At the start of this year we were approached by Ian Holloway, a volunteer working on the Victoria Tunnel project in Newcastle, which was used during WWII as an air raid shelter. He was researching the origin of both the Morrison, named after Herbert Morrison, the then Minster of Home Security, and Anderson shelters, which were too big for the properties in the centre of Newcastle. This lead to the Victoria Tunnel which ran under the city, built in 1842 to transport coal to the Tyne, being used as a shelter for the city’s population.

Ian believed that Professor Sir John Baker was not the inventor of the Morrison shelter, after reading in the book entitled The Last Road Race by Richard Williams, that “The Morrison Shelter, which people used during the war, was his (Alfred Moss) invention…” He had thought perhaps that Alfred Moss had worked for the Ministry of Home Security during the war. Ian was correct in his assumption, the origin of the Morrison shelter was not Baker’s invention, but that of Alfred Ethelbert Moss, Stirling’s father. The invention of what came to be known as the Morrison shelter was a result of the threat of Luftwaffe bombing raids over their home in Berkshire.

A E Moss, asides from being a very successful dentist running a large chain of practices and a racing driver, having competed at the Indianapolis 500 in 1924, was also a very talented designer. It will come as no surprise to learn that Stirling too enjoys all aspects of design.

Moss senior was fed up with having to run to their Anderson shelter in the garden every time the air raid sirens went off, which disturbed the sleep of his family at their home, named the Long White Cloud. He took inspiration from the cages used in hospitals to protect fractured limbs and fabricated a steel cage made of angle iron with sheet steel on top and side panels of stout mesh that went over beds. That way when the sirens went off his family including his children Stirling and Patricia (Pat Moss) could stay in their beds protected by their fathers design.

The design found favour with the Ministry of Supply almost immediately. Even though A E Moss patented his design, the war, as Stirling believes, made a patent unenforceable if the state required use, hence much to Stirling’s chagrin, the shelter became known as the Morrison shelter.

With the information provided by Stirling, Ian was able to refine his searches at the Patent Office and was soon in possession of patent number 544,710. The application was dated the 20th September 1940 and finally accepted as a complete specification on 24th April 1942, designated A Protective Shield for Beds and the like, submitted by A E Moss. A copy of the original patent can be seen above within the images section, which includes detailed drawings of the design.

As an aside A E Moss also designed a downwards firing rocket which was intended to hit an enemy aircraft if it snagged a barrage balloon cable. Impressive though this aggressive design was, the risk of the rocket hitting the target the barrage balloon was designed to defend, if it missed the aircraft, was deemed to high and this design stayed on the drawing board.

Victoria Tunnel – Newcastles hidden heritage

The Victoria Tunnel was built between 1839 and 1842 in order that coal could be transported as economically as possible between the colliery at Spital Tongues, Newcastle upon Tyne, to the loading staithes on the river Tyne quayside at the Ouseburn . A gravity fed single track wagon way ran through the 2.25 mile tunnel.

After 1860 the Tunnel remained essentially unused until 1938 when the city engineers converted the Tunnel into an air raid shelter to protect citizens of Newcastle and those working in and visiting the city.

Today The Ouseburn Trust Heritage Group with the blessing of the City Council take visitors into 0.5 miles of the Tunnel to explore its construction and use both as a waggonway and as an air raid shelter. In addition educational days are arranged for school children and others who are studying Victorian history, mining engineering, aspects of WWII and the social history of the Ouseburn Valley.

Our thanks to Ian Holloway for researching the patent. For further information on how to visit the Victoria Tunnel, the reason why Ian began his research into the Morrison Shelter, please click here.