Woman discovers preserved WWII air raid shelter hidden in Edinburgh tenement

For decades it lay concealed under a mountain of discarded carpets, paint pots and other household junk.

Edinburgh homeowner Mia Gray was stunned to discover that the old Victorian washroom beneath her Goldenacre tenement had been used as an air raid shelter during the Second World War.

The mum-of-two, who moved into her property around four years ago, says the room had lain forgotten about until her neighbour organised a clear out.

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Only then did the former life of the storage room – which boasts vintage bunk beds, wartime signage and a reinforced roof - begin to come to light.

Health worker Mrs Gray, 33, said: “When we moved in we were told there was an old washroom down in the basement, but you couldn’t get in because it was so full of stuff.

"It wasn’t until my neighbour Liz moved in that she organised for it to be cleared out. Once all the rubbish had gone she found out that it had been an air raid shelter, with triple bunk beds, a little stove, all these signs, and a reinforced roof.

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"I just thought it was amazing to see it, a real piece of social history, but I didn’t have any idea whether it was a common thing. I’d lived in tenements before that hadn’t had the basement area, so I wasn’t sure if this was an unusual find.”

Goldenacre residents Mia Gray and Liz Mowbray found an original Victorian washroom which was later converted to an air raid shelter in the Second World War.

While Edinburgh was not a prime target, the Luftwaffe conducted 18 bombing raids on the capital, claiming 20 lives in the early part of the Second World War.

Air raid shelters were commonplace in the city, but many of these were temporary structures, located in gardens and in internal courtyards.

Liz Mowbray moved into the tenement in 2018, and was responsible for organising the clearing out of the storage room that led to the discovery of the air raid shelter.

She says the next step is to make contact with museums and conservation experts to see if they would be interested in taking a look at the unusual find.

Wooden bunk beds occupy the space which boasts a reinforced roof.

She explained: “I thought it was a genuine fire hazard, so I started to ask if others in the stair would mind if I organised the clear out.

"The dust down there was just awful. I couldn’t even breathe down there when I was trying to sweep it out, it was just disgusting.

“Originally it was a washroom and it still has items such as a mangle and basins, which is fascinating in itself, but during the Second World War they'd turned it into this air raid shelter.

“I am in the middle of selling my flat and the surveyor who was doing the home report encouraged me to get a museum to come down and take a look at the shelter.”

Mia and Liz say they are stunned at what they have uncovered.

Over the weekend, Mia Gray posted photos of the shelter on social media in a bid to find out further information.

She said: “I wondered if anyone maybe had some information and posted about it the Edinburgh Gossip Girls group on Facebook, thinking someone would know something.

"The response was crazy, my phone just went non-stop with notifications. Lots of people seem to be very interested in it. One or two people said their tenement still had the old washroom, but nothing like this.”

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A number of vintage items were found in the old washroom, including a stove, bunk beds and wartime signage.
An old mangle - one of the many items in the room dating from its use as a washroom.
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