Wartime Subterranean Tunnels in High Town

Deep under lower High Town is a huge but little known relic of World War 2. Protected by decades of secrecy, this welcome escape from the horrors above still exists in remarkable condition.


An example of a brick-built blast shelter at the top end of Burr Street, circa 1943. There were several of these structures in the area. They were to be demolished only about 8 years before the houses they served were themselves pulled down

Luton’s Plans for Public Protection

Long before the 3rd September 1939 declaration of war with Germany, plans were being made by the Corporation of Luton.


Widespread plans for a public shelters across town

At that time, the length of the war or the outcome were unknown. The Corporation took the protection of the public very seriously, embarking on a comprehensive programme of shelters in homes, schools, playing fields, basements & deep level public shelters. Of these deep level public tunnels, only 4 were completed. Midland Road shelter with a capacity 2600 persons would be the largest of all.

A Shelter Network for High Town

I do not know the reason for building Luton’s largest shelter in High Town but proximity to both Bute Street & MIdland Road train stations, cottage industries, factories & substantial housing must have all been factors. Early on, it seems Luton & High Town were identified as playing an important role in the war effort.

In March 1939 the original estimate for construction was £4,200 but the final cost was a staggering £19,724. Allowing for inflation, this single shelter, in today’s money cost roughly £900,000 to build. The total cost for all 4 deep level shelters was an equivalent of £3.3 million !! The planned 5th deep level shelter in Park Square is said to have been abandoned early on during construction.


Location of Tunnel Exits and Entrances

The shelter weaves left & right for a distance of 542 yards between Dudley Street, Duke Street & a former railway platform. Of the 6 entrances, oddly none were in Midland Road. The only obvious surface feature left is a bricked up archway that can still be seen from Hucklesby Way.

The Shelters Today

Early in 2019 a rare visit was made to the shelter. The tunnels are substantial, skillfully constructed from both brick & concrete. The majority of the shelter remains dirt free & dry. Long wide concrete stairs with rusty steel handrails lead down from street level, much of the electrical conduit for both the battery & 240 volt lighting remains intact.


Inside the basement shelter

Light fittings have been largely removed but some remain rusting on the floor along with thousands of other artifacts. Some of the concrete seating remains along with small alcoves cut out from the walls of the main tunnel. These alcoves would have housed a bucket and a wooden partition to separate men & women. At roughly a mid point in the tunnel is a multi level escape ladder of frightening scale along with a tap swinging from a length of rusty pipe. A tee junction leads uphill to the old train platform archway.

Here below another picture that captures the entrance to the tunnels, as they can be seen in 2019, 80 years after the beginning of World War 2, when 4 deep level shelters have been built in Luton.

Entrance to the tunnel

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