If we told you that we found an air raid siren in a Lancashire primary school, you probably wouldn't be that surprised. But what if we told you that the school was built in 1967? Furthermore, what if we said that the same school had "air raid shelters" in three of its classrooms until just six years ago?
This is not the sort of thing you expect to find in a Primary School, but 1967 was in the middle of the Cold War (just 5 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis), the Vietnam War was in full swing and China were detonating nuclear devices - keen to become the fifth nuclear power. And so someone decided that Holcombe Brook Primary School in Bury should be ready for any future hostilities that may come closer to home. After all, we were all practicing "duck & cover" under the school desks in case the bomb ever came.....
Just how Lancashire At War came to find this Cold War relic in 2017 was a matter of chance. Talking with the long serving Caretaker, Bill Faulder, about upcoming electrical work on the school, he mentioned an issue with the "Air Raid Siren". Showing us the Siren Switch Panel (TOP RIGHT) he expained that the air raid siren itself (the bit that makes the wailing sound) had been taken off the roof, above where the panel still sat, years ago. It was a stroke of luck for us, as the electrical work was due to take place in a few days time and the panel was to be removed. So we had a short window of time to record it in situ.
The siren was on the roof at one end of the school building ABOVE, nearest the main road (Longsight Road, Bury) with the Siren Switch Panel almost directly below on the inside of the nearest wall to the main road, adjacent to the electrical input cables and mains electricity panels. No doubt the siren was there to alert the whole community - the new 1960's estates built across the road from the primary school.
The "air raid shelters" were taken down six years ago. The Headteacher, Gill Evans, showed us where they had been. They were in the two classrooms either side of the main entrance with a third in an adjacent classroom. All three were the nearest classrooms to the main road. They were each built against one wall of the classroom and were only about five foot high ("An adult could not stand up in one" and they "could have only seated about ten people each" Gill confirmed). She described them as "very roughly built, as if concrete had been poured in to a mould" and "very strongly made." Surprisingly, they were not in the corner of the room, but almost central to it - meaning they were often in the way during lessons. They were used for storage in recent years before demolition.
When was the Air Raid Siren installed and how long was it used for?
We think the main air raid panel was put in place in 1967 for the following reasons:
The school was built in 1967
The wall behind the panel (when removed) is unpainted bare brick, while the rest of the room's bricks are painted white. So it was certainly in place at an early stage of the building's existence. (NOTE: Remote panel also has bare brick behind it).
The fuses in the panel date between 1967 and 1975 (each is marked with a year of manufacture) , so we can therefore presume that period of use.
The remote control panel for the siren (SEE PHOTO RIGHT) was installed so that the siren could be sounded remotely - by whoever was in charge of Civil Defence.
Our thanks to Steve Scanlon who helped with background information for this page and told us the following about the remote control panel: "From the age of the panel and the mounting of the Kit 448A, it must originally been fitted with a WB600 receiver before being replaced by a WB1400 Signalling Receiver during the eighties." So that information takes its use into a third decade.
See Steve's excellent site: http://www.ringbell.co.uk/
And also one of Steve's pages about siren switch panels like ours: http://www.ringbell.co.uk/ukwmo/Page216.htm
ABOVE: The Mains Power Distribution Unit Room in August 2017. Sadly, the Cold War Air Raid Siren Panel has now been removed after 50 years. We will know to get worried if a new one is installed!
ABOVE: The panel clearly states "Air Raid Siren".
BELOW: one of the clasrooms today and a rough indication of where the shelter stood.
ABOVE: The Remote Control Panel
This photo (LEFT) of part of the Siren Switch Panel says so much about the Cold War in 1967.
It shows the two buttons that the operator would have to press in the event of an attack. The instructions state: "Press continuously to sound the siren signal required"
You then have the choice of "ALERT - Red" and "RAIDERS PASSED - White"
This seems to hark back to the Second World War when the threat was from aircraft above dropping conventional bombs. Indeed the first of these switch panels recorded dated from WW2 (ours was its replacement). The idea that somebody stood and pressed the red button for a minute to alert the public and then pressed the white button afterwards as an "all clear" seems absurd now with our knowledge of what weapons would have been involved back then.
The Photo (LEFT) is from inside the panel. It shows the spare fuses, all of which have their dates of manufacture stamped on them and in the centre is the wiring diagram for the unit.
We have been searching for old photographs of the school which may show the air raid siren still standing on the school's roof. We haven't found anything yet. But this year marks the school's 50th anniversary and so it is a good time for locals and ex-pupils to dig out their old photos as part of the celebrations. While doing so, if you discover an old photo of the air raid siren or the shelters in the classrooms, PLEASE get in touch with us via our Contact Page. Many thanks.
BELOW are two photographs of Holcombe Brook Primary School kindly supplied by the Ramsbottom Heritage Society. The date is unknown - but we estimate the very early 1990s. Unfortunately, the air raid siren on the roof is not shown.
Our sincere thanks to Ramsbottom Heritage Society for allowing the use of their photos.
Their excellent website is: www.ramsbottomheritage.org.uk
We would like to thank the current teacher of Year 2, Jane Walsh, who found this photo (LEFT) of one of the shelters. It can be seen in the middle of the photo towards the top. "Reading Corner" is written on one wall.
Despite our interviewees referring to them as "air raid shelters", we believe they were more likely to be Blast Shelters. What is the difference, you ask? During WW2 most shelters were made to withstand a direct hit or at least a bomb landing nearby during an air raid. By the Cold War, the number and size of the bomb threat had changed. Shelters would be more commonly used to escape the initial blast of a huge bomb which could affect an area several miles in diameter. We think these were for that purpose - to shelter people from the initial blast, its destructive wind and blinding light.
We found some old aerial photos of the school in the school's loft. Both clearly show the air raid siren on the roof in a valley - hard to spot by passers by! It looks to us like one of the WW2 sirens that were re-used in the Cold War but we would welcome any feedback.
The photos are undated. Perhaps someone can tell the age based on the cars? The quality of the photos is poor due to their age. The second photo (and its close up) are definitely later.