Category Archives: The Bombed City

Photos and stories from the bombed areas of London

Post War London from the Stone Gallery, St. Paul’s – The South and East

Soon after the end of the war, my father climbed the 376 steps from the cathedral floor up to the Stone Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral to get the view that only the Stone Gallery can provide of the sweep of London from the City to Westminster. From here he was able to take in what had become of the city that he had grown up in during the long years of the war.

67 years later I climbed the same 376 steps to take in how London had changed over those intervening years.

In this week’s post, the first of two, I will compare the photos he took then with my photos of 2014, however firstly to get our bearings the following Aerofilms photo from before the war shows how St. Paul’s was surrounded by the dense city streets with buildings much closer to the cathedral than they are now. These were not only offices, but also plenty of warehouses with one of the major publishers / book distributors having their office and warehouse just north of St. Paul’s in Paternoster Square. The spires of the city churches still stood clear of their surroundings, but St. Paul’s dominated the area. In view of what was to come it still amazes me that St. Paul’s survived.

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Much of the devastation around St. Paul’s was caused on the 29th December 1940.

Christmas 1940 had been relatively quiet, however on the evening of the 29th December a large bomber force appeared over the City just after 6pm and for just over the next three hours incendiary bombs rained down on the City along with high explosive bombs. This combination caused maximum damage. High explosive bombs would rip buildings apart, exposing their contents to the impact of the incendiaries. During the peak of the raid over 300 incendiary bombs a minute were falling across the City and St. Paul’s quickly became surrounded by a sea of flame, fire crossing over the small streets and debris falling all around.

St. Paul’s was protected by a team of Fire Watchers who had the dangerous job of watching as the bombs fell and getting to an incendiary as quickly as possible to put it out before a fire became established. At one point an incendiary got stuck in the lead dome of the cathedral, where it could not be reached. A moment of danger as a single incendiary could cause a fire that would have engulfed the dome but miraculously it became free as it burned and melted the surrounding lead, and fell away from the dome landing in the Stone Gallery where the Fire Watchers could easily get to it and safely extinguish the danger.

It was not just incendiary bombs that put St. Paul’s at risk. The Fire Watchers also had to deal with a steady stream of flying embers from the surrounding buildings flying across and onto the cathedral. The heat from the concentration of fires stirred up winds that would spread embers quickly to create new fires where bombs had not landed.

The first waves of bombing finished just after 9pm and most of the area around St. Paul’s was ablaze along with many other areas of the City. The Fire Watchers and Fire Fighters worked hard in the dangerous conditions, a low tide not helping with extracting water from the Thames and the constant worry that the next wave of bombers would soon be over. However towards midnight the tide was rising and fog in the channel prevented the next wave of bombers from launching their next series of raids.

Next morning, Londoners awoke to a very different City.

Now join me as we walk around the Stone Gallery. We start looking over towards the south-east of London:

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The remains of the church in the centre of the photo is St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey and just behind is St Mary Somerset. The road between the two churches is Queen Victoria Street. The bridge spanning the Thames is Southwark Bridge and in the distance we can just see the tower of Southwark Cathedral.

The view today is shown in the following photo:

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As with much of the City of London, the church towers provide us with reference points to confirm the location. St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey in the centre of the photo still stands along Queen Victoria Street with the steeple restored on the top of the tower.

Interesting that the River Thames is much more visible in 2014. Most noticeable is that we can now see the rail bridge into Cannon Street Station. The height of the buildings between St. Paul’s and the Thames appear lower than the buildings constructed in the pre-war period. A success of the regulations governing the views of St. Paul’s and surprising that in one area of London at least the buildings are not in a race for height.

Turning slightly to the left, we can now see the full length of Cannon Street Station with the original roof running the whole length from the Thames facing towers through to the station buildings facing onto Cannon Street. The Monument stands clear of surrounding buildings and the tops of the cranes running along the Thames between Billingsgate and Cannon Street can be seen.

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The same view today is shown below:

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Cannon Street has lost the roof and the dominant position it held on the City skyline. The Monument now bravely maintains its position just above the surrounding buildings, but again is not such a prominent landmark on the skyline and all the cranes have been lost along the Thames.

A slightly different view just further to the left.

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And the same view today. the church in the centre of the above photo and just behind the red crane in the following photo is St. Mary Aldermary

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The spire just edging into the bottom of the above photo is the rebuilt spire of St. Augustine, Watling Street and the tower as it was after the war is seen in the following photo from the Stone Gallery.

The building in front of the church in the following photo is the premises of Andersons Rubber Company. One of the buildings that was on the plot to the right of St. Augustine was Cordwainers Hall. In total a succession of 6 livery halls had been on this site from 1440. The one destroyed by bombing was built-in 1909 and was the last on the site as the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers moved to the Law Society in Chancery Lane, then in 2005 moved to the Clothworker’s Hall in the City.

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The view today could hardly be more different. the spire has been restored to the church, the Andersons building has been demolished and not rebuilt and the plot of land immediately to the right of the church are now gardens and pedestrian areas.

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The small road that runs past the church and Andersons in the original photo which is now a pedestrian walkway was the end of Watling Street where is ran straight to the St. Paul’s Church Yard road that ran close around the cathedral. Pre-war, although St. Paul’s was the tallest building in London and so dominated the skyline, it was ringed on all sides by a tight network of roads and buildings. Re-building since the war has opened up the immediate cathedral surroundings.

We continue on our walk around the Stone Gallery, this time we have moved a bit further to the left and are now looking across to the centre of the City.

The tower of St. Mary-le-Bow still stands along Cheapside next to the burnt out shell of the church.

The road running across the photo at the back of the car park is Friday Street. So called due to the fishmongers who had their homes here and serving Friday’s market. A survival from the days when fish was eaten on a Friday. This street has now been lost under the One New Change development.

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The city skyline in the above photo is as it has been for hundreds of years with only the church towers and steeples rising above the surrounding streets. How different this now looks in 2014:

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As well as One New Change in the foreground, the road in front, New Change is a new routing of the original road Old Change that ran directly behind St. Paul’s, so close that it is obscured in the original photo.

In the City, the march of the new towers continues with Tower 42 on the left followed by the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the WalkieTalkie just appearing on the right.

Now for the final photo of this week’s walk around the southerly and easterly aspects of the Stone Gallery and we are looking roughly north-east at St. Verdast alias Foster on Foster Lane.

Note in the top right corner is the shell of the Guildhall. The Guildhall suffered badly on the night of the 29th December when the fire spread from the neighbouring church of St. Lawrence Jewry. The roof was destroyed and the wooden figures of Gog and Magog from 1708 were reduced to ashes, along with about 25,000 volumes from the library.

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And today’s photo of the same area, which I admit I did not realise I took a bit too low and cut of the top of the spire on the church. That is what comes with trying to balance an iPad with the original photos and a camera at the same time and not checking afterwards!

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To get a view of the streets around St. Paul’s and how they have changed, the following map is from Bartholomew’s 1940 Reference Atlas of Greater London. The original Old Change was between St. Augustine and St. Paul’s. This has been re-routed to the right and renamed New Change from which the development that is now on top of Friday Street takes its name. Watling Street and Cannon Street ran straight up to St. Paul’s Church Yard. This junction and the building plot where Cordwainer’s Hall was located are now gardens and pedestrian areas.

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Compare this 1940 map with the Google map of today:

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The following photo by the Daily Mail photographer Herbert Mason taken on the 29th December 1940 looking across Ludgate Hill towards St. Paul’s and now in the Imperial War Museum collection gives an impression of the scene with fires raging around the cathedral (photo © IWM (HU 36220A))

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Join me next week as I continue the walk around the Stone Gallery to view the North and Westerly views.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Lost Treasures of London by William Kent published 1947
  • The Blitz by Constantine Fitz Gibbon published 1957
  • The City That Wouldn’t Die by Richard Collier published 1959
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • The Streets of London by Gertrude Burford Rawlings published 1926
  • And for a detailed minute by minute account I recommend reading The City Ablaze – The Second Great Fire of London 29th December 1940 by David Johnson published 1980

 alondoninheritance.com

 

St. Vedas and Foster Lane

This week’s photo finds us in Gresham Street in 1947 looking towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. With the exception of St. Paul’s and the church spires, all the other buildings have been demolished over the years following the war and only the street names and churches provide a tangible link back to the long pre-war period.

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The church in the foreground is St. Vedas on Foster Lane, a Wren church built following the Great Fire of London.

As with many City churches, the core of the church has been destroyed with only the shell remaining, however the tower still stands and fortunately is structurally sound. It was the raid on the 29th December 1940 that caused the majority of the damage in the area around St. Paul’s. As well as high explosive bombs, over 100,000 incendiary bombs created so many fires that the area was devastated. Only the work of many volunteer fire-fighters managed to save St. Paul’s.

My grandfather had experience of incendiary bombs during one of the many raids that hit the area they were living in just to the west of Euston Station. An incendiary penetrated the flat above and armed with buckets of water and a stirrup pump he managed to put it out before a fire took full hold. If you could get to an incendiary bomb quickly you would have a chance. The problem was the sheer number of them that would fall in a raid with limited numbers of fire-fighters to get to them quickly, or they would lodge in inaccessible places and could not be put out. This, along with the risk of high explosive bombs falling at the same time.

The photo was taken from Gresham Street, looking across Gutter Lane to St. Vedas. I spent an hour somewhat optimistically walking around this area trying to get any view of St. Vedas from Gresham Street and surroundings for a comparison photo, however with the degree of new building in the area it is impossible. Coming from the Gresham Street area, you do not realise there is a church until you are almost alongside.

The only place I could get a clear photo of St. Vedas is from the Cheapside / New Change crossing just across from St. Paul’s where St. Vedas still stands proudly in amongst the building of the last 65 years.

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A church was established on the site in the twelfth century dedicated to St. Vedas who was a French saint, Bishop of Arras and Cambray in the reign of Clovis (who lived from 466 to 511) and apparently performed many miracles on the blind and lame. Following the invasions of the region by tribes in the late Roman period, Vedas helped to restore the Christian Church.

The dedication to St. Vedas may have been by the Flemish community in London in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is an unusual dedication for a church in the United Kingdom as there is only one other church that is currently dedicated to St. Vedas which is in Tathwell in Lincolnshire.

Foster Lane was also known in the 13th Century as St. Vedas Lane, which was gradually corrupted over time to Foster Lane (the church has also been referred to as St. Foster).

Foster is evolved from Vedast in such steps as Vastes, Fastes, Fastres, Faster, Faister and Fauster. For 100 years or more prior to the Great Fire, the church was known as St. Foster’s and is now also known as St. Vedas alias Foster.

In the 19th century, the interior of St. Vedas was described as:

“a melancholy instance of ornamentation. The church is divided by a range of Tuscan columns, and the ceiling is enriched with dusty wreaths of stucco flowers and fruit. The altarpiece consists of four Corinthian columns, carved in oak and garnished with cherubim and palm branches. In the centre above the entablature is a group of well executed winged figures and beneath is a sculptured pelican.”

From 1838 there is a reference that the church did not have stained glass, the windows being covered by transparent blinds painted with various Scriptural subjects.

The following photo from “The Old Churches of London” shows the altarpiece  in St. Vedas before destruction in the war, exactly fitting the 19th century description.

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Work on reconstruction of St. Vedas commenced in 1953 and it is now a very bright and simple interior. There is still an altarpiece but without the degree of melancholy ornamentation as in the 19th century description. The following photo is as you enter the church and look down to the altar.

P1020415 And looking back towards the entrance to the church:

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The following picture from “The Old Churches of London” provides an interesting view of the surroundings of St. Vedas looking towards St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.

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This was still at a time when the spires of the City churches stood well above the surrounding buildings.

The spire of St. Vedas is unusual when compared to many other Wren churches in that there are no vases to decorate the spire. The contrasting surfaces and cornices, concave and convex, emphasise the angles and on the light and shade across the spire.

It is always interesting to look at the outside of City buildings and on St. Vedas I found two boundary markers just to the side of the main door. Interesting is the use of “alias Foster” as part of the name.DSC_1730

St. Vedas is a lovely church to visit and despite being so close to St. Paul’s and the thousands of people who visit this landmark everyday, and being in the heart of the city, it is a quiet and peaceful church. In the all too brief fifteen minutes I spent visiting the church I was not disturbed by a single person.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878

alondoninheritance.com

 

St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey – A Bombed Church and Film Location

This week’s photo taken in 1947, is looking across to St. Paul’s Cathedral from just south of Queen Victoria Street.

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The photo clearly shows the devastation that wartime bombing caused to this area of the city and how amazing that despite this, St. Paul’s survived with relatively minimal damage.

The areas that were bombed were quickly cleared of any standing structures to make these areas reasonably safe, with just rubble, foundations and cellars remaining.

The exceptions to this were the churches of the city which, despite suffering terrible damage, were left standing ready for rebuilding.

The church in the foreground is St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street. The rebuilt church still stands, however finding the exact location of the original photo is impossible due to the amount of rebuilding and loss of many of the smaller streets.

The following is my 2014 photo:

2014 St Nicolas Cole Abbey

I am not in the exact position, my father’s photo was taken further back towards Upper Thames Street, however I could not get to the point I wanted due to the building that is now across the site.

The view across to St. Paul’s is also totally obscured by building with the exception of the very top of the dome.

As with the majority of City churches, it has been a location for a church for many centuries as the original St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey was founded before 1144. The church on the site was destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Wren as the first rebuilt after the Fire. The name of the church is somewhat misleading as it was never the site of an abbey. Some sources attribute the name to a derivation of coldharbour.

This is what St. Nicholas Cole Abbey looked like in the 1930s (from The Old Churches of London by Gerald Cobb):

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Interesting to compare the 1930s drawing with the rebuilt church of today and admire how accurately the steeple on top of the tower has been rebuilt after complete destruction during the war.

St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey has also featured in film. The excellent Lavender Hill Mob released in 1951 was filmed in a number of London locations, including the bombed landscape between St. Paul’s and the river. The theme of the film is a gold bullion robbery which takes place outside of St. Nicholas when the van carrying the gold is hijacked and driven to a warehouse on the edge of the river.

This film is very well worth purchasing, not just for the story, the excellent Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway along with a very early appearance by Audrey Hepburn, but also for the many scenes shot in the City just after the war and prior to the start of any rebuilding.

The following still from the film shows the hijacked van with the gold bullion being driven past St. Nicholas:

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And approaching the warehouse with St. Nicholas very clear in the background:

Lavender Hill Mob 2The area is so different today, however fortunately as across the City, the Wren churches continue to provide landmarks to the earlier topography of the City.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • And the film “The Lavender Hill Mob” released 1951 (and currently available on a remastered DVD)

alondoninheritance.com

Foyles and the College for the Distributive Trades

London can be a very impersonal city, constantly changing, busy with people visiting the city for a few days, dashing between the main tourist sites, workers who depart to the suburbs at the end of the day. However beneath this, every inch of the city has a history touched by the millions of people who have called London home or a place of work over the centuries and it is this that I want to discover and document in my blog through the generations of my family that have called London home.

Today’s post bring this together through an interesting set of coincidences with the London bookshop Foyles moving into new premises at 107 Charing Cross Road.

After a short period at Cecil Court, Foyles moved to Charing Cross Road, starting at 135, then expanding to cover 121 to 135 and on Saturday 7th June 2014 opened in a new location at 107 Charing Cross Road.

My father started buying books at Foyles in the 1940s. I still have books about London purchased from Foyles with the original Foyles payment slip inside the book. Foyles had a very interesting purchase process where you would take the book to an assistant who would bag it and retain, give you a payment slip to take to a cashiers kiosk for payment. With the payment slip stamped to prove you had paid, you return to the original assistants desk to reclaim your book. I cannot remember exactly when this process changed, however I remember purchasing books via this process well into the late 1990’s.

Despite this archaic system, Foyles had (and still has) the most fantastic selection of books and hours could be lost just browsing the shelves.

Many of the London books I have from my father still retain their original purchase receipt. I found the following in the “Historic Streets of London”, purchased from Foyles on the 9th October 1948 for 3 shillings and 6 pence.

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One of the books that my father bought from Foyles in 1941 was the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London. This was displayed on a shelf beneath a large notice which read that maps could only be purchased by members of the public in uniform. A neighbour of my father’s who was in the Home Guard purchased the book for him. I still have this Atlas.

To get to the main point of today’s post, Foyles has moved into 107 Charing Cross Road. This building originally consisted of two educational establishments, the College for the Distributive Trades and the St. Martins School of Art and during the war was one of the few still operating in central London.

My father was evacuated from London at the start of the war, but returned after 5 weeks to spend the rest of the war living on the Marylebone Estate near Regents Park.

As most of the schools in central London were closed during the peak of the bombing on London, education was a problem. The following is from my father’s account of his time in London during the war. This section taken from the year 1940:

My old school remained closed and evacuated in Buckingham. Other local schools were in a similar situation, the part-time local attempts at education were a failure so in desperation, father installed me in a small private school in Gloucester Avenue, Chalk Farm, which proved equally unsuccessful specialising in Latin and ancient Egypt. However father at last found a college that was open. Alas I was too young to be accepted. This was my last chance; luckily father cajoled the Headmaster into accepting me. The normal age for admission was the late teens, therefore, at my preliminary interview the Head instructed me to lie about my age (13). I was to be sixteen and never to appear in short trousers, and so I entered the College for the Distributive Trades at No. 107 Charing Cross Road.

The college had but one class with few fellow students, all about 4 years older than myself. I was a puzzle to them and my solution was to keep a low profile and keep out of trouble. The day time raids helped for the “education” consisted of little more than card games in the basement “air raid shelter” by candlelight for the caretaker turned off the power when the siren sounded.

A general sense of anarchy prevailed in the shelter for we were unsupervised. The building was shared with the St. Martins School of Art who were located on the top floors and although St. Martin’s was meant to use a specified area of the shelter there was a large amount of mingling.

As October (1940) arrived several of my classmates left to enter the forces until four of us remained. Any dilemma of how to run a college consisting of a single class of four was solved one night when a bomb fell through the gymnasium floor and exploded in the basement shelter, a very lucky escape for us all. Also, about this time, a large bomb fell between the college and Foyles, leaving a very large crater where the road had collapsed into a void, caused amongst other things by the collapse of an underground brick culvert.

This is the building in which Foyles will be opening their new store on the 7th June!

I do not know if the new Foyles will have a book department in the basement. I look forward to visiting and if so, it will be intriguing to be looking at books in the basement that my father used as an air raid shelter.

The following photo shows the building that was the College for the Distributive Trades and the St. Martin’s School of Art and will be the new home of Foyles.

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The old Foyles can just be seen to the left of the bus at the far end of the street. Entrances to the College and School are at the left and right edges of the building. The bomb that my father refers to, fell between the bus and the white van. Above the door on the left the original name and year of build has been retained.

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As has the St. Martin’s School of Art above the entrance to the right:

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The original Foyles which will be closing prior to the move into 107 Charing Cross Road:

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Close up of the street sign “Foyles for Books”:

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With the continued growth in Internet shopping for books and the use of e-books rather than paper books it is really good to see a bookshop having the confidence to invest in a new store.

Much of my London book collection has been built up from Foyles over the past 70 years by my father and myself and I hope to continue for many years to come.

When next in Charing Cross Road I will be visiting Foyles, looking past the books and thinking about what was happening there in 1940.

alondoninheritance.com

 

St Zachary, St Alban and Blowbladder Street

Back in the City, my next stop was a short walk down Gresham Street to find another small garden in the centre of the city.

This photo is the garden on the former churchyard of St John Zachary taken by my father just after the war.

Site of the church and churchyard of St John Zachary

Site of the churchyard of St John Zachary

The church was partially destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was not rebuilt and what remains is the site of the former churchyard. During the blitz the site was converted into a garden and the site won the Best Garden on a Blitzed Site award just after the war. It has remained a garden ever since.

The following photo is taken from roughly where I believe may father took the above photo.

Looking towards the garden at the site of the churchyard of St John Zachary

Looking towards the garden at the site of the churchyard of St John Zachary

The plaque on the wall in the original photo has moved to the right and although not visible is on the wall heading to the right of the above photo.

What looks like the original plaque, now slightly relocated.

What looks like the original plaque, now slightly relocated.

I am sure this is the angle the original photo was taken from, as checking the map, the church tower seen in the background of the original photo is St. Alban in Wood Street, Whilst this is now obscured by office blocks, it can clearly be seen in the following map in the correct position from where I took the later photo, from the cross roads, looking across the garden.


View Larger Map
I always like finding locations that appear in the background of photos, so I took a walk round to St Alban and what I found is either one of the most depressing views, or a wonder of survival. The following photo is looking down Wood Street from Gresham Street looking at the tower of St. Alban.

Looking down Wood Street at the tower of St. Alban

Looking down Wood Street at the tower of St. Alban

The tower is the only surviving part of the church and where once it had stood clear of the surrounding buildings, it is now surrounded on all sides by towering office blocks that are getting steadily higher and higher. It is no longer a church, the tower now houses the offices of a corporate finance advisory firm.

I am really pleased that the church tower has survived so we continue to have tangible evidence of the number of churches that once supported the population of the City of London and the Wren architecture of these churches that were generally rebuilt after the Great Fire, however I still find it very depressing that a building that once stood taller than its surroundings and held a special place in the daily lives of the population, is now dwarfed by the size and architectural style of the surrounding buildings. Almost being crowded out of a location that has functioned as a church for many hundreds of years.

The following engraving of St Alban from 1810 shows the church standing clear of its surroundings as it would have done from when it was rebuilt between 1682 and 1685 and the later half of the 20th century when the surrounding office blocks were constructed. The change that the tower has seen in the last 330 years is incredible.

A view of the Wren church of St. Alban Wood Street as it stood in the early nineteenth century (1810). Engraved by William Johnstone White from an original drawing (now in the British Museum) by William Pearson.

A view of the Wren church of St. Alban Wood Street as it stood in the early nineteenth century (1810). Engraved by William Johnstone White from an original drawing (now in the British Museum) by William Pearson.

Where once, standing on the top of the tower would have provided wonderful views over the city, with only the spires of the other city churches breaking above the roof level. Now, you would be staring straight into the floor of an office, with many other floors stretching above.

The streets in the surrounding area also tell a story of both continuity and change. The following map is of Aldersgate Ward from John Strype’s  ‘A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’ which was first published in 1598. (reproduced with the kind permission of Motco Enterprises Limited )

Map of Aldersgate Ward from John Strype's John Strype's ‘A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’

Map of Aldersgate Ward from John Strype’s  ‘A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’

The churchyard of St. John Zachary is labelled as number 5 in the bottom right of the map (just to the left of A in WARD).

Noble Street (which still exists) is clearly visible running vertically past the churchyard, however Gresham Street does not exist. Maiden Lane running past the churchyard where Gresham Street is now.

If you continue to the bottom of the map there is the wonderfully named Blowbladder Street. Aligning this with current mapping, this is now part of Cheapside.

Defoe gives an origin of the name Blowbladder Street in his “A Journal of the Plague Year” where he states: ” and which had its name from the butchers, who used to kill and dress their sheep there (and who it seems had a custom to blow up their meat with pipes to make it look thicker and fatter than it was, and were punished there for it by the Lord Mayor)”.

Time to move on, but next time you see a church tower standing clear above the surrounding buildings or landscape, please remember the tower of St. Alban fighting to retain a link with the past against the tide of encroaching office blocks.

alondoninheritance.com

 

The First Bomb And A Church Shipped To America

A dark, wet and windy Thursday evening in February. I am browsing through a couple of thousand of scanned photos that my father took across London just after the war. Negatives, many of them on old nitrate film that are now being viewed on technology not imagined when these photos were taken. I have long wanted to find the current locations of these photos and see how London has since changed.

Where to start? One photo stands out as the logical start point for my journey. It represents the point where the impact of the Second World War first came to central London. The start of the destruction of the city and the resulting rebuilding during the following 65 years.

I print out the photo and a couple of days later find myself standing in Fore Street.


View Larger Map

This photo was taken in Fore Street just after the war. The Corporation of London have erected a sign to mark this point as the location where the first bomb fell on the city.

Site of the first bomb on central London during the Second World War

Site of the first bomb on central London during the Second World War

After this first attack on the 25th August 1940, heavy bombing started on Saturday September 7th and continued for the next 57 nights. London then endured many more months of bombing including the night of the 29th December 1940 when the fires that raged were equal to those of the Great Fire of 1666. Hundreds of people were killed or injured, damage to property was enormous and 13 Wren churches were destroyed. Or the night of the 10th May 1941 when over 500 German bombers attacked London. The alert sound at 11pm and for the next seven hours incendiary and high explosive bombs fell continuously across the city.

Behind the sign is a devastated landscape, not a single undamaged building stands, to the right of the photo, the shell of a church tower is visible. All this, the result of months of high explosive and incendiary bombing.

Fore Street is between Moorgate Station and the Museum of London and is in the shadow of the Barbican buildings and the towering office blocks along London Wall. The temporary sign has long gone and was replaced by a stone plaque on the building that stands at the end of Fore Street where it leads into Wood Street, however my visit is not well timed. As is typical with London buildings, the one with the plaque is going through a refurbishment and the side is completely covered. I just hope that in the enthusiasm for rebuilding, this marker of a key event in London’s history will survive.

The plaque should be on the wall behind all this building work.

The plaque should be on the wall behind all this building work.

But does anything from the original photo survive? Unlikely, but I decide to look around. Behind the fencing in the original photo, there is a wall, walking down Fore Street and looking through the building entrance I see a wall, castellated on the top on the left of the wall and straight topped to the right. The wall I see through the gap looks the same as the wall in the original photo (although the angle is different, the original must have been taken towards the corner of Fore Street and Wood Street).

Looking towards the remains of the Roman Wall from Fore Street

Looking towards the remains of the Roman Wall from Fore Street

Plaque on the Roman Wall

Plaque on the Roman Wall

I find my way to the back of the building to a small garden, the former churchyard of St Alphage and here stands the wall, a lengthy section of the old Roman Wall. The garden is small, surrounded on all sides by towering offices and I suspect, the majority of the day in their shadow.

The garden at the former churchyard of St Alphage

The garden at the former churchyard of St Alphage

Despite all the building of the last 65 years, there are many locations like this throughout the city. To me, they are the deep foundations of the city, anchoring the city to the bedrock of history reaching back to the Roman foundation of the city as a commercial centre.

Apart from the Roman Wall, the only other structure that may have survived is the church tower seen in the right hand edge of the original photo. The city of London originally had dozens of churches and many of these still survive, if not as working churches, but as the remaining shell of the building, or just a single tower.

If the church tower still stands, it is hidden behind the office blocks of London Wall, so a quick walk across London Wall in the general direction of where the church should be found.

Nothing!

But I do find another small garden, at the end of which there is a plaque on the ground. The plaque has an etching of a church which has the same tower and window style as the one in the
photo. Checking the map, the alignment with the original photo looks right.

The plaque in the garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

The plaque in the garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

This is the site of St Mary Aldermanbury. Records of a church on this site date back to 1181. The original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. As with so many other churches destroyed during the Great Fire, a Wren church was rebuilt on the site. This is the church that was damaged in Second World War.

The garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

The garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

Scaffolding surrounds the Church of St. Mary in London, England. Photograph courtesy of the National Churchill Museum Collections’

Scaffolding surrounds the Church of St. Mary in London, England.
Photograph courtesy of the National Churchill Museum Collections’

After the war, the heavily damaged church had the unique distinction of being taken apart, shipped to Fulton, Missouri in the USA in 1965, and rebuilt to mark the visit of Churchill to Westminster College in 1946. The church now sits above the National Churchill Museum.

Westminster College was the location of Churchill’s speech that included the famous phrase “An iron curtain has descended across the continent”

St Mary Aldermanbury now rebuilt at the National Churchill Museum. Photograph courtesy of the National Churchill Museum Collections’

St Mary Aldermanbury now rebuilt at the National Churchill Museum.
Photograph courtesy of the National Churchill Museum Collections’

The tower is the church tower that can be seen in the background of the original photo. The National Churchill Museum can be found here along with more information on the move and rebuilding of the church.

Sign at the entrance to the garden on the site of the church of St Alphage

Sign at the entrance to the garden on the site of the church of St Alphage

I wonder how many of the many thousands of people who work next to these locations, who walk along these streets everyday, understand the history around them.

Despite the incredible amount of construction work over the past 65 years and which continues with buildings getting higher and more out of touch with their immediate surroundings, there is still so much to be found across the city.

Sign at the entrance to the garden at St Mary Aldermanbury

Sign at the entrance to the garden at St Mary Aldermanbury

 

That is my first photo. My next stop is another city garden, where nearby I find an almost fantasy like link to another world, followed by a walk to the Thames to explore a wider view of London.

 

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