I am currently undertaking a project to video document as much Second World War heritage in the New Forest area as possible. As part of this, the plan is to visit as many air raid shelters as possible, recording them for future generations before they all become demolished, vandalized, or ruined beyond recognition.
With my son as my trusty sidekick, we decided to visit a large public air raid shelter in Ashurst after he finished school this week. You can see a full video of our exploration below, followed by photos which show the interior of the air raid shelter in better detail.
Exploring the Ashurst air raid shelter
Located near Ashurst train station and The New Forest pub, I am astonished I have never seen this air raid shelter before. I’ve probably been to that pub restaurant about 10 times in the last few years with my family – it’s right next to the car park for the pub!
You can either approach the Ashurst air raid shelter from the pub car park, or by walking up the road until you see steps down into the embankment.
As soon as you are on the top steps you can see the air raid shelter from above. It’s almost been entirely taken over by nature, with brambles and ivy covering the entire flat roof.
Walking down the steps, it’s clear to see that the bomb shelter’s door has been boarded up to stop vandalism, so we decided to walk along the left-hand side first to see what we could see.
There are a couple of small slit-windows on each side of the long walls, so I managed to push my camera through, but wasn’t able to record much detail – I was worried I was going to drop the camera.
As we then walked back around past the front and turned to explore the right-hand side of the air raid shelter, we saw an opening where bricks had been taken out. It was probably large enough for me to go through to take a proper look.
I decided against entering as had my son with me, so instead lit the inside of the Ashurst air raid shelter up with my floodlight torch, letting us record and photograph the inside.
As you can see, there are long benches running either side of the air raid shelter. You can only imagine how oppressive it might have felt if it was ever used during wartime.
Is it really an air raid shelter though?
In 2013, archaeologists undertook a project to identify all New Forest WW2 relics, buildings, and other sites of interest. They identified this wartime structure as most likely being a public air raid shelter, so that’s good enough for me.
To date, this is probably the largest public bomb shelter I’ve ever seen in the New Forest if that’s the case.
If you want to see even more about what this air raid shelter looks like inside, check out this other blog post where we gain proper access. It also includes details of other air raid shelters in the Ashurst and Totton areas.
It’s crazy to think that just a few generations ago, whole neighbourhoods of people along the south coast of England might run to places like this for shelter once the air raid sirens went off. You just can’t imagine it in this day and age.
There’s so much of this WW2 heritage still standing the New Forest. You can walk past things like this every day without knowing what the history is – if you sign up to my YouTube channel though, I can hopefully make you more aware of it.
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Here are some more explores of New Forest air raid shelters we’ve completed this year.