Hidden world underneath Merseyside cafe is a ‘step back in time’

A fascinating piece of WW2 history was uncovered underneath a Merseyside cafe.

The air raid shelter was found at Momo’s cafe in St Helens earlier this year by owner Claire Rigby.

Spanning across three huge rooms under the community cafe on Westfield Street, the bunker was converted from a Beecham’s storeroom for use in the Second world War.

It sadly had to be bricked up by the landlord 25 years ago due to extensive flood water.

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But after exploring the shelter with a group of friends, history lover Claire is determined to bring it back to life.

She told the ECHO: “We drilled a hole at the bottom of the wall and the hole that we took out was just big enough for a person to get through.

“It’s been draining since January because there’s an old river that used to run right by us.

“Where I am was the original Beecham’s building. Thomas Beecham’s first property was on Westfield Street before they built the big Beecham’s over the road.

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“This building was used as storage.”

The air raid shelter was converted from a Beecham's store room for use in WW2

Have you uncovered something similar where you live? Email charlotte.hadfield@reachplc.com or let us know in the comments below.

Claire said heading down into the air raid shelter was “terrifying” due to it being pitch black and full of water.

But once the group headed down there in protective gear and a pair of wellies, they were fascinated by what they found.

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Claire said: "All the original light fittings are still there, it’s just bizarre. It’s like going back in time.

“I found light bulb that’s been dated 1915 and it’s still immaculate.

“We also found an old chair and an elderly lady who used to work here in the 1940s said 'that’s the chair we used to sit on when we were at Beecham’s.’

“A few people have come forward and said they remember how in the 60s it used to be covered in tin and they used to jump all over it."

Claire hopes to renovate the space and bring it back to what it once was.

She said: “I’d love to turn it back into an original war bunker so that schools can come and sit in the bunker and have talks about the war and do their work.”

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Although the renovation is unlikely to take place any time in the near future, Claire said hopes that it will also become a space for the cafe’s different history groups.

Claire said: “During lockdown there’s been so many people shielding who haven’t been able to go out. I’ve been going out and photographing old buildings and uploading them to document the lost history of St Helens.”

Claire has already planned a number of different history events in St Helens next year, including a Victorian festival.

She hopes that one day the bunker will become a place people can visit to learn more about the history of St Helens.

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