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Former public air raid shelter and gas decontamination centre, Westbourne Library, Ipswich

A Grade II Listed Building in Castle Hill, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.0695 / 52°4'10"N

Longitude: 1.1417 / 1°8'30"E

OS Eastings: 615422

OS Northings: 245889

OS Grid: TM154458

Mapcode National: GBR TMP.7GF

Mapcode Global: VHLBS.Q7YW

Entry Name: Former public air raid shelter and gas decontamination centre, Westbourne Library, Ipswich

Listing Date: 8 November 2012

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1408534

Location: Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1

County: Suffolk

District: Ipswich

Electoral Ward/Division: Castle Hill

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Ipswich

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Whitton St Mary

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich

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Former air raid shelter and gas decontamination centre, now known as Westbourne Library, built 1942 to the designs of the Borough Engineer E. McLauchlan and constructed by the Ministry of War.


MATERIALS: the building was designed to be blast proof, and later gas proof, and is constructed of reinforced concrete with a flat concrete roof.

EXTERIOR: the building is L-shaped in plan, and of a single storey with a tower over the main entrance, and eaves-height, metal-framed, Crittal windows, produced in Witham in Essex, running the length of the two wings. The windows in the first floor of the tower are replacements. The line of the windows is emphasised by horizontal channelled rustication and recessed eaves, a detailing which is designed to mirror the facade of the adjacent Broomhill Lido (listed at Grade II) and give the structure a Moderne facade. Originally, there was a door to the north of the main entrance but this has been blocked and the windows in the north elevation have been reconfigured.

INTERIOR: internally, public air raid shelters had few distinguishing features. Gas decontamination centres, however, had a distinctive arrangement comprising an air lock, undressing area, eye douce and showers, drying rooms and dressing rooms. Metal columns running centrally through Westbourne library, in the wing facing Sherrington Road, indicate a central division possibly dividing civilian and military personnel decontamination areas (Lowry, B.(ed) 1995). What is now the fire escape in the south elevation of this block was the door to the airlock and the beginning of the decontamination process. Other internal partitions have been removed and the rear wing has no evidence of having had subdivisions. In the rear wing three sky lights have been cut through the roof to add light to the library.


The Air Raid Precaution Act of 1937 presented a statutory duty on local authorities to provide shelter and anti-gas precautions for their community. The policy allowed for protection by personal gas masks and domestic air raid shelters, most commonly Anderson shelters. Large bomb-proof underground air raid shelters of the trench variety or single-storey surface shelters were constructed to provide refuge for school children, those living in narrow terrace housing, workers, or those caught away from home.

In addition to shelters, local government were also responsible for siren warnings, first aid and rescue services, firefighting, gas decontamination and enforcement of blackout regulations by ARP wardens and civil police. These provisions were served either by adapted or purpose-built structures. Fire, first aid, ambulance and rescue services used a variety of council and requisitioned civilian buildings.

The former air raid shelter and gas decontamination centre, now Westbourne Library, was designed by the Borough Engineer E. McLauchlan and constructed by the Ministry of War in 1942. Initially it was used as a public air raid shelter but was redesignated in 1943 as an Air Raid Precaution (ARP) decontamination unit for north-west Ipswich.

Between 1946 and 1947 it was converted to a public library, which opened its doors on the 31 January 1948 and has continued as such to the present day. It is believed that the tower was once used as a look out, possibly when it was a public air raid shelter. However gas decontamination centres typically had a water tank in a tower to serve the showers, eye douche and boiler room. The tower is now used by the library for storage. The windows in the north elevation have been reconfigured, perhaps at the time of the library conversion.

E. McLauchlan also designed the neighbouring building to the south-west, Broomhill Lido, an open-air lido which was completed in 1938 and is now listed at Grade II. The air raid shelter was designed to replicate and compliment the Lido in a simple Moderne style.

Reasons for Listing

Westbourne Library, former civilian air raid shelter and gas decontamination centre is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural: a rare survival of a civilian gas decontamination centre where the flow of the decontamination process can be read in the structure.
* Design detail: the embellishment in the form of horizontal channelled rustication and recessed eaves gives the structure a Moderne facade. Such decorative detailing is very unusual on a Second World War functional building.
* Historical Interest: as a tangible reminder of the dangers faced by Ipswich's civilian population during the Second World War.
* Group value: the relationship between the former gas decontamination centre and the adjacent Broomhill lido holds important group value; the style of the decontamination centre was designed to mirror the facade of the adjacent Broomhill Lido (listed at Grade II), and both were designed by Borough Engineer E. McLauchlan.

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