The city’s only public air raid shelter is opening this weekend as part of the Fringe.

Downs Junior School, in Ditchling Road, Brighton, is the only school in the south of England, and one of only two in the UK, with an underground air raid shelter museum open to the public.

Built by hand in the hot summer of 1939, the shelter is a series of interconnecting tunnels made from pre-cast concrete panels approximately three metres below the playground.

With bench seating along each corridor, the shelter had a capacity for 300 pupils and staff during the day and was used by the local community at night.

The conditions were cramped, dark and damp.

The Argus: The air raid shelter is a network of tunnelsThe air raid shelter is a network of tunnels (Image: The Argus)

After the war the shelter was sealed up and forgotten for nearly 30 years until it was rediscovered during a drain inspection in 1983.

A lack of resources meant that the shelter was not safe to open to the public so it lay dormant until 2012.

Since 2012, the shelter has been restored by a team of volunteers led by Michael Button, premises manager at Downs Junior School.

Mr Button, from Brighton, talked about his motivation to restore the shelter.


“For me it’s about a sense of duty. From his time in the police and the Royal British Legion, my dad Dudley instilled in me a sense of service and respect for what has gone before,” said Mr Button.

“I am carrying on the tradition started by my dad who restored the air raid shelter at Whitehawk Primary School.”

The Argus: Dudley Button at a Remembrance service in 2016Dudley Button at a Remembrance service in 2016 (Image: Take Shelter)

Mr Button’s wife, Claire said: “He does it to make his dad feel proud of him and for us as a family to feel proud of him, which we are, in buckets.” 

“This is my opportunity to bring history to life,” said Mr Button.

“To walk in the footsteps of the war generation and not just sit in a large room, full of artefacts. It gives children the chance to sit on the benches that their grandparents would have sat on, to experience life in the shelters as a school child, not knowing what was going on above.” 

The Argus: Michael Button and his family at the steps of the air raid shelterMichael Button and his family at the steps of the air raid shelter (Image: Take Shelter)

It is free to visit the Take Shelter museum, view the children’s WW2 inspired art display, visit the vintage fair and listen to the music and have a dance.

Visitors can also get a cuppa, piece of cake or sandwich at Mrs Button’s Tea Room, a glass of wine or beer at the Spitfire Bar or browse the Take Shelter gift shop and raffle with top prizes from The Grand, Brighton Racecourse and Wakehurst.

  • Standard tickets for shelter tours are £8, and tickets are £5 for concessions. Tickets can be booked here:
  • Tickets are also available on the door for tours on the hour from midday.