Location: Ouse Street
This Victoria Tunnel entrance was built through the retaining garden wall of 14 Ouse Street. It has survived because it was the only entrance built on private land. At the end of the war, most of the shelter fittings were removed and nearly all the other entrances were filled in.
In 1939 people prepared for war. People were instructed to practise “”Air Raid Precautions”” and protect themselves from bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe. In Newcastle the city engineer developed plans to convert the Victoria Tunnel into a communal shelter for 9,000 people.
It cost £37,000 to convert the Tunnel into an air raid shelter, this against a budget of £9,000. It was cleaned of coal dust and in some parts white washed. Several concrete blast wall were added to stop potential bomb debris flying along the Tunnnel. The Crawhill Rd entrance was the main problem and reason for it going over budget.
Electric lighting was fitted and a new concrete floor was laid. Wooden benches and about 500 beds were installed along the walls, and chemical toilets enclosed in canvas cubicles were built near entrances.
Seven new entrances were completed Claremont road, Hancock Museum, St Thomas Churchyard, Ridley Place, Shieldfield Green, Crawhill Road and Ouse Street.
At Ouse Street you could walk straight into the Tunnel, but other access points looked like subway entrances and involved walking down a steep corridor until you reached the Tunnel.
There is no doubt that the Tunnel was a dark, damp and uncomfortable place to shelter. Many people were afraid to use it. Those that did remember sitting with their families and neighbours, exchanging gossip and often singing songs while waiting nervously for the ‘All Clear’ from up above. An inspector visited the Tunnel in 1941 and reported that the attitude was ‘better damp than dead’. He was concerned about the conditions but concluded that ‘as this was a mining district, the persons who shelter in the Tunnel are possibly better fitted constitutionally to resist underground and damp conditions than those in the south’.
At the end of the war most of the fitting were removed and all of the entrances except Ouse Street were closed. This entrance had been built on private land, the garden of number 14 Ouse Street. Luckily it was left open and it is now possible to step into the Victoria Tunnel and explore Newcastle’s hidden heritage.”
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