Windrush history explored at Clapham South Subterranean Shelter and launch of a new season of Hidden London tours

  • Visitors to this deep-level site with over a mile of underground passages can discover how pioneering Caribbean migrants lived on arrival to the UK 70 years ago
  • London Transport Museum talks to 92-year-old John Richards, one of the 236 Windrush residents of Clapham South Subterranean shelter
  • Londoners seeking refuge during the Second World War and visitors to the Festival of Britain temporarily made this network of tunnels their home
  • A new season of guided tours at this extraordinary location starts in August, with other secret disused stations tours already on sale

The 70th Anniversary of Windrush celebrates the pioneering generation that came to Britain from the Caribbean on 22 June 1948 on the SS Empire Windrush ship. Around 236 migrants from the merchant vessel were housed in the labyrinth of underground passages at Clapham South when they first arrived from the former British colonies.

These enterprising individuals helped to rebuild Britain after the war when there were labour shortages in housing, transport and hospital work. This site forms part of the UK’s diverse history and was also used for civilian sheltering during the Second World War and as budget hotel accommodation in the post-war years during the Festival of Britain in 1951.


The lack of housing after the Second World War meant that accommodation for British citizens from the Caribbean was in short supply. When the authorities became aware that over 200 migrants had nowhere to stay, Clapham South was used as a short-term residential base for them until they could find their own homes. Within four weeks of arriving all the Windrush migrants had moved out of the site.


Daily life in this windowless underworld was basic, cramped and noisy. Residents slept in bunk beds as Tube trains rattled overhead.


London Transport Museum, in partnership with the Windrush Foundation, invited Mr John Richards, 92, to return to the Clapham South Subterranean shelter he had lived in for three weeks when he first arrived in London after the SS Empire Windrush ship had docked at Tilbury.



Mr Richards, pictured above right, recounted his experiences to Chris Nix and Siddy Holloway from London Transport Museum’s Hidden London team when he visited his first ‘home’ in the UK at the end of May 2018, for the first time in 70 years.



“The trains that ran overhead in the morning woke me up. There were beds all around with crisp white sheets. They had a tea cart at the station… pie in the evening” said, Mr Richards.


After leaving the Clapham South shelter, Mr Richards moved to a hostel and then found work at British Rail.


“I survived, because friends know friends. It was hard but in the long run you find a way” said Mr Richards.


Chris Nix, Assistant Director, Collections and Engagement at London Transport Museum, said: “It was a real honour to meet Mr Richards. He is now 92 and was able to share some fascinating insights into what life was like for Caribbean people back in 1948 when they first arrived in London and lived in this former Second World War bomb shelter. I am looking forward to communicating these precious moments of history with people on our Clapham South Hidden London tours”.




The image above, right, shows the Ministry of Labour and National Service Office on site at Clapham South Subterranean shelter on 23 June 1948, interviewing the new arrivals and helping them find work.


Although this enthusiastic workforce staying at the shelter did not come to the UK with a job at London Transport already organised, some of these newcomers did go on to find employment at London Transport. In fact a great number of Caribbean people were invited by London Transport to come and work on London’s public transport system, when it began a big recruitment drive in the Caribbean in February 1956.


Tickets are now on sale for tours starting on 11 August and run on Wednesdays to Sundays. Tickets for adults cost £38.50 and concessions are £33.50 (+ £1.50 booking fee per transaction). Tours finish on 16 September 2018.


London Transport Museum is an educational and heritage preservation charity and works closely with schools and local communities in London. Its purpose is to conserve and explain the history of London’s transport, to offer people an understanding of Capital’s past development and to engage them in the debate about its future.


The ticket price includes a half-price* one day pass to London Transport Museum which must be used within one month of the event date, and a 10% discount on all merchandise at London Transport Museum shop, both online and in store, within one month of your Hidden London event date. To book a ticket and for further information please email or call 0207 565 7298.


Subscribe to London Transport Museum’s newsletter to be one of the first to hear about future Hidden London tours – including Down Street: Churchill’s secret station. Go to  for more information about Charing Cross station, Euston disused station, 55 Broadway: London’s first Skyscraper and Highgate Wilderness Walkabout tours.


Archive images of Clapham South shelter with new Caribbean arrivals in 1948, as well as images of 92-year-old Mr John Richards’s visit to the shelter in May 2018 and other images of Clapham South shelter can be downloaded here

Images are copyright London Transport Museum unless captioned that they are copyright TopFoto.