 July 2020 from http://www.subterraneanhistory.co.uk/2009/10/st-johns-school-shelters-redhill.html
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council List of Buildings of Architectural and Historic Interest (sixth edition; May 2014)
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing