The team of 26 volunteers, led by expert archaeologist Graham Keevil, discovered the air-raid shelter in front of the Queen’s House during a week-long dig to find out more about the important role Greenwich Park played during the war.
Most of the lower ground in front of the National Maritime Museum was given over to Dig for Victory allotments during the war, and experts knew there were three air-raid shelters in the park, capable of holding around 500 people.
The location of the shelters was visible on several aerial photographs, and even from ground level in very dry weather. But it was believed that the shelters had been demolished after the war, and that the marks were simply from the backfilled trenches.
After carefully excavating the earth, volunteers uncovered the prefabricated concrete walls, posts and ceiling beams of the main shelter, revealing the structure to be in almost pristine condition. All that was missing was the roof, which is believed to have been removed so that the long concrete-lined trenches could be backfilled after they were no longer needed.
Graham Keevill, Greenwich Park’s archaeologist, said: “The dedication and determination of our great team of local volunteers was brilliant, and all credit to them for learning the skills needed to be an archaeologist so quickly.
“Best of all, they had the amazing experience of finding the main air-raid shelter. It was incredible to see how well-preserved everything was - and to be the first people to see inside it for 70 years!
“The discovery is extremely important, not only locally but also nationally, as so many relics of the war have been lost since 1945. It has been exciting and a privilege for us all to reveal the shelter. But everyone’s favourite find was made almost at the end of our last day: a lead toy soldier, probably from the Second World War, was found in the air-raid shelter. We can’t help but wonder who lost it.”
The team also found several prehistoric flint tools, a few pieces of Roman pottery, and a larger amount of medieval pottery.
Helen Wallis, Greenwich Park’s Partnerships and Community Engagement Officer, said: “We’ve worked with a dedicated team of local volunteers and in just one week we’ve uncovered this incredible heritage – we can only imagine what other stories from the past are hidden, waiting to be explored. We’re partnering with experts and heritage organisations to map out the history of Greenwich Park, both underground and over land, working closely with the community to discover the untold stories of their local park”.
The community dig supports The Royal Parks’ bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for a multi-million-pound proposal called “Greenwich Park Revealed”. One of the aims of the project is to uncover the park’s hidden history and encourage people to explore lesser-known attractions in the park.