What was an 'Anderson Shelter'

Leonard Clow

Click on an area of the picture to read more. Personal belongings Escape hatch The bolts The beds Suitcase The pit. Stirrup pump

In November 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister at the time, placed Sir John Anderson in charge of Air Raid Precautions (ARP). He immediately commissioned the engineer, William Patterson, to design a small and cheap shelter that could be erected in people's gardens. Within a few months nearly one and a half million of what became known as Anderson shelters were distributed to people living in areas expected to be bombed by the Luftwaffe.

Anderson shelters were given free to poor people. Men who earned more than £5 a week could buy one for £7. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, over 2 million families had shelters in their garden. By the time of the Blitz this had risen to two and a quarter million.

Anderson shelters were designed to accommodate up to six people. The main principle of protection was based on curved and straight galvanised corrugated steel panels. Six curved panels were bolted together at the top, so forming the main body of the shelter, three straight sheets on either side, and two more straight panels were fixed to each end, one containing the door—a total of fourteen panels. A small drainage sump was often incorporated in the floor to collect rainwater seeping into the shelter.

The shelters were 6 ft high, 4 ft wide, and 6 ft long. They were buried 3 ft deep in the soil and then covered with a minimum of 15 in of soil above the roof. The earth banks could be planted with vegetables and flowers, that at times could be quite an appealing sight and in this way would become the subject of competitions of the best-planted shelter among householders in the neighbourhood. The internal fitting out of the shelter was left to the owner and so there were wide variations in comfort.

Anderson shelters were dark and damp and people were reluctant to use them at night. In low-lying areas they tended to flood and sleeping was difficult as they did not keep out the sound of the bombings. Another problem was that the majority of people living in industrial areas did not have gardens where they could erect their shelters.

Because of the large number made and their robustness, many Anderson shelters still survive. Many were dug up after the war and converted into storage sheds for use in gardens and allotments. Do YOU have one in your garden? If so, I'd love to hear from you.


The cut away drawing of the Anderson shelter above was drawn by Leonard Clow of Biggin Hill. Leonard use to be illustrator to the Daily Express and drew this in 1980 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the blitz. Many thanks goes to Leonard for letting me use this wonderful picture.


Click on areas around the picture above to read more about the shelters. If you cannot see the areas to click then use the links below:

The bolts

The beds

Stirrup pump

The pit

Personal belongings


Escape hatch