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Soho bomb shelter used in WWII could be set to host new London restaurant

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The trend for subterranean bars and restaurants has just heated up with the emergence of a unique space in the heart of London's West End. 

A one-time bomb shelter underneath Soho Square has gone on sale for £175,000, according to a report in the Evening Standard

The 3,200 sq ft brick and concrete bunker just off Oxford Street is described as a "remarkable" venue by Westminster Council, which is offering a long lease on the property via commercial agents GVA.

During the Second World War of 1939-45, the cast iron railings around Soho Square were taken down for use in armament factories and extensive air raid bunkers were dug beneath the surface of the gardens to provide shelter to Londoners during the Blitz. 

The shelters remain in place to this day, underlying much of the grass, flower beds and terraced areas that can be seen above ground. 

Soho Square

Above ground at Soho Square gardens

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The air raid shelter at Soho Square (photo: Evening Standard)

The space on offer (above) is unchanged since the days of the war and its raw, dilapidated state will present a significant challenge to any vendors. But as a rare and original piece of London's history, its potential is clear, and it has already attracted interest from restaurant groups.  

"The restaurant market in central London is so hot at the moment that anything new and interesting is going to be well received," David Hooper of agents GNA told the Standard. "It’s going to need a couple of million spent on a fit out but people don’t seem to be put off by that. The floor to ceiling height is incredibly good."

Ad details seen by the newspaper described the property as a "Soho Bunker" and "an opportunity for a suitable use to take an interesting space... and create a real destination."

Several gym owners and music company owners have also expressed an interest in the space, but it is thought unlikely that the bunker will be given the green light to be turned into a speakeasy-style underground bar.

"With its unusual location and unique history, we will ensure a suitable use for the Soho Square site. After all, it isn’t every day an old World War Two bunker comes on the market," said Guy Slocombe, Westminster City Council’s Head of Investment.

Soho was the target of repeated air attacks

Soho's Old Compton Street after an air raid in 1944

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Crowds shelter in an underground station in London, 1943

The Soho Square shelter housed around 200 people at a time during the war, with an emergency fire escape running through to the Grade II listed mock-Tudor gardener’s cottage at the square's centre.

Londoners also famously sheltered in tube stations during the Blitz, with deep-level space housing around 8,000 people at eight venues - Belsize Park, Camden Town, Goodge Street, Chancery Lane, Stockwell, Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South.

Today, most of these shelters are used as document and data storage facilities for companies, although the Clapham North site - which remained empty - was last year converted into a 2.5 acre subterranean garden for growing exotic herbs and vegetables in. 

From abandoned tube stations to catacombs, London has a wealth of hidden underground space that has been put to creative use by enterprising individuals in recent years. The tunnels running underneath Waterloo station have been used as a performance space by the Old Vic theatre, while an abandoned tube carriage was converted into a pop-up supper club. The Factory House is another subterranean bar and restaurant, set in London’s iconic Leadenhall Market.

As the race for evermore innovative dining concepts and venues continue, we can't wait to see what becomes of Soho Square's shelter.

Photos: Rex Features, Getty Images 

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