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The History Of Britain’s Most Famous Shelter

The key to an excellent temporary shelter for business is that it is there and readily available whenever it is needed for added capacity and protection if something unexpected and out of a company’s control happens.

Whether that is an overspill of product requiring additional temporary warehouse space, adverse weather conditions causing people who would otherwise remain outdoors to require protection or the closure of a permanent part of a facility that necessitates extra working spaces, industrial shelters can be quickly installed to fit the void.

There have been countless examples of temporary accommodations throughout the years, and some of the first-ever homes in human history were temporary shelters, but there is one shelter and one name that is more famous than most in Great Britain.

Anderson And His Shelter

Prior to the advent of the Second World War, Sir John Anderson was the Home Secretary under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and later under Winston Churchill.

He had had a lengthy political career primarily working in foreign relations, most notably being somewhat dubiously described as the “world’s most shot-at-man” during his time as the Governor of Bengal.

After returning from India in 1937, he quickly ended up winning the Scottish Universities seat in the House Of Commons and despite not being part of either of the two main parties, ended up being part of Neville Chamberlain's government tasked with managing civil defence.

By this point, the tensions in Europe had reached a point that it was becoming clear that it would be a matter of when, rather than if there would be another war, and so he was in charge of several committees that would face the heavy task of protecting the population.

The policies that resulted from these decisions are amongst the most famous in the modern history of Britain. He developed the evacuation plan, which would take three million children and vulnerable people who lived in cities and move them to the country away from potential bombing attacks.

For people who could not or would not move away, they would need much greater protection than a conventional house would provide, particularly since the brick and concrete construction would be especially vulnerable to damage from the kind of tensile forces that are caused by bomb blasts.

For some people, underground infrastructure such as train tunnels and the London Underground could provide some degree of protection, and schools, factories, offices and mines would have some form of shelter from air raids as well.

Some houses were deemed robust enough to endure a bomb blast and were thus suitable for a Morrison shelter, a later indoor shelter that consisted of a metal cage with a bed underneath it that was meant to be used as a somewhat utilitarian table during peaceful days 

However, the most popular and enduring of these shelters was the Anderson Shelter, which was a partially buried bomb shelter primarily made using prefabricated corrugated curved steel parts and featured a drainage sump.

These shelters were free for any household earning less than £5 per week (or roughly £270 per week in 2023 money) and were relatively easy to set up with just fourteen pieces to put together, including the door.

This was by design, as the shelters needed to be installed quickly and often by people who had limited experience in construction and assembly, although often neighbours would help each other with the construction.

In the early days of the war, it was explicitly required that any Anderson Shelter installed needed to be fitted together within a couple of weeks of being delivered, although local councils would offer help to people who would otherwise struggle to build it.

Once fitted together, the shelter was partially buried underground and covered with a thick layer of soil, which often turned them into allotments as the war progressed. They could technically fit up to six people, but the shelter itself was unfurnished and stories of cold, wet, damp shelters are commonplace.

However, it was considered to be the strongest and safest temporary form of shelter, because the corrugated metal itself would absorb far more of the blast rather than collapse in the way concrete would.

After the war, whilst a lot of these shelters were disassembled and melted down for scrap, a surprising number survived for decades after, with some even still being around to this day, having since been converted into more conventional sheds, garages and workshops.

The legacy of the Anderson Shelter, as well as the earlier heavy-duty Nissen Hut, is one that is still seen in temporary structures to this day, with the priorities of providing heavy-duty protection exceptionally quickly being paramount to protecting millions of people.


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