Located in the Chilterns Shopping Centre, ‘The Air Raid Shelter Café & Tea Room’ is a firm favourite with the locals. Over the last 2.5 years, this little independent has rightfully earned a reputation as High Wycombe’s quirkiest venue. We caught up with founder, Chris Miller, to find out the inspiration behind the cafe, how he came up with the unique theme, and what we can expect on our next visit…
Chris, what inspired you to open a café with such a unique theme?
Growing up, I had a really close relationship with all my grandparents and used to love hearing all their war time stories. My Mum’s mum was an evacuee and my Dad’s parents were both in the RAF – it’s where they met. My Grandad was ground crew, but my Nan, who’s tiny, used to drive huge lorries across the UK, which is quite funny to imagine!
I used to go with my Grandad to meet his old RAF pals, play Dominoes and listen to them reminisce about the ‘old days’. I found it all fascinating, but more than that, I respected so much what they had to say – they are such a proud and spirited generation, and community means everything to them. I not only wanted to replicate their ethos within the Air Raid Café, I hoped that the venue could be a tribute to our veterans. There’s so few of them left, which is devastating, and soon we won’t have any first-hand accounts from the war anymore. I wanted to celebrate their lives, but also educate younger people to understand what life was like in a completely different era.
You have some amazing artefacts in the Café – what are you favourite and most notable elements of décor?
We’re so lucky that, as word has spread about the café, more and more people have brought us unique and original props to include as décor – authentic gas masks, old ration books, 1940’s furniture & toys – there’s so much detail, which we love!
There are 4 main ‘areas’ to the café that we’ve curated, each of which can be booked for people to come and relax and dine in – they’re so popular and it’s great watching everyone soak up the atmosphere and unique experience.
- Maud – She’s our REAL 1940’s Morris 8 car which we’ve altered to fit a table INSIDE her, and another in her boot – there’s not many cafés where you can have a cuppa in a car.
- Train Carriage – We wanted to recreate the feeling of being an evacuee like my Gran, so we built the train carriage and added little touches like evacuee letters, children’s toys (those they would have had back in the 1940’s) and there’s even a model train track running around the outside so you can watch the miniature train go round whilst dining.
- 1940’s House – Our 1940’s house is a true replica of what your lounge would have looked like 80 years ago – an original 3-Piece Suite, a 1951 TV, a classic china cabinet and all its contents. So many of the props have been donated by our visitors, and when others see them they say it really takes them back – it makes us incredibly proud to hear.
- Anderson Shelter – In the ’back garden’ of our 1940’s house we built an authentic ‘Anderson Shelter’ which were used as bomb shelters during the war. Low-income households would be given them for free – dropped off flat pack at their front door, and then the whole street would come together and build it in the garden – a real community project that literally would have saved lives.
So, what do you have on the Café menu?
We serve up the traditional classics with an added war time twist!
As well as all the usual teas & coffees we offer a hearty ‘Tommy’s Breakfast’, a big full English to keep the troops going all day, and a smaller ‘Land Girl’s’ version too.
We have a vast array of freshly made cakes available, including Victoria Sponge and the extremely popular Lardy Cake. Our Afternoon Tea is very popular and we’re also known for our Ploughman’s Platters and Cheeseboard – all good hearty food, there’s no rationing here!
We also sell ‘Camp Coffee’ which was originally developed as an instant coffee for military use – I’d much rather have a nice cappuccino, but for many it’s very nostalgic and we have one gentleman who visits us every week to have one as it ‘takes him back.’
Unfortunately, we know you’ve had to close during lockdown, but what have you got planned this year?
Well firstly, we’re REALLY excited that we’ll be reopening on Monday 17th May – we can’t wait for that date to come so we can start welcoming everybody back in.
We’ve also been busy with our ‘Thank You Wall’ which is an amazing (and huge!) war time mural created for us by Stuart from the local company TTSP Creations. It has been designed to say ‘thank you’ to all those who have served, or are still serving, in our Armed Forces and we’re inviting members of the public to send in their photos and dedications to be added to the wall for everyone to enjoy. It’s located just across from our Café and is really interesting to take a look at, and it’s so nice to see the community spirit that has come from it being there.
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