WWII air raid shelter discovered under café

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Chairs That Survived Inside The Shelter Dating Back To The 1940s. Pic © Sol Murphy JMU Journalism

An air raid shelter used during the Second World War has been uncovered in St Helens.

Momo’s, a community café located on Westfield Street opposite the town’s iconic Beecham’s building, is the site of the shelter, which connects the two buildings through a series of tunnels located below the eatery.

The shelter was used by the residents of St Helens as one of the central safe points in the area during World War II.

Owner Claire Rigby was hesitant at first about opening the shelter and waited 12 months to finally peak inside.

She told JMU Journalism: “The landlord told us about the shelter when we were doing the place up he said ‘behind that wall is the air raid shelter’. I’ve got a friend who’s a very curious guy and it’s taken him from June last year to last month to finally persuade me to put a hole in the wall and put our heads through.

“I wouldn’t go in at first; I was too scared of it. I was terrified to open it up, because with my luck in the past I was worried the whole building would collapse. I was really reluctant and it’s taken all this time for my friends to persuade me to knock that hole through, and now we’re in.”

YouTube: Sol Murphy

With the help of her customers, the 39-year-old history enthusiast was able to discover and date relics back to as early as 1915.

She said: “We have a lot of older customers because we do history talks here; I do a lot of lectures on the history of St Helens. I’ve got a lot of followers who date things quickly whenever I post something historical.

“We’ve had people come forward who’ve said they worked at the Beecham’s factory in the 1940s and said they sat on the same chairs. That’s how we were able to date the chair because people recognised it.

“We found a lightbulb that’s dated 1915, old bottles of bleach and a chair from the 1940s where some people have come forward and said ‘yes, they’re the chairs we sat on.’”

Once cleared and funded, Ms Rigby hopes to eventually open it up as a museum where schoolchildren can enjoy history lessons inside a real air raid shelter.

About Sol Murphy, JMU Journalism