Opticians in bid to save Mickey Davis’s wartime Spitalfields air-raid shelter

Fruit & Wool Exchange in Spitalfields... under threat

Fruit & Wool Exchange in Spitalfields... under threat - Credit: Archant

Opticians have joined other professions this week in the debate over the future of the historic London Fruit & Wool Exchange now facing the bulldozers in London’s East End.

Mickey Davis in Spitalfields air-raid shelter... with new wife Doris

Mickey Davis in Spitalfields air-raid shelter... with new wife Doris - Credit: Keystone

A ‘people’s hero’ of the wartime Blitz who ran one of London’s biggest public air-raid shelters in the reinforced basement of the Exchange is being featured in the ‘Optician’ trade journal.

Mickey's wartime air-raid shelter... still exists

Mickey's wartime air-raid shelter... still exists - Credit: Spitalfields Community Group

Optometrist David Baker has researched the story of Mickey Davis, a 3ft 3ins midget who ran the shelter for up to 5,000 people a night, one of the few safe havens for the East End’s working class during the nightly Luftwaffe air-raids in 1940.

“Mickey’s shelter still survives—but perhaps not for long,” Baker warns.

“The Fruit Exchange where it was housed is due for redevelopment—despite the existence of wartime artefacts in the basement.”

Mickey Davis himself was an optician who was bombed out of his East End premises in the air-raids and spent his time instead organising the shelter. His fame spread and even American war correspondents wrote about “the midget with a giant heart.”

Mickey persuaded companies like Marks & Spencer to donate food to run a shelter canteen, the profits of which were used for free milk for children—the fore-runner of the post-War welfare state.

Most Read

But the story doesn’t end there. London Mayor Boris Johnson overruled Tower Hamlets Council last October to allow the Fruit Exchange to be demolished, despite a campaign led by TV historian Dan Cruickshank. English Heritage this week is actively considering listing the art deco building in Brushfield Street.

“It would be a shame if the Fruit Exchange were to disappear,” Baker adds. “Mickey Davis certainly deserves to be remembered for his selfless public service in the face of official indifference at a time of extreme wartime duress.”

Mickey went on to be elected a Stepney borough councillor in 1949 and rose to be Deputy Mayor before he died in 1956 at 49, during an operation to correct a spine defect from birth.


Link to David Baker’s research in The Optician: