Detail from a public health poster found during a built heritage survey at Drapers' Hall in Coventry (c) MOLA

Wartime public health posters found in Drapers’ Hall basement give insight into its air raid shelter past

Lauren Wilson

Our historic building recording of Drapers’ Hall ahead of its transformation into a new music venue by Historic Coventry Trust with support from The Prince’s Foundation has been revealing the social history of the urban centre of Coventry during the Blitz. In this blog, Historic Building Officer Lauren Wilson explores what has been revealed about how the basement provided shelter for local people during the Second World War…

As part of our historic building recording at the Grade II* Listed Drapers’ Hall in Coventry we have been investigating the conversion and reuse of the basement as an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) shelter during the Second World War. The two shelters would have housed 200 people collectively in a series of connecting rooms.

Plans of the conversion logged in the Coventry Archives dating from 1939 document plans to build defensive ‘blast walls’ to protect the entrances and insert toilets for people sheltering in the basement to use. It is difficult to ascertain whether the full proposed plan of the shelter was enacted with only a few pieces of physical evidence, but blast walls appear to have been removed while some wall strengthening measures remain, and there is no evidence of the inserted toilets. However, two posters found during the built heritage survey provide a clear and strong message that ARP was a significant part of the building’s history.

In the second shelter, a poster reminds inhabitants of the small steps they can take to keep themselves, and others, in good health, through a series of cartoon images and rhyming verse. These tips include airing your bedding, washing regularly, cleaning your teeth, not wearing your coat to bed, and catching coughs and sneezes with tissues. This gives us an idea of the social conventions the government were trying to promote at the time, and the types of concerns that were arising from the conditions the populace were living under.

Another poster, published by the Medical Officer of Health for Coventry, promotes getting your children inoculated with clinics at the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital, City Isolation Hospital in Whitley (named Whitley Infectious Diseases Hospital post-1934), and the Central School Clinic on Gulson Road. The change of name of one of these clinics dates the poster to pre-1934, meaning most likely it was a general health board poster still in circulation by 1939 and included for public information when the basement was converted to an ARP shelter.

Explore the details of the public health poster below:

  • From the experts
  • Post-medieval
  • Built heritage

Related blogs