The Grove Shelters, Watford

Firstly I’ll admit this place has been done to death and secondly, this year I’m concentrating my efforts on stuff that has never been done before….BUT it was on last years Explore List and as we were in the Watford area it was rude not to hit this site up, plus at the eleventh hour this took on a personal twist for me so that’s why I’m posting it up…

I mentioned my visit to my Mother the night before I went as she has a passing interest in what she calls my ‘Dugout fascination’ and suddenly she became all animated. Apparently her eldest sister’s first job out of school in 1942 was at The Grove as she lived just round the corner in Watford North. I asked her to call my aunt to see if she could remember The Grove (she is 85) and apparently she said “I can remember it like it was yesterday”.

She could not remember her hut number but recalled visiting the shelters many many times on both drills and real air raids and also that another family relative worked there but in huts ‘the other side of the field’. This was all news to me as I was unaware I had an underground WW2 family connection 🙂

The London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) had previously (and on the quiet) acquired The Grove for use as its headquarters in the event of war. Following Italy’s invasion of Albania and during the Easter weekend of 1939, LMS took over The Grove. This was made ready as offices, and a number of huts built in the surrounding park as well as several substantial underground air-raid shelters. On Friday September 1st it was decided to move in and the transfer was completed before war was declared on the Sunday at 11 a.m. In a few hours the original Euston site had temporarily ceased to be the headquarters of the company, and on the Monday, 3,000 of the staff were at work in their new establishment.

A fuller and more detailed account can be read here:

The shelters were built out of concrete section in cut ‘n’ cover fashion and this particular one is very large with multiple entrances. After a few minutes though the repetition kicks in and it starts to get boring, nevertheless we walked round the entire thing and ended up trying to find the biggest spider possible down near ‘Entrance M’

For the photo geeks reading, there were massive variances in shades of concrete in this shelter so despite using the same light source for virtually all the shots and also the same colour temperature in post they still look like some were shot on different glass 🙁

Shorts Brothers Seaplane Factory & Public Shelters – Rochester

Founded in 1908, Shorts was the first company in the world to make production aircraft and was a manufacturer of flying boats during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and Royal Air Force bombers throughout the Second World War.Due to the success at the time of Seaplanes Shorts Brothers required a bigger site than theirexistingShellbeach Aerodrome site on the Isle of Sheppey (opened 1909) and also one that had direct access to the sea so in 1913 they bought an 8 acre plot in Rochester.By 1915 the first factory opened on the site, No.1 Erecting Shop. Soon after No.2 and No.3 Erecting Shops were built and a concrete slipway from the factory was built from No.3 Erecting Shop onto the Medway so they could launch planes straight onto the river.During WW1 over 900 Short Admiralty Type 184 (S.184) were built and it became their most successful aircraft. Also during this time they built over 50 flying boats. Between the wars Shorts were awarded the British Government defence contract for the Sunderland Flying Boat (The Flying Porcupine) and it became one of the most effective long-range seaplanes, eventually seeing heavy use inWW2 as an anti-submarine patrol bomber.By the time the Second World War came along they had run out of space at Rochester so Shorts requested permission from the Ministry of Aircraft Production to build an underground factory to accommodate new machine tools. The request was approved and two parallel tunnels were created, linked by four 75 meter adits that ran out to the back of the existing factory. Added to this were two ventilation shafts going directly to the surface. After the factory was built Shorts Brothers then constructed a huge network of Public Air Raid Shelters which consisted of two 300 yard tunnels with 14 crosscuts, connected to the Shorts Factory by a single 400 meter tunnel. There were entrance adits at various points along the tunnel as well as three ventilation shafts which doubled as emergency exits.

Due to the success of the Sunderland Flying Boat it won them the contract for the Shorts Stirling, the RAF’s first four-engine bomber and in addition to this A high-speed, long-range, four-engined flying-boat, the Short Shetland. During WW2 the Rochester site was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe resulting in many planes such as the Stirling being destroyed.

The demand for Seaplanes waned and by 1947 all of the Shorts Brothers Seaplane factories had been closed and in 1948 the Rochester factory finally closed and Shorts moved to Belfast. In November 1947 the site was purchased and conveyed to The Ministry of Supply on 12th April 1948.

The site was then used by various companies over the following decades (the most notable being Blaw Knox) and different parts of the site were leased to numerous different engineering companies until the site began to be sold off in sections.

CAV Ltd – Juy 1954
Blaw Knox Ltd – Dec 1955
Ozonair Engineering. Ltd – Oct 1958
Wm Palfrey Ltd – Nov 1960
City of Rochester Highway – March 1961
CAV Ltd – Nov 1963
Berry Ede & White – Sep 1975
Medway Borough Council – Feb 1978

By the 1990’s the Blaw Knox buildings started to get demolished and luxury housing was built in its place with the tunnel site remaining (but with some serious structural reinforcements in places!!).

Shorts Empire Canopus
Shorts Empire Flying Boat
Shorts Mayo Composite
Shorts Mussell II Monoplane
Shorts Factory 1950
Seaplane Factory
Entrance to Public Shelters from factory
Public Shelters
Lazy Wall

RAF Kings Cliffe/USAAF Station 367 – Part Two

Here are some more pictures from this visit to RAF Kings Cliffe/USAAF Station 367

Airfield & Technical Site. Fighter Pen (Building 112)
Airfield & Technical Site. Stanton Shelter
 Airfield & Technical Site. Control Tower for Night Fighter Stations (Building 79)
Airfield & Technical Site. Private Branch Exchange (Building 78)
Battle Headquarters (Building 90)
Fighter Pen, work area & Stanton Shelter

RAF Kings Cliffe/USAAF Station 367 – Part One

RAF Kings Cliffe opened in 1943, was operational until 1959 and was assigned USAAF designation Station 367, it was home to the 20th Fighter Group of the USAAF 8th Airforce who flew P38 Lightnings and later P51 Mustangs on bomber escort duties & ; also the 56th Fighter Group of the USAAF 8th Airforce who flew P-47 Thunderbolts. When the war finished the airfield was used by the RAF for armament storage up until 1959 when it was sold and turned back to agricultural use which continues to this day.

Sadly all of the hangars and most of the Technical Site have been demolished and in recent months some Stanton Shelters have also been demolished to make way for some currently unknown construction. There are however many smaller buildings still intact such as M&E Plinths, Substations, Sleeping Quarters, Motor Transport Repair, PBX, several defended Fighter Pens with work area, Mushroom Pillboxes, a Battle Headquarters, miscellaneous buildings and of course the Control/Watch Tower.

This visit focused mainly on the perimeter track and outlying defences, a planned return visit in winter (with less undergrowth!!) will concentrate more on the Technical and Communal Sites.

For BHQ geeks you will notice that the Battle Headquarters here isn’t sunk fully into the ground like most are, at least I think that’s the case, I guess the ground could have been removed over the years?, but that doesn’t explain the fully sunken Cantilever/Mushroom Pillbox right next to it…..weird!! Sadly despite it being higher than many this one is flooded to a depth of approx 3ft and always seems to be. The Cupola is still accessible (and dry) via the Emergency Escape hatch though.

There’s lots of pix so I’m posting this across multiple days…..enjoy 🙂

Airfield & Technical Site. Fighter Pen (Building 112)
Airfield & Technical Site. Fighter Pen
Airfield & Technical Site. Sleeping Shelter
Airfield & Technical Site Mushroom Type Pill Box (Building 91)
Battle Headquarters (Building 90)
3ft High & Rising inside the BHQ
Airfield & Technical Site. Sleeping Shelter and Gun Post (Building 81a)
Bunk Bed Mounts inside Building 81a
Airfield & Technical Site. Private Branch Exchange (Building 78) 
Airfield & Technical Site. Control Tower for Night Fighter Stations (Building 79)
Mechanical and Electrical Plinth
Fighter Pen Stanton Shelter
Callender-Hamilton Hangar door rail
Motor Transport Repair Sheds
Airfield & Technical Site. Sub Station
Airfield & Technical Site. Sub Station Transformer
Glenn Miller Memorial