In reporting a proposal to demolish the old Station Street air-raid shelter, you say it is unknown who may have used it (Free Press, November 8). It was built as a public shelter for use ‘as required’, similar to another built on the same lines in Westlode Street, roughly opposite the present police station.
The current Chinese restaurant site was in those days occupied by the Regent Cinema. Between the cinema and the first of the Station Street shops, was a high advertising hoarding, running in a curve along the edge of the pavement and enclosing the piece of ground where the shelter was erected. An unlocked door in the hoarding gave access to that space and to the shelter. The shelter was not therefore in full view from the street, but its presence was well known.
I don’t know if it was ever used for its primary purpose – i.e a quick refuge from flying debris in the event of a raid – but it, like others similar, was frequently visited by schoolboys for their own mischievous purposes. I have more than a suspicion that it was also used as a resort for loving couples wishing for a little private time for themselves.
The frontage of the Regent Cinema was an ornament to the Sheep Market, from which an upward sweep of steps led to the foyer. At the head of the steps, or sometimes in the foyer, you could see the imposingly uniformed figure of commissionaire ‘Sarge’ Lorraine, who also doubled as PT (physical training) instructor at the Grammar School. The cinema auditorium was noted for its excellent acoustic qualities, but for children it was the place you went on Saturday afternoons to revel in cowboy films with Ken Maynard, or comedy with The Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy, or science fiction with Flash Gordon, or even Tarzan with Johnny ‘Wheeze-Muller’.
Before the films you could look forward to a sing-song and perhaps some magic tricks from Professor Nomis. Before even that, there was just the joy of assembling as a crowd, with plenty of friendly exchange as well as teasing, and the throwing down of paper missiles and aeroplanes if you were in the front row of the balcony seats.
In some of the balcony rows, were ‘love’ seats – double seats without an interfering arm-rest between. So accommodating for grown-up young couples on their evenings, and perhaps a preliminary to an inspection tour of the air-raid shelter afterwards.
The shop to the west of the shelter was The Typewriter Agency, run by Mr and Mrs Mason Smith. Among other things, they were the first local stockists of the newly available ball-point pens, trade-named ‘Biro’. They cost, in 1947, 37 shillings and sixpence – nearly £2 – £50 or £60 in 2011 money. In the record cold winter of 1947, a warm-up under your armpit was sometimes necessary to get the pen started before use.
So, the old shelter evokes memories. I’d be interested to know what is revealed when the bricked-up doorway is opened again.