Air Raid Shelter Museum
Clifford Road Primary School
Suffolk IP4 1PJ
This atmospheric little museum in Ipswich is truly a hidden treasure. Located beneath the playground of Clifford Road Primary School in a quiet residential street is the public Air Raid Shelter used by the citizens of Ipswich during World War II.
From the very beginning of the War, East Anglia was the frontline for any attack from Europe. Long before London experienced the Blitz, Ipswich was being bombed and attacked by the dreaded unmanned V1 and V2 rockets.
This writer remembers her mother speaking about the horrors of the ‘doodlebugs’ (V1 rockets). You were safe while you could hear them bussing overhead but the minute the engine cut out there was silence and you just had to wait for the impact and pray it wasn’t going to be near you.
The shelter was built under the playground of an Edwardian school during the first three months of the war. Originally, thirteen stairways were dotted around the playground, one for every section of tunnel. Each class in the school was designated a particular entrance.
The shelter was unusually robust compared to other public facilities and is one of the finest and best preserved examples of its kind.
The museum is reached via an unassuming entrance, tucked away in a corner of the school grounds. The minute you venture down the concrete steps into the network of tunnels you are back in wartime Britain.
One section of the shelter has been retained as close as possible to how it was when in use. The sounds of an actual bombing raid can be heard as you sit on the bare wooden benches. It is cold, damp and dimly lit with a smelly paraffin lamp. It has a single, inadequate chemical toilet. Despite the discomfort, it was safer down there than up above.
The shelter also had anti-blast doors on each section to seal tunnels off in the event of a direct hit which was good for containment but they reduced ventilation. Soakaways at the foot of each stairwell were linked to the main school drainage system, and are still working today.
The floor of the shelter was designed to withstand a blast coming upwards from a buried bomb, and is four feet (1.2 metres) thick. The local Education Authority surveyors have judged that the structure is so solid that it may well out-live the school building itself!
Other sections of the tunnels are filled with everyday items and memorabilia vividly illustrating wartime life. We learn about the ARP, how evacuation and rationing affected the locals, school life and how rail transport was kept running.
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Air Raid Precautions (ARP)
Many people in ‘reserved occupations’ such as teaching also doubled as air raid wardens and fire-fighters. Although the danger was greatest at night, bombing could occur at any time. One of the biggest dangers was from fire, particularly when incendiary bombs were dropped. Firemen and women took great risks, working throughout bombing raids controlling and putting out fires.
There is a great display of the rudimentary equipment used by the fire-fighters and wardens including stirrup-pumps and a hand-operated siren.
Rationing was first introduced in 1940 and was generally welcomed by housewives because of its fairness. The first items rationed were butter, sugar, bacon and ham. More were added to the list every month but bread was never rationed, and nor was offal (liver, kidneys etc.) or fish.
The museum's shop display is full of items from the 1930s and 1940s. Fresh food was scarce and eggs were limited to one per person per week. An awful item called egg substitute was invented to stock the shops, and lemonade powder and carbolic soap replaced the real thing.
Items such as clothing, furniture and petrol all had to be restricted and cosmetics were non-existent. People became very resourceful and inventive – cutting up adult clothing for children and using beetroot juice as lipstick.
Waste was discouraged and everything made to go as far as possible. One interesting statistic in the museum states that if every woman and child in the UK were to waste half an ounce(14.2 gms) of bread daily, the total for a year would amount to nearly two weeks normal consumption - or the amount carried by about 25 wheat ships.
History - Transport
Unbelievably, a section of a 1938 stock London Underground car is preserved in the museum. The London Underground tunnels provided Air Raid shelter for thousands of Londoners during the Blitz. The underground train section provides a 'link' to the conditions experienced by the people sheltering in these similar air raid shelters.
Although the Clifford School tunnels were sealed up after the war, thank goodness they were rediscovered in 1989 and turned into this fascinating look at everyday life in World War II.
Plan Your Day
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Opening Times, Times & Admission Costs
The museum is open during the summer months - April to October. We suggest that you consult the website below for current information.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1473 251605
Use the postcode IP4 1PJ in your GPS!
Google Maps - Clifford Road Primary School