The Museum is closed now until 27 April.

R.I.P. Harpenden's air raid shelters

Bowers Parade. Credit: R. Ross, September 2018

The decision by Harpenden Town Council to fill in the air raid shelters near Bowers Parade, on Leyton Green and on the Common alongside Queens Road has been controversial. A proposal to turn one of them into a museum with occasional public access was investigated but considered not viable. But many regret that pumping in foam concrete means that future excavation and exploration will not be possible. When the shelters were built, boy scouts filled sand bags with the spoil: a pity that this process could not have been reversed!

The Arden Grove shelter under the car-park behind the Public Halls was filled with foam concrete by St Albans District Council in 2007.

Leyton Green. Credit: A. Bunting, September 2018

The massive equipment. Credit: R. Ross, September 2018


It took several days for the three shelters to be filled with concrete. Meanwhile the Town Council commissioned two information panels, which have been installed beside the Peace Garden on Bowers Parade, and on Leyton Green, looking towards the manhole covers which still mark the entry points.

Information panel on Leyton Green – there is a similar panel near the Peace Garden on Bowers Parade. Credit: G. Ross,11 November 2018

A virtual tour

A virtual tour of the Queen’s Road shelter evokes the claustrophobic atmosphere of the shelters. This can, we hope, be accessed by this link


Over recent years there have been several exchanges of memories on the Old Harpenden Years Gone By Facebook page. These have been grouped or summarised: some are about the large public shelters, and some about shelters at school or in back gardens.

  • “There was a underground air raid shelter on the Common between Heath road and Walkers road. We used to play in this Queens Road shelter for quite a while after the war: you turned left out of Heath Road [now Heath Close], walked up a bit on the large side of the common. There were two entries. It stretched up towards Walkers Road. It was filled in or closed in the late forties”- (Brenda Fraser)
  • “In the early 70s we used to go down the air raid shelter on the green (Bowers Parade gardens) opposite the Cock pub” (Nick Brunton). “We used to ‘explore’ them after an evening at ‘The Cock’. Several of the man hole covers on the greens lead down to them. They were air raid shelters but no one seemed to know when they were built.” (Jonathan Glazier)
  • “We once played in those air raid shelters outside the Odd Fellows Arms pub (Leyton Green). They are locked these days, but were big down inside, with bunk beds etc.” (Lindi Frith)
  • “I remember going into a shelter near where the war memorial is from St. Nicks school during an air-raid warning [probably Bowers Parade]. We took our plasticine with us to play with. ..  Another memory is asking American servicemen and later, German prisoners-of-war for badges or buttons. We kids used to collect them.” (Ray Whiting)
  • “I remember when I was at Manland schools a plane flew over the school. We were all called in to sit in the corridor till the all clear. When Vauxhall (where my dad worked) was bombed a bomb dropped at the horses’ field in Westfield Road but it didn’t go off. We also had an air raid shelter down Hydeview Road where the empty field was.” (Teresa Goodman)
  • “I always remember at Manland School just before I was 5, there was a pile of rush mats in the corner. When the air raid warning went we all picked up a mat and went to the lowest part of the school, where there were sandbags. We sat there until the all clear sounded. We all did it automatically, not sure any of us knew why!” (Dawn Bradbury)
  • “When we first moved into St Margaret’s in Cross Way there was still the air raid shelter in the garden.” (Jo Miller)
  • “There was, and probably still is, a proper concrete underground air raid shelter in the garden of Moreton End Prep school at the bottom of Moreton End Lane.” (Ian McKenzie)
  • “You are quite right! We did have an air raid shelter in our back garden (Manland Avenue). I can remember going down at night and it was damp and musty!” (Margaret Barford)
  • “In the 1950s I used to visit my Nan who lived at 33 Kingcroft Rd. This house was (still is) at the end of the road at the entrance of the basket factory. The air raid shelter was on the left. The old air raid siren was on the top of a wooden pole opposite the end of Coleswood Rd.” (Peter Wilson)

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