During the First World War local authorities were unprepared for air raids on civilian targets. Enfield Urban District Council did not provide air raid shelters instead advising people to stay in their homes. Southgate set aside parts of Bowes Road and Winchmore Hill schools as shelters. Edmonton allowed people to shelter in the Town Hall and later in the railway arches on Bridge Road. Some people constructed their own shelters in their back gardens.
With the advent of the Second World War local authorities were much more aware of the danger to the civilian population from air raids. Preparations began at the time of the Munich Crisis in 1938. Trenches were dug for people caught in the open to shelter in.
People used many existing structures as shelters: the Underground, caves, basements and railway arches. Companies were legally required to provide shelters for their staff. In January 1939 a programme of shelter building began. The open trenches dug at the time of the Munich Crisis were lined and covered over with concrete or steel. The standard varied greatly. Some were dirty, smelly and prone to flooding. One of the better ones was beneath the car park of the Regal cinema in Edmonton.
For private shelters there were two main types. The Anderson shelter was like a miniature Nissen hut made of corrugated steel and sunk three feet in to the ground in the back garden and covered in earth. Two and a quarter million Anderson shelters were provided by the government before the blitz. They were free to people earning less than £350 a year. They were prone to flooding and cramped but could withstand anything but a direct hit. By October 1939 Enfield had delivered 4719 Anderson Shelters to local residents.
For those who didn’t have a garden there was the Morrison shelter. This was a steel framed box which could be used as a table during the day. Although this provided protection from falling rubble and flying glass during the Blitz it was no use against the V1s and V2s later in the war.
At the outbreak of War it was assumed that a gas attack was almost inevitable. Local authorities had to make provision for dealing with mass casualties. The plan below was intended for a church in Southgate. The centre of the plan shows provision for 66 bodies and there is a designated bay for dealing with contaminated bodies. Fortunately the expected gas attack never happened and although there were deaths not in the numbers anticipated.