Tag Archives: St. Paul’s Cathedral

My London 5 Peaks Challenge – The Monument, Sky Garden And St. Paul’s Cathedral

I do a considerable amount of walking around London, on foot being by far the best way to explore and understand the city. When not hunting down the locations of my father’s photos, then either a random walk or a walk with a specific theme or target.

I also like looking at London from above. My first view of London from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral was over 40 years ago and during occasional visits since it has been possible to witness the changing skyline of the city.

Viewing London from above also gives a geographical context to London. The relationship with the River Thames, the route to the open sea, the surrounding hills and how London has expanded from the original settlement around the City of London.

When thinking about a possible theme for a walk, I had been talking to someone who had recently completed  the Three Peaks Challenge – climbing Scafell Pike in England, Snowdon in Wales and Ben Nevis in Scotland within a period of 24 hours. London does not have any equivalent peaks but what it does have is a number of tall buildings with viewing galleries, so on a Saturday in August I went for my own very unambitious 5 peaks challenge, to see London from the top of 5 locations – The Monument, Sky Garden, St, Paul’s Cathedral, Shard and the London Eye.

Only two of these needed climbing and it is there that any comparison with the 3 peaks challenge ends, but it did provide an opportunity to see the changing London skyline from different locations, understand the structure of London (for example only by looking from above can you really understand how the railways have carved up the south of the river) and just to enjoy the view of this remarkable city.

As you would expect, this is rather photo heavy, so I have split into three posts over the next few days. The first covering the Monument, Sky Garden and St. Paul’s Cathedral, the second post covering the Shard and London Eye, with the third post answering the question of the furthest man-made object visible from London (I am afraid the sort of question I find fascinating).

I am going to stay clear of any discussion of the buildings in these posts, rather just enjoy the views across London.

So, at 10:00 on an overcast Saturday morning in August (with the forecast for improving weather), I arrived at:

The Monument

Completed in 1677 by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke to commemorate the Great Fire of London, the Monument provides a view-point in the heart of the City. When built, the Monument at 202 feet high would have stood clear of the surrounding buildings but today is starting to feel rather enclosed with the continuing growth in height of buildings across the City.

The viewing gallery is 311 steps from the entrance up a narrow cantilevered staircase, so after paying at the entrance it was a swift climb to the top for views across London from the oldest of the viewing points that I will looking from today.

First view from the Monument, looking down Monument Street towards the old Billingsgate Market and running across the Thames, Tower Bridge.

monument-1

A series of postcards were published in the early 20th century showing the view from the Monument – the first showing a similar view to the above:

monument-10

Looking up Gracechurch Street towards the towers of the City:

monument-2

Looking up King William Street with the towers of the Barbican in the distance and the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the left.

monument-3

Similar early 20th century view to the above photo. The growth in height of City buildings is obvious by how the church steeples once towered above their surroundings.

monument-11

St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Post Office (BT) Tower in the distance.

monument-4

This view was once dominated by the roof of Cannon Street Station:

monument-12

View back across the City towards the towers of Canary Wharf in the distance. The looming presence of 20 Fenchurch Street (the Walkie Talkie building) dominates this part of the City. The Sky Garden at the top is my next stop.

monument-6

Although the River Thames is hidden by the buildings in the foreground, this is looking towards Bankside with the chimney of Tate Modern along with the new extension and viewing gallery to the left of the chimney. The top of the London Eye can be seen in the distance – my final stop later in the afternoon when hopefully the weather will have improved.

monument-7

View across the river to the Shard. The church of St. Magnus the Martyr in the lower centre of the photo with London Bridge hidden behind the building to the right of the church. This building is on the route of the original London Bridge.

monument-8

Time to descend the Monument and head off to the Sky Garden, always easier to climb down rather the climb up.

monument-9

The Monument is the City’s original viewing gallery and although now rather hemmed in by the surrounding buildings still offers good views of the City of London.

Above the viewing gallery is the flaming orb which is hollow and reached by a further small flight of stairs. At the very top, not visible from ground level is a CCTV camera which provides a 24 hour time-lapse view on the Monument’s web site, which can be found here, although it does not appear to be updating at the moment.

Now on to my next stop:

The Sky Garden

Access to the Sky Garden was quick and efficient and the lifts provided a rest in between climbing the Monument and the next climb to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Completed in 2014 and at a height of 525 feet, the design of the Sky Garden results in the best views being towards the south.

My first view was back towards the Monument which now looked busier than during my visit. Look closely at the top of the orb and the CCTV camera can just be seen along with the hollow top of the orb.

sky-garden-2

Views towards Tower Bridge, City Hall and HMS Belfast. From this height it is easy to understand the flooding risk to London with the height of the river and how low and flat the surrounding land is, and this was not a particularly high tide. It is also at this height that you can start to see the higher ground that surrounds London to the north and south.

sky-garden-1

View to the west with the Post Office Tower in the distance with Euston Tower just to the right. As yet, there are few tall buildings across this part of London.

sky-garden-3

Wembley Stadium can be seen between the Post Office Tower and Euston Tower.

sky-garden-4

Internal view of the Sky Garden.

sky-garden-5

Through the revolving doors in the above photo, there is an external viewing gallery. Although there is still a glass barrier it is possible to look down on the City. The church of St. Mary at Hill is at lower centre with the old Billingsgate Market in the top centre.

sky-garden-6

Across the river towards the Shard:

sky-garden-7

And unlike the Monument, the view of the river from the Sky Garden is unobstructed.

sky-garden-8

Looking down towards the Bank junction with the Bank of England building at the centre right.

sky-garden-9

Looking north towards the other towers of the City. Tower 42 on the left, the 122 Leadenhall Street building (the Cheesegrater) in the middle and 30 St. Mary Axe (the Gherkin) on the right.

sky-garden-10

Tower 42, originally know at the NatWest Tower when completed in 1980 and at 600 feet high was the first really tall tower building in the City. I remember this being built and at the time bought a copy of, if I remember correctly, the Illustrated London News which had a superb photo of the building by a photographer who was suspended in a large bucket away from the top of the tower by a crane also mounted on the top of the tower. Rather precarious, but a superb photo.

The Gherkin building was completed at the end of 2003 and stands at 591 feet high with the Cheesegrater being completed in 2013 at 738 feet.

View towards Canary Wharf with the Tower of London at lower right. From this height we can start to see the route of the river as it heads east towards the sea.

sky-garden-11

View towards the east along Fenchurch Street and Aldgate High Street. The church of St. Botolph Without Aldgate can be seen to the left of centre, in front of the yellow crane.

sky-garden-12

From this height we can also start to see how the construction of the railways carved through London. Here, the rail tracks running from Fenchurch Street Station out towards the east.

sky-garden-13

Leaving the Sky Garden, with the promise of improving weather with the cloud breaking in the west, it was time for a walk to:

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral is my favourite place to look out across London. It is the history of the building, location, the climb up the 528 steps through the Whispering Gallery, Stone Gallery and finally to the Golden Gallery, along with the chance to admire the internal architecture and  the construction methods used.

My first climb of St. Paul’s was over 40 years ago and I started taking photos from the Lantern and Stone Galleries about 35 years ago. My father took a series of photos from the Stone Gallery just after the war showing the devastation around the Cathedral. These can be found here and here.

At the top of the final climb through the Dome, there is a small glass window at the centre which looks down to the floor of the church. This produces a strange optical effect as this is not looking through the roof of the dome directly above the floor, but through the space between the external and internal domes. The distorted view of the stairs that run up above the internal dome to get to the Golden Gallery can be seen in the periphery of this photo. It does though create the impression that you are directly above the internal dome.

st-pauls-1

The first glimpse of the view through the door out to the narrow walkway that runs around the base of the Golden Gallery. The cloud is breaking and the sun is out.

st-pauls-2

The view as you pass through the door, looking down between the two west towers to Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street.

st-pauls-3

The view towards the Post Office Tower and Euston Tower. The Old Bailey can be seen to the lower centre right, just to the right of the red cranes.

st-pauls-4

Paternoster Square:

st-pauls-5

The three tower blocks of the Barbican with the low-rise block running between the left and centre towers. The church of St. Giles Cripplegate can be seen at the base of the right-hand tower.

st-pauls-6

The view towards the east showing the cluster of towers in the City. This view also shows how the 20 Fenchurch Street building is separate from the main cluster of towers and much closer to the river. More towers will be added to this view over the coming years.

st-pauls-7

Close up of the Monument from St. Paul’s Cathedral:

st-pauls-8

The Shard and Cannon Street station:

st-pauls-9

By climbing to the Golden Gallery we can get an understanding of the construction technique used to build the internal and external domes. From the gallery we can see some of the external construction techniques, for example the screen walls which were used as a method to hide the tops of the flying buttresses which were needed to strengthen the core of the cathedral. In the photo below, the roof of the Choir is in the centre, below the Dome with the screen walls running around the edge. The use of screens also avoided the need for expensive decorative work along the top of the choir walls and roof.

st-pauls-10

View looking across the Millennium bridge towards Tate Modern, the old Bankside Power Station.

st-pauls-11

The view from the Golden Gallery includes many of the local churches. Here, the church of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey alongside a new building site. As soon as this new building is in place, the view of the church from the cathedral will be mainly hidden again apart from the very top of the tower.

st-pauls-12

St. Benets Metropolitan Welsh Church surrounded by Queen Victoria Street, the road down to Lower Thames Street and the City of London School.

st-pauls-13

View across to the South Bank with the London Eye which will be my final stop.

st-pauls-14

Close-up view of Bankside. This was once an industrialised area, but is now home to the reconstructed Globe Theatre. 49 Bankside, the building partly covered by the central tree and with the red door is a centuries old survivor of large amounts of change along Bankside.

st-pauls-15

View along Ludgate Hill and into Fleet Street. The way that both these streets drop down towards Farringdon Street is a reminder that they originally ran down towards the River Fleet. The church of St. Martin-within-Ludgate is the dark tower on the right of Ludgate Hill. Further along on the left is the tower of St. Bride’s. Further along Fleet Street is the tower of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, and as Fleet Street curves towards the left behind the buildings is the tower of St. Clement Danes.

st-pauls-16

View to the west looking up towards Waterloo Bridge. If the Garden Bridge is built it will cut across the river in the centre of the photo, obstructing views of the cathedral from the South Bank and Waterloo Bridge.

st-pauls-17

The church of St. Vedas alias Foster in Foster Lane:

st-pauls-18

Looking northwest to the high ground around Hampstead Heath and East Finchley. A number of the old rivers that originate in the north of London come from this area including the Fleet, Tyburn and Westbourne. The maximum height of the land at Hampstead Heath is around 443 feet and at the base of St. Paul’s Cathedral is around 36 feet showing the considerable change in height from the centre of London to the ring of hills around the north and south of the extended city.

st-pauls-19

The tower of Christchurch Greyfriars alongside King Edward Street with the shell of the church a reminder of the bombing in this area during the last war:

st-pauls-20

View across to Alexandra Palace and Alexandra Park with the Emirates Stadium on the right. The land in the distance sloping down from the heights of Hampstead Heath:

st-pauls-21

The view from the Golden Gallery at St. Paul’s is superb. Standing 279 feet above the floor of the Cathedral on a narrow walkway in the open air is a wonderful way to experience the views across London.

After a quick look around the Cathedral and a much-needed drink in the Crypt Cafe, it was time to head to the Shard for number 4 in my London 5 Peaks Challenge which, along with the London Eye, will be the subject of my next post.

alondoninheritance.com

London Under Fire

London Under Fire is the title of a set of postcards issued during the last war showing some of the damage caused by bombing around the city.

You might think that this was a strange subject for a postcard, and given the levels of censorship at the time, why would photos showing considerable damage to London be published?

The envelope containing the set of twelve postcards, “passed by the censor”:

London under fire 1

Although showing how much damage had been caused, these postcards had a very serious message. Firstly, the photos were mainly of the City of London, not the main population centres, for example across east London that had suffered so much damage which directly impacted the lives of Londoners.

The postcards were meant to inspire and motivate the population, London has taken this much damage and has come through and will be rebuilt again. The rear of the postcards carried exerts from the speeches of Winston Churchill:

“Let us all strive without failing in faith or in duty”

“This is a time for everyone to stand together and hold firm”

This was after the initial Blitz but before the V1 and V2 weapons fell upon London. The war still had an at the time unknown number of years to run so the message carried by the postcards was very clear, we have taken this much so this is not the time to weaken in any shape or form.

As well as an example of one of the many forms of subtle propaganda employed during the war, today they are helpful in understanding how the city has changed so a couple of weeks ago, I took the postcards up to the city for a walk to see what the locations looked like now and how much remained from these original photos.

The first postcard is of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Paternoster Row, this whole area across Paternoster Square was destroyed during the attack on the night of the 29th December 1940. The area today is now covered by the Paternoster Square development, I located the position where I suspect the photo was taken from, but looking across towards St. Paul’s I was looking into an office wall with no sight of the Cathedral.

As well as the cathedral, the only building that remains today is the Chapter House. This had been reduced to a shell and is the building in the centre of the photo below the dome of St. Paul’s. The Chapter House was rebuilt and has recently finished a full restoration.

London under fire 2

I had better luck with the next postcard, again of St. Paul’s but now from Cannon Street.

London under fire 5

The photo was taken on the corner of Friday Street and Cannon Street. As can be seen in the postcard by the remains of buildings leading up to St. Paul’s along the right hand side of Cannon Street, this view was only possible due to the destruction of these buildings and in the plan for rebuilding the City, the area around the cathedral was opened up making the views we see today possible.

London under fire 20

The next postcard was taken from London Wall and is looking north across to the church of St. Giles, Cripplegate.

London under fire 3

With the amount of building along London Wall, I could not get to the exact position of the original photo, however I did find one position in London Wall where the church tower is visible today. This also shows the Barbican development which would cover so much of this area in the post war redevelopment.

London under fire 16

Postcard showing the remains of the interior of St. Giles, Cripplegate. Again, the church suffered this damage mainly on the night of the 29th December 1940.

London under fire 10

The church was rebuilt after the war, and apart from the remains of the Roman city wall, is all that remains in this area from the pre-war city following the development of the Barbican.

London under fire 19

The next postcard is showing Fore Street, no idea where in Fore Street as there are no points of reference.

London under fire 7

But this is Fore Street today. The Barbican is on the left and office buildings between Fore Street and London Wall are on the right.

London under fire 18

The following postcard is titled New Basinghall Street.

London under fire 8

I could not find a New Basinghall Street in the City today. There is a Basinghall Street, but not a “New”, so it was to the 1940 Batholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London to check and this is where I found New Basinghall Street, a short extension of Basinghall Street from London Wall to Fore Street.

London under fire 14

Today, New Basinghall Street does not exist. In the photo below of Fore Street today, it was on the right, just past where the road is closed and passed to the right under the new office development to meet up with London Wall. Returning to the postcard of Fore Street, this shows a road leading off to the right and this may have been New Basinghall Street.

London under fire 17

The next postcard is of the buildings of the General Post Office from Newgate Street. Strange that the postcard does not mention the church in the foreground, only the buildings of the G.P.O in the rear. The church is Christ Church, Greyfriars.

London under fire 12

I could not get the same angle due to new building in the area, so I took the following of the church. The church was not rebuilt after the war, the tower was preserved and the main body of the old church turned into a garden. One of the few reminders in the area of the damage suffered during the last war.

London under fire 15

We are now at Ludgate Hill, looking down towards the junction with Fleet Street. The church tower on the left is that of St. Brides.

London under fire 4

Ludgate Hill today still has the slight bend to the left, however since the photo for the postcard was taken, the railway bridge has been removed and new building on the left has obscured the view of St. Brides with only the very tip of the steeple visible if you find the right place. The buses also look very different as well.

London under fire 21

Now moving slightly to the west, the following postcard is titled “View from High Holborn”. The buildings in the background to the right are those of Smithfield Market.

London under fire 9

Although I could find the position from where I suspect the photo was taken, the view is totally obscured by new building, so I walked back to where Holborn Viaduct crosses Farringdon Street and took the following photo of the market buildings.

London under fire 22

The next postcard is of St. Andrew’s Church from High Holborn:

London under fire 6

And another view of High Holborn. There is a single building in this wartime view that remains to this day.

London under fire 13

The building is the one in the centre of the photos above and below. I could not get the same angle as the original photo as the photographer must have been standing on the ruins of buildings between High Holborn and Charterhouse Street so the original photo is looking onto the side of the building which in my photo is off to the right.

London under fire 23

The final photo is of Temple Church, closed during my walk around London.

London under fire 11

It would be interesting to know how many of these postcards were posted. I suspect the majority were purchased and kept as a record of the destruction of the City rather than for posting.

They provide a fascinating view of the city at a point in time, before the start of the post war redevelopment that in many areas such as the Barbican and Paternoster Square, would result in so much change.

alondoninheritance.com

Autumn In The City

Whilst the majority of my father’s photos came to me as negatives, a number were printed, and of these some had the location written on the back. As well as the location, a few are also specific about the time of year as the photo reflects how London appears as the seasons change.

For this week’s post, I bring you two photos on which my father had written the simple title “Autumn in Finsbury Circus”.

Both were taken early in the morning and show autumnal light shining through the trees, with the first autumn leaves on the path. There are two photos, one showing a woman pushing what looks like a pram, whilst the second shows a man starting to sweep the fallen leaves.

City in Autumn 2

I suspect that he had taken these photos either for exhibition or competition at the St. Brides Institute Photographic Society as they have a more composed quality rather than the straight forward recording of London’s buildings and streets.

City in Autumn 1

To try and find the location of these photos, a day off from work last Friday provided the opportunity for an autumn walk around London.

Finsbury Circus is much the same today, with one significant exception being that it is a major construction site for Crossrail with the centre of the gardens in the middle of the square being used for access to Crossrail and sections of the path that runs round the perimeter of the gardens also being closed.

If I correctly located the buildings in the background, they were behind part of the closed off path, however parts that remain open provided the opportunity to show that not too much has changed (if you ignore the major construction site to your left).

City in Autumn 3

The layout of Finsbury Circus was established in the early 19th Century, with the office buildings we see today being built over the following century, with some redevelopment continuing today.

As one of the few areas of green space, the gardens were very popular with city workers, with a bandstand and bowling green occupying part of the centre of the gardens. A small, temporary bandstand remains today. The gardens at the centre of Finsbury Circus will be restored after the Crossrail works are complete.

The main entrance to the Crossrail construction site which currently occupies much of the gardens in the centre of Finsbury Circus.

City in Autumn 4

Walking in central London, there are very few indicators of the season of the year. Apart from temperature and the times of the rising and setting of the sun, it could be any time of year. The natural indicators of whether it is spring, summer, autumn or winter are few and far between.

Taking inspiration from the title of my father’s photos, I thought it would be interesting to take a walk through the City and look for any other examples of where autumn can be found in amongst such a built environment.

The weather last Friday at least was very autumnal with strong winds and alternating between heavy showers of rain and clear blue sky (although in fairness that could be English weather at any time of year).

There are very few green spaces left in the City, the majority that remain are usually associated with a church, either still remaining or one that was lost in the last war, and it was to one of these that I headed to after Finsbury Circus.

This is the garden that occupies the site of St. Mary Aldermanbury. a church that was heavily damaged in the last war, not rebuilt and the remains shipped to America (see my first post here). Just south of London Wall at the corner of Aldermanbury and Love Lane.

A heavy rain shower as I stood in the garden, and a strong wind blowing the fallen leaves up against the far wall.

City in Autumn 5

The next stop was the garden that occupies the graveyard of the church of St. Anne and St. Agnes at the corner of Noble Street and Gresham Street.

This garden occupies a relatively small space, however some mature trees reach up to the sky in amongst the surrounding buildings, with the leaves starting to turn to their autumn colours.

City in Autumn 6

Walking to the end of Gresham Street, then turning up St. Martin’s Le Grand I came to Postman’s Park. At this time of year, the sun does not reach above the buildings to the south in order to shine on Postman’s Park, so the park spends much of this time of year in shade that appears to be made darker by the sunlight on the surrounding buildings. Many of the trees here had already lost the majority of their leaves.

City in Autumn 7

Walking out from Postman’s Park into King Edward Street and I was back in the sunshine of an autumn day.

City in Autumn 8

Heading south from Postman’s Park to one of the larger areas of green open space remaining in the City, the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

City in Autumn 9

Here plenty of mature trees can be found around the eastern half of the cathedral and their autumn colours looking spectacular against both the stone of St. Paul’s and the sky.

City in Autumn 10

From St. Paul’s, it was then a walk down Cannon Street, Eastcheap and Great Tower Street to Trinity Square Gardens. (I did miss out the garden at St. Dunstan in the East as the sky to the east was getting very dark and I wanted to get to Trinity Square before another heavy shower of rain).

This large (for the City) open space also benefits from a lack of tall buildings to the south so the rare combination of a City garden that also gets the sun at this time of year.

The pavements showing the signs of recent rain. Overhung by mature trees, the pavements will soon be covered by leaves.

City in Autumn 13

The old Port of London Authority building in the background with the new memorial to Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Merchant Seamen who lost their lives in the Falklands Campaign. The mature trees around the edge of the gardens just starting to change to their autumn colours.

City in Autumn 11

My final visit was to the churchyard of St. Olave in Seething Lane. A small churchyard just catching the last glimpse of an autumn sun, with leaves on the trees starting to fall.

City in Autumn 12

It was a fascinating walk through the city on a typical autumn day with extremes of weather from heavy rain showers to clear blue sky. Even with the amount of building there are still places were it is possible to observe the changing of the seasons and retain contact with the natural cycle through the year.

I fear though that with the ever increasing height of buildings in the City, these valuable survivors of the natural world will be spending more and more of their days in the shadow of their surroundings.

alondoninheritance.com

Postcards From London

The photos we as a family have been taking of London only go back to 1947, so to go back further I also collect any old London postcards I can find with photographs of London. These really help to understand how London has changed, what specific areas looked like at a moment in time and what it would have been like to have been walking the streets when the photographs for these postcards were taken.

The following postcard is from the top of the Monument and shows how much the London skyline has changed over the last 100 years. Long gone are the days when the City churches stood well above their surroundings.

The road to the right is King William Street running up to the Bank. On the left of the photo is the original Cannon Street Station. The platform roof running off the edge of the photo with the station hotel being the large building to the right of the station roof. One of the adverts on the building to the lower right is for the “Aerated Bread Company” – a company formed in 1862 by a Dr. John Dauglish using a special yeast free process to produce an additive free bread. the company also had well over 200 tea shops, many of which were in London.

Postcard 2

The next postcard is also from the Monument but this time the photographer has moved to the left and much of Cannon Street station is now visible. These old postcards also show how dominant St. Paul’s Cathedral was on the London skyline.

Postcard 8

In the following postcard the photographer has moved further round the viewing platform at the top of the Monument and is now looking towards Tower Bridge. Billingsgate Market is to the lower right. Opposite Billingsgate Market is the London Coal Exchange, the building with the ornate tower on the corner. The church tower on the left is that of St. Dunstan in the East.

Postcard 12

As it still is today, St. Paul’s Cathedral was another favourite spot for views of the London skyline. This time we can look back at the Monument. Compared to today where the Monument is surrounded by much taller buildings,  in the early years of the last century it was one of the City’s highest points. This photo also provides another view of Cannon Street station and the substantial hotel / station entrance at the front.

Postcard 13

We can continue past St. Paul’s and now have a look at the City from the tower of St. Brides Church, Fleet Street. This photo again shows how dominant the cathedral was and by far the tallest building in London. The church in the foreground is St. Martin-within-Ludgate. The large building to the left is the old Post Office headquarters.

Postcard 1

The following postcard is from the Second World War. On the rear of the postcard is an extract from a broadcast speech made by Winston Churchill on the 11th September 1940 at the time when the major air raids on London had begun:

“This is a time for everyone to stand together, and hold firm!”

Postcard 4

The next postcard also has an aerial view of St. Paul’s Cathedral before the devastation of the area by bombing. This shows how close the buildings used to press up against the cathedral. The area behind the cathedral, Paternoster Row and Square was a major location for the publishing trade with many book sellers and book warehouses. For a view of the devastation to this area see my posts with my father’s photos taken just after the war which can be found here and here.

Postcard 14

Some old postcards capture a moment of major change in London. The following postcard shows not only the original Waterloo Bridge, but also the temporary bridge to the right that was constructed to carry traffic during the demolition of the old bridge and construction of the new.

Postcard 5

I find the subject matter of some postcards rather surprising. The following two postcards show bomb damage in London during the last war. I would have thought to maintain morale, postcards showing significant bomb damage in the heart of London would not have been available, alternatively they could also have been used to inspire when coupled with the speech extracts on the reverse of the cards.

The first postcard shows the damage to Paternoster Row to the north of St. Paul’s. Both postcards carry extracts from speeches made by Winston Churchill. The first postcard has the same extract as the one above.

Postcard 6

The following postcard shows St. Andrew’s Church from High Holborn. Note the “Passed by the Censor” statement on the lower right of the card.

On the rear of this postcard is the following extract from one of Winston Churchill’s speeches:

“Let us all strive without failure in faith or in duty”

Postcard 7

The following postcard shows the view from the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament. This is a post war card of the late 1940s / very early 1950s, and what I find interesting with this one is the empty patch of land on the right between Hungerford Bridge and County Hall. The photo for this postcard had been taken at a moment in time when the land had been cleared in preparation for the construction of the Festival of Britain. The Shot Tower can also be seen between Hungerford and Waterloo bridges.

Postcard 10

Postcards also show the busy streets of London during the first years of the 20th century. The following postcard shows the view down Cheapside with the church of St. Mary-le-Bow on the right. If you look on top of the buildings on the left you can see the telegraph poles that carried the wiring for the early telegraph / telephone system in the City. This was before the installation of underground cabling and much of the wiring was carried across the roofs of the City.

Postcard 3

And this postcard shows a very busy Piccadilly Circus.

Postcard 9

The following postcard is looking down the Strand towards Trafalgar Square. The building to the right is Marconi House. Originally built as the Gaiety Restaurant, it was taken over by the Marconi Company in 1912 and played a key part in the development of wireless. During 1922 and 1923, the original 2LO – London Broadcasting Station was broadcast from this building.

Wrapped around the stairs on the buses are adverts for some of the consumer brands of the time – Wrigley’s, Swan Vestas and Dunlop.

Postcard 11

Postcards also show that London has always been a centre for tourists and visitors with some of the postcards above being sent from London to destinations across the world.

Today, with the ability to take a photo on a phone and instantaneously send it across the world, the future of postcards looks rather bleak, however for roughly the past 150 years they provide a fascinating view of a changing city.

alondoninheritance.com

Walking The Streets On The Evening Before The 1981 Royal Wedding

A couple of weeks ago I published the photos my father took of people waiting for the Coronation in 1953. That post can be found here.

Just under 30 years later there was another royal event in central London, and on the evening before people were finding the best position along the route to watch the events of the following day.

This was the wedding of Charles and Diana that took place on the 29th July 1981 and on the evening of the 28th July I took a walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral and along Fleet Street and the Strand to take some photos.

Starting at St. Paul’s Cathedral, this is where the best positions were and large crowds had already found their place ready for an overnight stay.

I must have had a couple of photos left on some Black and White film before moving to colour.

Outside St. Paul’s Cathedral:

Royal Wedding St. Paul's

Crowds at this perfect position looking across at the steps leading into the Cathedral: Royal Wedding St. Paul'sI must have then switched to a colour film:Royal Wedding St. Paul's

Looking back up Ludgate Hill. Although this was the evening before, the road had been closed and a large number of people were just walking the route, taking in the atmosphere and watching the people who were settling in for the night along the edge of the route. It was a warm evening and I remember there being a real sense of a big event taking place the following day.

Royal Wedding Ludgate Hill

The same view today looking back up Ludgate Hill towards the cathedral. St. Martin Ludgate on the left is still there, along with many of the buildings on the right.

Ludgate Hill

Just to the right in the above photo in 1981:

Royal Wedding Ludgate Hill

Now in Ludgate Circus. This was when the railway bridge still ran across the start of Ludgate Hill.

Royal Wedding Ludgate Circus

Just to the left of the railway bridge is the Old King Lud pub, decorated for the event. This was a lovely Victorian pub, built-in 1870,

Royal Wedding Ludgate Circus

After going through some changes in the 1990s, the pub finally closed in 2005 and became yet another of London’s lost Victorian pubs. The site is now occupied by a fast food store with offices above:

Ludgate Circus

Moving up into Fleet Street. This road was still open and the pavements were busy with those walking and those waiting:

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

This was when Fleet Street was still occupied by newspaper publishers. The Express offices on the left and those of the Star on the right. I remember walking along Fleet Street and the side roads leading down to the Thames on a late Saturday afternoon / early evening and listening to the sound of the newspapers being printed and the amount of activity to get the next day’s edition distributed. All very exciting when you are young and exploring London.

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

Prepared for a night’s wait:

Royal Wedding Fleet Street

Along the side of the Royal Court’s of Justice:

Royal Wedding Law Courts

The George pub in the Strand which fortunately is still there:

Royal Wedding Strand

Most of the decorations were put up by the owners of the buildings along the route. “Official” street decoration was very limited, mainly these pennants hanging from lamp posts. Union Jacks along with red, white and blue bunting was out in abundance.

Royal Wedding Strand

One of many events that have taken this route to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but a special event for me as this was my first opportunity to get out and photograph the streets and people preparing for the following day.

alondoninheritance.com

 

Cardinal Cap Alley And No. 49 Bankside

If you visit Bankside today, by far the main attraction is the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, however I would argue that there is a far more important historical building right next door to the Globe.

The following photo was taken by my father in 1947 and shows Cardinal Cap Alley. The building on the left of the alley is No. 49 Bankside, a building that exists to this day and has somehow managed to survive the considerable rebuilding along Bankside, and whilst having a well documented history, No. 49 also pretends to be something which it is not.

Cardinal Cap Alley

In the above photo, No. 49 and Cardinal Cap Alley are between one of the many industrial buildings along Bankside (Craig & Rose, paint manufacture’s ) and a short terrace of houses that were damaged by bombing in the last war.

The following photo is my 2015 view of the same area and shows No. 49 and Cardinal Cap Alley are now in between the Globe and the rebuilt terrace of houses, which were also reduced from three down to two houses in the post war reconstruction.

Cardinal Cap Alley

Cardinal Cap Alley and No. 49 have a fascinating history that tell so much about how Bankside has changed, and also how the history of the site can be traced to what we see along Bankside today.

As a starter, the following is from the London County Council Survey of London, Volume XXII published in 1950:

“The name Cardinal’s Hat (or Cap), for a house on the site of the present No. 49 Bankside, and for the narrow alley which runs down beside it, dates from at least the time of Elizabeth and perhaps earlier. The suggestion that it was named in compliment to Cardinal Beaufort is attractive but untenable, for Beaufort died in 1447, and the original Cardinal’s Hat was not built till many years later.

The site was described in 1470 as “a void piece of ground”. It is possible that it was named after Cardinal Wolsey who was Bishop of Winchester from 1529-30, although no buildings are mentioned in a sale of the site from John Merston, fishmonger, to Thomas Tailloure, fishmonger in 1533. Stowe lists the Cardinal’s Hat as one of the Stewhouses but he may possibly have been mistaken, including it only because it was one of the more prominent inns on Bankside in his day.

It is shown in the Token Book for 1593 as in occupation of John Raven and as one of a group of houses which in the book for 1588 is described as “Mr. Broker’s Rentes”. Hugh Browker, later the owner of the Manor of Paris Garden, was in possession of ground there in 1579 and it seems likely that he was responsible for the formation of Cardinal’s Cap Alley if not for the building of the original house.

Thomas Mansfield was the tenant of the inn when Edward Alleyn dined there with the “vestrye men” of St. Saviour’s parish in December 1617.

A few years later John Taylor, the water poet makes reference to having supper with “the players” at the Cardinal’s Hat on Bankside. Milchisedeck Fritter, brewer, who tenanted the house from 1627 to 1674 issued a halfpenny token. He was assessed for seven hearths in the hearth tax rolls.

The freehold was sold by Thomas Browker to Thomas Hudson in 1667. The later died in 1688 leaving his “messuages on Bankside” to his sister Mary Greene, with reversion to his great nieces Mary and Sarah Bruce. It was at about this date that the older part of the present house was built. During the 18th century it was bought by the Sells family who both owned and occupied it until 1830. in 1841 Edward Sells of Grove Lane, Camberwell, bequeathed his freehold messauge and yard and stables, being No. 49 Bankside, then in the tenure of George Holditch, merchant, to his son, Vincent Sells. The house is now owned by Major Malcolm Munthe. It has previously been occupied by Anna Lee, the actress.”

Although today the main Bankside attraction is the adjacent Globe Theatre, what does draw the attention of visitors to Bankside is the old looking plaque on No.49 with ornate script stating that Sir Christopher Wren lived in the building during the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral and that Catherine of Aragon took shelter in the building on her arrival in London. This can be seen to the left of the doorway to No. 49 in my 2015 photo.

Sir Christopher Wren

But a close-up of the 1947 photo shows no evidence of the plaque to the left of the door and there is no mention of it in the 1950 Survey of London.

Cardinal Cap Alley

The origin of this plaque is documented in the really excellent book “The House by the Thames” by Gillian Tindall.

As the name suggests, the book is about the history of No. 49 Bankside, the occupiers of the house and the industries around Bankside. It is one of the most interesting and well researched accounts of a single house and its’ surroundings that I have read.

In the book, Tindall confirms that the plaque is a mid 20th Century invention. Malcolm Munthe, who purchased the house just after the end of the war, probably made the plaque himself and installed on the front of the house. There was a plaque on a house further up Bankside, claiming the occupancy of Wren, however this house was pulled down in 1906.

A close-up of Cardinal Cap Alley and the entrance to No. 49, showing the Wren plaque to the left of the door.

Cardinal Cap Alley

Also note that Cardinal Cap Alley is now gated. This use to be freely accessible and I took the following photo from inside the alley in the 1970s. Could not deal with the contrasting light very well, I was very young and this was with a Kodak Instamatic 126 camera – my very first.

Cardinal Cap 11

I did not take a photo looking down into the alley, probably thinking at the time it was not as good a view as across the river, however it is these views which are so important as they show, what at the time, are the day to day background of the city which are so important to record.

I am very grateful to Geraldine Moyle who sent me the following photo taken in 1973 looking down into Cardinal Cap Alley:

1973 Cardinal Cap Alley

The garden of No. 49 is on the left. Just an ordinary alley, but so typical of all the alleys that would have run back from the water front, between the houses that faced the river.

Tindall’s book runs through the whole history of No.49 and demonstrates how the history of a specific site over the past centuries has influenced the site to this day.

The occupiers of No. 49 and the adjacent buildings ran the ferry boats across the river, were lightermen and watermen and then moved into the coal trade. The Sell’s family who lived in the house for a number of generations, and who built a very successful coal trading business, finally merging with other coal trading companies to form the Charrington, Sells, Dale & Co. business which generally traded under the name of Charrington (a name that will be very familiar to anyone who can remember when there was still domestic coal distribution in the 1960s and 1970s).

How the history of Bankside has evolved over the centuries:

– the original occupations of many Bankside residents of ferrymen, lightermen and watermen. Working on the River Thames with the transportation of people and goods.

–  as the transport of coal became important to London, the development of many coal trading businesses along Bankside, including that of the Sell’s family

– the local coal trading led to the development of coal gas and electricity generation plants at Bankside (the Phoenix Gas Works are shown on the 1875 Ordnance Survey map covering the west side of the current Bankside Power Station / Tate Modern.)

– the first electricity generating plant being replaced by the Bankside Power Station that we see today and is now Tate Modern.

To quote Tindall:

“And this is why at the end of the twentieth century, a huge and distinctive brick red building was there to make an iconic focus for the regeneration of a Bankside from which industrial identity had by then fled.

Thus do patches of London’s ground, which are nothing in themselves but gravel and clay and river mud, and the ground down dust of brick and stone and bones, wood and wormwood and things thrown away, acquire through ancient incidental reasons a kind of genetic programming that persists through time”

This last paragraph sums up my interest in the history of London far better than I could put into words.

I really do recommend “The House by the Thames” by Gillian Tindall.

Going back to 1912, Sir Walter Besant writing in his “London – South of the River” describes Bankside at the height of industrialisation:

“Bankside is closely lined with foundries, engineering shops, dealers in metals, coke, fire-brick, coal, rags, iron and iron girders. the great works of the City of London Electric Lighting Corporation, which lights the city, is also here. On the river-side is a high brick building containing the coal-hoisting machinery. All is automatic; the coal is lifted, conveyed to the furnaces, fed to the fires, and the ashes brought back with hardly any attention whatever, at an immense savings of labour.”

Standing in Bankside today, the area could not be more different.

Another view of No. 49 Bankside. The street in front of these buildings is the original Bankside. As can just be seen, this comes to an abrupt stop due to the land beyond being occupied by the Bankside Power Station complex. It is perhaps surprising that N0.49 and Cardinal Cap Alley have survived this long given the considerable redevelopment along this stretch of the river. It is ironic that perhaps the false plaque claiming Sir Christopher Wren’s occupancy may have contributed to the survival of the building during the last half of the 20th century.

The Globe Bankside

My father also took a photo from Bankside across the river to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The larger ship traveling from left to right is the Firedog, owned by the Gas Light & Coke Company. Originally founded in 1812, the company had a fleet of ships to transport coal to the gas works it operated around London (this was before “natural” gas was discovered in the North Sea. Prior to this, gas was produced from coal). The Gas Light & Coke company absorbed many of the smaller companies across London before being nationalised in 1948 as a major part of North Thames Gas, which was then absorbed into British Gas.

St. Paul's Cathedral

The same view in 2015. The only building on the river front to have survived is the building on the far right.  Note the building in the middle of the 1947 photo. This is the head office of LEP (the letters can just be seen on the roof), the company that operated the last working crane on the Thames in central London, see my earlier post here. It is really good to see that the height of the buildings between the river and St. Paul’s are no higher today than they were in 1947. A very positive result of the planning controls that protect the view of the cathedral.

St. Paul's Cathedral

There is one final reminder of Bankside’s past. Walk past the Globe and on the side of a modern building with a Greek restaurant on the ground floor is the Ferryman’s Seat:

Ferryman's Seat

The plaque states;

“The Ferryman’s seat, located on previous buildings at this site was constructed for the convenience of Bankside watermen who operated ferrying services across the river. The seat’s age is unknown, but it is thought to have ancient origins.”

Although there is no firm evidence of the seat’s antiquity, the 1950 Survey of London for Bankside includes a drawing of the seat in the building on the site at the time and states that “Inserted in a modern building at the corner of Bear Gardens and Bankside is an old stone seat said to have been taken from an earlier building and to have been made for the convenience of watermen.”

Ferryman's Seat

Read Gillian Tindall’s book, then visit Bankside. Ignore the crowds around the Globe and reflect on Cardinal Cap Alley, No. 49 and the lives of countless Londoners who have lived and worked on Bankside over the centuries.

alondoninheritance.com

 

VE Day In London – 1945 And 2015

Friday, 8th May was the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, the day in 1945 when the war in Europe officially came to an end. There are plenty of photos and film showing the celebrations in London on the day and throughout the night. The lights are starting to come back on and crowds throng the West End.

Apart from being evacuated for a couple of weeks at the very start of the war, my father lived in London throughout, in flats which still exist, just off Redhill Street in Camden. As well as a large collection of photos, he also left a detailed account of his experiences in London during the war. Written shortly after, these tell of the horror and also the sense of adventure that comes from the perspective of someone growing up in London.

His account finishes with a few paragraphs covering VE Day, written from the perspective of someone who has spent all their teenage years in London during the war, and for that generation, VE Day meant not going back to normal, but rather a future with plenty of uncertainty.

I decided to take a walk on Friday night and follow his footsteps exactly 70 years after his walk through London on VE Day, 1945, but before my account, the following is how my father saw VE Day on the 8th May 1945:

So now the long war was finally over, in Europe at least, which to many seemed the real war. Locally, as throughout the country preparations were quickly made for a celebration. Trestle tables magically appeared, placed end to end in the courtyards beneath the blocks of flats, where they could be fitted in between the surface shelters and the bicycle sheds, for a grand children’s party. Similarly, flags and bunting appeared at windows and were strung between balconies, reminiscent to me of my last children’s party, for the Coronation of 1937. Indeed, it was clear that cardboard cut-outs of their Majesties, together with slogans of “God Bless The King And Queen” had been safely stored since then.

Elsewhere bonfires in the streets were made ready for the evening of the 8th. A huge bonfire was prepared on part of Cumberland Market, the local boys dragging old doors and any timber they could lay their hands on to add to the pile.

As for myself, I had made arrangements with my friend Gus, whom I had known since infants school days, that on that evening, we would make our way to the West End to watch the celebrations.

Outrageous it may sound, but I didn’t feel like celebrating, and it became clear that Gus felt the same. The war had begun when I was eleven and, now being seventeen, the whole of those six years, despite every hardship, had been the only real and normal life that I could recognise, for I was a child before September 1939. therefore peacetime presented a prospect of the Great Unknown, in which the unity of wartime would vanish.

So it was that I felt a complete outsider, observing only the dancing, singing and general merrymaking taking place in the West End. Servicemen would now rightly look forward to a return to civilian life, with the promise of a better life than the one they had left; but with the war in the far east not yet over, Gus and I had to await our call-up to the services and I, as a temporary Civil servant, would be without a job to return to, if and when I did.

Darkness had fallen by the time we had managed to reach the end of Regent Street, where the crowds were vast and well lit by the unaccustomed brilliance from the lights, made even brighter by roving searchlights picking out the revellers for the benefit of the cine cameras.  On one of the balcony’s overlooking Piccadilly Circus, the musical star, Zoe Gail appeared, dressed in top hat and tails to sing “I’m Going To get Lit Up When The Lights Go On In London” which was rapturously received by the crowds.

However as observers, we eventually left the Circus, walking south along Regent Street to Waterloo Place. Here we came across the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall, which to me presented the most spectacular illumination of the night. The building, constructed in Ancient Greek style, had been freshly painted a pale yellow colour and subtly lit. The balustrade bordering the Club surmounted by torches. Each had been filled with oil or similar and lit, producing a spectacular dish of flame, adding to the warm light bathing the building.

And so we made our way through central London taking it all in, the lights, the shop windows, the decorations and individual celebrations, until we found ourselves in Chiltern Street, which runs parallel with Baker Street. Celebrations at the London Fire Brigade building were well underway. The station gates were wide open and in the drill yard blazed a large fire. In one corner a piano was playing old favourites, while several elderly ladies performed a nifty “Knees Up Mother Brown”. We didn’t join in the dancing or sing any songs, but the beer and food was welcome, and I felt at home in the fire station.

Now the early hours of the morning, V.E. Day was over. we made our way home both wondering what life held in store for us.

Preliminaries to the 1945 General Election being contested by our great wartime leader, Winston Churchill, for me set the seal on the end of an era. I watched Churchill campaigning at Mornington Crescent, Camden Town, his open car surrounded by a rather hostile crowd. The great man was standing, raised hat in his left hand, cigar in his right. from an onlooker came a cry “Ere, Winston, try one of our fags!” followed by a Woodbine pack hurled at Churchill who turned the other cheek as his car drive on.

The future must have seemed very uncertain at the time. I suspect that he “felt at home in the fire station” was due to his grandfather, my great-grandfather being the Superintendent of East Ham Fire Station.

On Friday night, I set out from the West End to reach Chiltern Street by dusk and find out if the fire station was still there, and then walk back during the late evening to photograph the West End as it is now, very different to the same night 70 years earlier.

Turning off Baker Street and a short walk down to Chiltern Street, it was easy to spot the old Fire Station, the exterior looks much as it must have done when my father and Gus stopped here 70 years earlier, although now the building has a very different purpose. The building is now the Chiltern Firehouse, a bespoke luxury hotel and restaurant.

I took the following photo of the Fire Station as the light was fading on Friday evening. The original function of the building is very clear, the three large doors providing access to where the fire engines would have been waiting for a fast exit to the street.

VE Day 1

Just to the left of the main building is the old drill yard mentioned in my father’s account. This  also forms part of the Chiltern Firehouse and the original entrance still remains.

I stood for a while looking at what is a wonderful building, the architecture a clear statement of the standing in which the Fire Service at the time was held. As I waited, there was an almost constant stream of taxis dropping people off for either the restaurant or hotel and entering via the old drill yard entrance. Very different to the same place, 70 years earlier.

VE Day 2Pleased to have found that the Chiltern Street Fire Station building is still there, I then headed back through Manchester Square, to Oxford Street and then to the top of Regent Street.

In Regent Street looking back up to Oxford Circus:

VE Day 4Regent Street is still lined with shops as it was in 1945, but the shops are now rather different than they were. Walk down the street now and you pass the status shops of global brands:

VE Day 3

Shops with displays, variety and colour that would still have been a distant dream along the Regent Street of 1945:

VE Day 5

Regent Street is well-lit, but on reaching the end of this part of the street, the brighter lights of Piccadilly Circus beckon:

VE Day 6Piccadilly Circus is brilliantly lit at night and was one of the centres of celebration on the 8th May 1945. Late evening in 2015 and it is still busy, but nothing like the crowds my father was in, that were here in the same evening in 1945.

VE Day 7Eros as it is now generally known, or the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain to use the original and full name is the focal point of Piccadilly, but sits almost in the shade of the surrounding buildings:

VE Day 8

Illuminated advertising has always been a central feature of Piccadilly Circus:

VE Day 9I followed my father’s route through Piccadilly Circus and down to the lower end of Regent Street to Waterloo Place.

Waterloo Place is at the junction of Pall Mall and Regent Street and leads down to the 1834 column that forms the monument to the Duke of York. Much quieter than Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street.

Steps lead down from Waterloo Place to The Mall and I can imagine that in 1945 this was a far busier celebration route from Buckingham Palace to Piccadilly Circus.

Looking from Waterloo Place, up Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus:

VE Day 10

The Athenæum Club still faces onto Waterloo Place and as my father described in 1945 is still “painted a pale yellow colour and subtly lit” although on this 8th May the torches, which can still be seen around the 1st floor balustrade were unfortunately not lit:

VE Day 11The Athenæum Club on the left with the Crimean War memorial in the centre of Waterloo Place, looking up to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus:

VE Day 12He did not say where else he walked on VE Day, but having been in Waterloo Place, there is a good chance that he probably walked down to The Mall and to Trafalgar Square, so I took the same route. Looking from the centre of The Mall towards Admiralty Arch:

VE Day 13Flags on Admiralty Arch with the light from the searchlights in Trafalgar Square shining on the clouds. The searchlights had been set-up for the weekend as part of London’s celebrations of the 70th anniversary.

VE Day 14And in Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery in the background, the “V” searchlights pick out the top of Nelsons Column:

VE Day 15After Trafalgar Square I took a quick walk down to the footbridge alongside Hungerford Railway Bridge to see if the “V” searchlights from St. Paul’s Cathedral were visible. The view along the Thames to the City from here is fantastic during the day, but takes on an additional dimension at night. 70 years ago, this view would probably still have been dark, although searchlights that had been used a few years earlier to pick out enemy bombers were being used that night to illuminate the Cathedral.

VE Day 16And a final close-up clearly shows the V searchlights from St. Paul’s Cathedral:

VE Day 17It was fascinating to walk the same route as my father and his friend Gus, exactly 70 years later and consider how London has changed. I was really pleased to find that the Chiltern Street Fire Station is still there.

My father’s account of his life in London during the war was written soon after. The lack of much detail about VE Day itself, rather thoughts and concerns about the future probably reflect how many Londoners of the same age were feeling. After six years of war, the years of bombing, the V1 and V2, the threat to London had at last been removed, however the war in the far east was far from an end and National Service was imminent.

He did not take any photos on the night, as he did not get his first camera until 1946. When he did, one of the first photos was of St. Paul’s Cathedral lit up by searchlights. So, to finish off, this must have been how the Cathedral appeared on VE Day:

VE Day 18

alondoninheritance.com

 

Wardrobe Place And St. Andrews Hill

All to often, walking the City of London it is too easy to get depressed with how much character is being lost. At street level much recent development looks the same. Standard materials, bland architecture and design that could equally be at home in Shanghai, Dubai or New York.

Fortunately there are still many places that retain that sense of being part of London’s history and where character remains.

For this week’s post I want to explore one such area, Wardrobe Place and St. Andrews Hill, both can be found off Carter Lane, which runs parallel to Queen Victoria Street and Ludgate Hill / St. Paul’s Churchyard, to the south-east of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

This area is part of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Conservation Area, one of the City Conservation Areas where special planning controls are in force to manage development within the area. The document covering the St. Paul’s Conservation Area is an interesting read and can be downloaded here.

Unlike much of the City to the south, east and north of St. Paul’s Cathedral, this area did not suffer from the extensive fire damage caused by bombing during the last war, and has had limited major development in the decades since.

Walk down Carter Lane from St. Paul’s and on the left you will find the entrance to Wardrobe Place, an alley through the line of buildings along the street.

Wardrobe 4

At the end of the alley, the view opens up to Wardrobe Place, enclosed by buildings on all four sides with the main entrance being the alley into Carter Lane.

From this perspective, the buildings on the left are relatively recent developments, it is the buildings on the right that are off interest as a surviving post Great Fire development.
Wardrobe 12

Immediately to the right is No. 2 Wardrobe Place. This is a Grade II listed building from around 1680.  The listing states that “the house retains its late-C17 domestic plan and stair, panelling and other original or early features. The two overmantel paintings have outstanding interest as early examples of a once-widespread artisan tradition, and are now of great rarity.”

The paintings refer to two original wall paintings that were discovered during building work in the 1970s.

The exterior of the building has later alterations with the stucco windows and the round-headed frame around the door from 1860, however the building is still essentially a London town house from the post fire redevelopment of London.
Wardrobe 6

Next along are numbers 3 to 5 Wardrobe Place. These are from around 1715, three broadly similar, three bay town houses. Wardrobe 8

Look closer at these buildings and they retain features essential to living and working in London in the past.

On No. 4, inset just to the right of the front door is a foot scraper. A device essential to cleaning shoes prior to entering a building. London’s streets are today relatively immaculate compared to a time when filth was commonplace, thousands of horses worked across the City streets and efficient waste removal was limited.
Wardrobe 13

Also on No. 4 are two bell pushes, either side of the front door. Not easy to see after many layers of black paint, but the one of the left is for the Office and the one on the right for the Housekeeper. Wardrobe 14

Wardrobe Place is so named as up until the Great Fire of 1666, it was the site of the King’s Wardrobe (the storage, administration and expenditure office for the King). The Wardrobe was moved here from the Tower in the 1360s into the mansion owned by Sir John Beauchampe. From Stow’s Survey of London:

“Then is the kings greate Wardrobe, Sir John Beauchampe, knight of the Garter, Constable of Dover, Warden of the Sinke Portes builded this house, was lodged there, deceased in the yeare 1359.  His Executors sold the house to King Edware the third”.

The Wardrobe name does not give away the intrigue that must have taken place here, for according to Stow:

“The secret letters and writings touching the estate of the Realme, were wont to be enroled in the Kings Wardrobe, and not in the Chauncery, as appeareth by the records”.

Today, there is a plaque recording the earlier function of this area:

Wardrobe 9

And on the later buildings at the far end are the remains of a sign recording the buildings previous use and occupier:

SNASHALL & SON

Printers. Stationers &

Account Book Manufacturers
Wardrobe 7

Good to see that this sign has been preserved. There are too few of these remaining across the City. Signs which once must have been on almost every City building.

The view from the far end looking back up towards the Carter Lane entrance. The buildings on the right are part of a 1980s development which at least retained some of the architectural character of Wardrobe Place.
Wardrobe 5

Now walk back into Carter Lane and a short distance further we come to St. Andrews Hill. This leads down to Queen Victoria Street, opposite where Puddle Dock was originally located and according to George Cunningham in his 1927 Survey of London, was originally called Puddledock Hill (although I have been unable to find any other reference that confirms this, however it could well have been an earlier or alternative name as the street leads up from both Puddle Dock and the church of St. Andrew’s by the Wardrobe.)

The street displays the characteristic downward slope towards the river.
Wardrobe 1

And one of the many boundary markers that can still be found across the City:

Wardrobe 10Many of the buildings along St. Andrews Hill are 19th century in origin and a mix of style and function including offices, shop fronts and warehouses.

In front of the listed 36 St. Andrews Hill are two Post Office letter boxes, not now in use, but unusual, 100-year-old survivors.

The box on the left is Edward VII (1901 – 1910) and on the right is George V (1910 – 1936)

Wardrobe 11

And just past the letter boxes is St. Andrews House with a strange first floor, corner bay window:

Wardrobe 2And just past St. Andrews House are alleys around the church of St. Andrew by the Wardrobe:

Wardrobe 15

Also in St. Andrews Hill is the excellent Cockpit Pub:

Wardrobe 16A fascinating shape being on both St. Andrews Hill and Ireland Yard. The current building is mainly from 1842, however a pub is alleged to have been here from the 16th century and the name is a reference to cock-fighting and the associated gambling that once took place here.

Wardrobe Place and St. Andrews Hill, not significant historical locations, but thankfully places where it is still possible to get a glimpse of the development of City streets from after the Great Fire through to the 20th Century.

alondoninheritance.com

One Year Of Blogging, Seventy Years Of Photography

A year ago I wrote my first blog post. It was about the location of the first bomb on central London in the last war, a site in Fore Street commemorated by the sign in one of the photos my father took shortly after the war:

IMG01992 - 1

It seemed a fitting place to start a blog where my main focus is to discover how London has changed over the last seventy years, and to learn more about the history of each location.

It has been a fascinating year and I have learnt so much about London by researching the subject of each week’s post.

I would like to thank everyone who has read, commented, provided some additional information, subscribed by e-mail and followed on Twitter. It is really appreciated.

To mark the first year, it would perhaps be a good time to provide some background as to why I started the blog and the photography that I am using to build up a personal view of how London has changed.

As a family, we have a long attachment to London. My great-grandfather was a fireman in East Ham, my grandfather worked in an electricity generating station in Camden, but it was my father who was born and lived in Camden during the last war, who started taking photos of London at the age of 17 in 1946. I also grew up listening to family stories about London and being taken on walks to explore the city.

I have had his collection of photos for many years. Not all of the photos were printed, many were still only negatives and have been stored in a number of boxes in the decades since the photos were originally taken.

Film for cameras immediately after the last war was in short supply. The first film he used was cut from 35mm movie film which had to be rolled into canisters before use. When standard 35mm camera film cartridges became more readily available, the film quality also improved with Ilford being a major provider to the retail market.

I have been looking after these boxes of photos and negatives and about 10 years ago started a project to scan all the negatives. The very early ones on the worst film stock were starting to deteriorate so the time was right to begin this work. Due to family, work and other commitments it took the 10 years (and now on my third negative scanner) to complete the series of black and white photos, over 3,500 covering not only London, but also post war cycle trips around the UK and Holland along with his period of National Service starting in 1947.

Some of the storage boxes of negatives:

negatives 1It was a really interesting project. Seeing long-lost London scenes appear on the computer screen. Never knowing what a new strip of negatives might contain.

A number of the photos were easily identifiable. Those which my father had printed often had the location, date and time written on the back, but for many there was no location.

Flicking through these photos on the computer, a project to find the locations, understand the changes since the original photo was taken and use this as a means to learn more about this fascinating city seemed the logical next step.

I also needed an incentive to follow this through. A blog seemed a possible method to document the project and attending one of the Gentle Authors blogging courses last February provided the final kick I needed to get this underway.

Photography just after the war was very different when compared with the cameras available today. My father started taking photos using a Leica IIIc camera in 1946.

Leica_IIIc_mp3h0295

(Photo credit: By Rama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Leica produced these from 1940 to 1951 and apparently they were readily available after the war, brought home by returning solders who had bought them cheaply in Germany. This was the source of my father’s camera.

Unfortunately he sold this in 1957 to purchase a Leica IIIg camera, however this one I still have as he continued to use this until the late 1980’s when he finally bought a new SLR camera. This is his Leica IIIg which I still posses:

Leica IIIG 1The lens on the camera is not the standard for the Leica IIIg, it came from my father’s original Leica IIIc. Lenses on the Leica III range up to and including the “g” model were a screw fitting and compatible throughout the range, so although the camera body of the Leica IIIg was not used for the early photos of London, the lens was from the original Leica IIIc and was used for all the 1940s and 1950s photos in my blog.

I have recently had the camera serviced to fix a sticking shutter, so a future project for the Spring is to start taking photos using the Leica, which, having the same lens as used for the original photos should make it easy to get the same perspective. Not always possible when using a new digital camera with a completely different lens for the current comparison photos.

It will be an experience to be taking photos of the same scene, from the same place, almost 70 years apart and with the photo taken through the same lens.

I have used cameras with inbuilt light meters since my first camera in the mid 1970s. The Leica III range did not have this facility and external measurement was needed in order to set the correct aperture and speed before taking a photo. I still have the Weston Light Meter that my father used for all his photography with both the Leica IIIc and g:

Weston 1The Weston Master Universal Exposure Meters were made by Sangamo Weston in Enfield from 1939 and provided a method of measuring the light level. The user would hold up the rear of the light meter (which had a light-sensitive cell which generated an electric current proportionate to the intensity of the light), towards the subject of the photo. The meter on the front would then display the light intensity and using the dial below the meter, this reading would be used to calculate the aperture and speed settings for the camera, specific to the scene being photographed.

With practice it was possible to visually estimate the light level and the settings needed, and some degree of wrong exposure could be corrected when the photo was developed in the dark room. There was both an art and a skill to getting the correct exposure, something I need to try to learn before taking the Leica back onto the streets of London.

Any serious amateur photographer of the late 1940s and 1950s would develop their own photos and my father was no exception (he was also a member of the St. Brides Institute Photographic Society). The lens on the camera also served as the lens on the enlarger which projected the negative onto the paper during the developing process (another reason why he kept the lens from the first camera).

When printing photos, it was useful to record the details, not just when and where the photo was taken, but also the settings on the camera and developer. He recorded this on the back of the photo. The following is a photo of the Thames at Shadwell:

shadwell front

And on the rear is recorded that the photo was taken on the 26th May 1953 at 11:15 am, along with the speed and aperture settings and that a filter was used. On the third line is recorded the film type and the parameters used during developing.

Ishadwell rear

My father continued taking photos of London through the 1980s and 1990s. I have started scanning these and they cover not just central London, but also the Isle of Dogs, north and east London, Greenwich etc.  The posts on London Hairdressers and Murals and Street Art from 1980s London are some of the first I have scanned.

I started taking photos of London in the mid 1970s (can an urge to photograph London be inherited?). The photos from the posts on Baynards Castle and a Dragon Rapide over London are some of my early photos.

The first camera I could afford on pocket-money was a Russian built Zenith-E. The only problem with this camera was a random sticking shutter so you would never know whether you would have a good photo until after they were printed. Very frustrating.

My first serious camera was a Canon AE-1 bought on hire purchase in the late 1970s when I first started working.

ae1

A job on the South Bank, started in 1979, introduced me to the photos my father had taken when he showed me the printed photos he had taken of the same area just after the war and before the Royal Festival Hall and the Festival of Britain.  I think it was from this point that I knew I wanted explore all the photos he had taken. I included some of these photos in last years posts here, here and here.

I switched from film to digital in 2002 and now use a compact Panasonic Lumix and a Nikon D300 and hopefully soon a Leica IIIg if I can master the techniques needed to correctly set the exposure levels.

Digital photography has provided significant benefits over film photography, however having been through the process of scanning these negatives, the earliest of which are almost 70 years old it does make we wonder how many of today’s digital photos will still be usable in 70 years time.

Negative film can be stored cheaply in a shoe box and providing it is not exposed to extremes of heat, cold, humidity and light will last a long time. To view the original photo, it is simply a matter of shining a light through onto a receptive surface, whether photo paper, within a scanner etc.

Apart from professionally archived digital photos, how many personal digital photos will survive the next 70 years? Computer hard disk failures, changes in technology etc. over the next 70 years may well mean that the majority of photos will be lost or unreadable.

Looking back on the first year of the blog, one of the most remarkable events happened when I published the following photo of a man repairing a chair on a London street:

Chairmender2

Thanks to the Internet, the photo was seen by Rachel South who identified him as her grandfather, Michael George South. Remarkably, Rachel is still following the same craft and her website can be found here. The original post is here.

My favourite location from the first year has to be the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It was from here that just after the war my father took a series of photos showing the whole panorama of London. The devastation caused by bombing in the immediate vicinity was clearly visible and the City skyline looks very different when compared with today.  The full posts can be found here and here, and below is one example of the original photo, looking towards Cannon Street Station with the 2014 photo of the same scene following:

IMG02591- upload

And the same scene in 2014:

DSC_1392-uploadMuch of the devastation around St. Paul’s was caused on the night of the 29th December 1940. It was fascinating to research the story of the St. Paul’s Watch and the night of the 29th December for posts here and here.

London continues to change. One of the major projects going through planning approvals during the year was the Garden Bridge. This will have a dramatic impact on the Thames and surrounding areas. I gave my thoughts on this in a post in December which can be found here.

The Garden bridge will have a very dramatic impact on this view from Waterloo Bridge:

garden bridge 13So looking forward to the second year, I have many more places to explore and research. I plan to extend the range a bit further. My father took a river trip from Westminster to Greenwich and there are a whole sequence for photos showing the old docks and wharfs along the river as they were in the early 1950s. Also a series of photos of Hampstead will require a couple of visits to hunt down all the locations from these original photos.

Again, my thanks for your interest in the blog, and if you see someone in the coming year on the streets of London trying to work out how to take a photo with an old light meter and camera, that will be me with the Leica IIIg.

alondoninheritance.com 

 

The Second Great Fire Of London – 29th December 1940

In yesterday’s post I introduced the St. Paul’s Watch. In today’s post I will focus on the night of the 29th December 1940. Although there had been many bombing raids on London since mid 1940, the first raid where the survival of St. Paul’s Cathedral was at risk and where the Watch were tested in the extreme was on Sunday 29th December 1940.

Before getting into detail, an overview of the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral will help set the scene. The following photo shows St. Paul’s and immediate surroundings just before the war. The Cathedral was surrounded on all sides by narrow city streets, closely packed buildings typically of up to six floors in height. St. Paul’s Cathedral was still the dominant building standing high above the surroundings.

st pauls aerial view 1

To the north was Paternoster Square and Paternoster Row. Historic streets that were one of the centres of the publishing industry with many thousands of books stored in these buildings.

To the north-west is the tower of Christchurch Greyfriars, to the north-east is the tower of St. Verdast alias Foster on Foster Lane and immediately to the south-east of the Cathedral is the square tower of St. Augustine, Watling Street.

To the south, the land dropped down to the River Thames with the extensive warehousing that was still a feature of the City river banks.

The German raid planned for the night of the 29th December was to feature an initial attack led by a specialist Pathfinder Squadron, followed by the first wave of bombers with mainly  incendiary bombs and some high explosive to set the City alight, followed much later in the evening by the second wave of bombers with high explosive bombs. The clear intention was to destroy the City with key strategic targets being the bridges over the river, train stations and tracks and communications centres such as the Faraday building on Queen Victoria Street which was a centre for the London Telephony system and also for international telephony circuits.

The role of the Pathfinder squadron was to locate the target using a beam radio system where radio signals transmitted from the Continent would direct a plane to its target with a change in signal where beams crossed indicating a key geographic point to commence the attack.

The planes of the Pathfinder Squadron flew over the countryside between the coast and south London and on approaching Mitcham the signal changed indicating the point from where a carefully planned course and time would lead the planes directly to the centre of London.

This approach allowed for accurate bombing despite the heavy layers of cloud below. The aim of the Pathfinders was to start fires which the main bomber force could then follow.

At the planned time the bombers released canisters containing the incendiary bombs. On the drop down, the canisters then broke open to shower individual bombs over a wide radius.

The waves of the main bomber force then started to arrive, each loaded with canisters of incendiary bombs and the occasional high explosive bomb.

The following photo from the IWM collection (© IWM (MUN 3291)) show the 1KG incendiary Bomb that was dropped in such large numbers on the night of the 29th December.

incendinary bomb
These were relatively small devices and could be easy to deal with, however when dropped in such large numbers, it only took a few to start fires in hard to reach locations that could very quickly get out of control.

The 1KG incendiary was 34.5cm long and 5cm in diameter. The body was of magnesium alloy with a filling of an incendiary compound (thermite). On hitting the ground, a needle was driven into a percussion cap which ignited the thermite. The heat from this also ignited the magnesium casing causing an intense heat which would ignite any flammable material that the bomb was in contact with.

For the St. Paul’s Watch, the first indication of the danger to the Cathedral came soon after 6pm when they heard a sound described as “a scuttle full of coals being spilled on the floor” which was the sound of incendiary bombs landing all around the Cathedral.

In the crypt headquarters for the Watch, a log was kept throughout the war recording individual events as they happened. Incidents being recorded in a very “matter of fact” way, logging the time and the incident.

The log is still held in the St. Paul’s Archives, the delicate state reflecting the years and conditions of use through the war. I took the following photo of the log covering the 29th December 1940, now in such a delicate state that it needs to be treated almost like a medieval manuscript.

Logbook 1

The two pages covering the 29th December 1940 are shown below:

Logbook 2

The first page shows a quiet run up to Sunday the 29th, the routine call to the Fire Station the main recorded event.

Towards the bottom of the page, the events of Sunday the 29th start to be recorded (I have tried to interpret the text in the log, any errors are mine):

  • Incendiary bombs Library Floor 6.50
  • Colonnade Stone Gallery
  • Extinguished 7.5
  • Incendiary S.E. Buttress 7.15

The second page continues:

Logbook 3

With events continuing into the evening:

  • Fire S.E. Pocket Roof 7.20
  • 8.30 Fireman report of bomb on S.E. roof
  • 8.45 Fire West End Trophy (room or roof?)
  • 8.50 Rang for Fire brigade for West End
  • 8.55 Rang Fire Brigade to say we are holding the fire and they can cancel the (call?)
  • 11.30 returned to AHQ

The “stand to” was then recorded the following Monday morning at 9:40 after what must have been a most exhausting night.

The log does not really do justice to the fight that the Watch had on their hands that night. I suspect that there were too many events and they were too busy to phone through details.

The book “St. Paul’s Cathedral In Wartime” by W.R. Matthews, the Dean of St. Paul’s during the war and who was in the Cathedral on the night of the 29th provides a more detailed account.

“in half an hour fires were raging on every side of the Cathedral, but we had no leisure to contemplate the magnificent though terrible spectacle for many bombs had fallen simultaneously on different parts of the Cathedral roofs. Watchers on the roof of the Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street, who had a full view of St. Paul’s from the west thought that the Cathedral was doomed and told us later that a veritable cascade of bombs was seen to hit and glance off the Dome. Some of these bombs fell on the long stretches of the Nave and Choir roofs and some into what are known as pocket roofs, i.e. the lower roofs over the aisles; others landed in the Cathedral gardens producing a fairly like effect amongst the trees and shrubs on the north and south sides. Twenty eight incendiary bombs fell on St. Paul’s and its precincts that night. Some of the bombs penetrated the roofs and came to rest on the brick or hardwood floors over the vaulting, but some lodged in the roof timbers and started fires. It may be imagined that the volume of the attack and its dispersal over the wide area of the roofs presented a hard problem for the defence”

Adding to the number and location of fires, the Watch now faced a further problem, the availability of mains water.

That evening, three, thirty-six inch and twelve other large mains were damaged and when water was most needed there was a very low tide on the River Thames. Hoses and pumps pulling water from the river became clogged with mud and the use of Fire Boats became impossible.

By 8 p.m. there were some three hundred pumps at work in and around the City, trying to pull water from whatever source was available, the number of pumps also having the effect of reducing the overall pressure.

The effect on the Cathedral was the failure of all external supplies of water. The Watch was now down to the supplies of water that had been stored in whatever container could be found or used in the days of preparation. Planning that proved extremely fortunate as these kept up supplies to the stirrup pumps which proved the key tool in getting to incendiary bombs and fires in extremely difficult places across the roofs of the Cathedral. Stirrup pumps and sand bags now became the only tools available in the defence of the Cathedral.

The conditions on the roofs for the Watch must have been extreme. The following photo (©Mirrorpix) was taken from the Cathedral on the evening of the 29th December looking over towards Paternoster Square.

W28_10.jpg

The Chapter House can be seen in flames with the roof lost in the lower part of the photo, just to the left of the statue. See my earlier post which can be found here showing the same scene taken by my father after the war, along with my 2014 equivalent.

The photo also shows one of the other challenges to the Watch and to fighting the fires in general. On the evening of the 29th there was a strong south-west wind. This had the effect of blowing heat, burning embers and smoke across the Cathedral from the south, rapidly spreading the fires and making conditions for fighting the fires extremely hazardous (there were also reports that charred paper from City offices had been found as far afield as Upminster after the 29th)

Returning to the Dean’s account of the evening:

“The action in the Cathedral became for a while a number of separate battles on which small squads fought incipient fires at different places on and beneath the roofs. Some of the bombs were easily dealt with, as for example that one which fell to the floor of the Library aisle and was extinguished by Mr Allen and myself. I have a special affection for the scar left by that bomb on the floor – it represents, I feel, my one positive contribution to the defeat of Hitler ! But some of these battles were arduous and protracted. Bombs which lodged in the roof timber were very dangerous and hard to tackle. More than one of these took three-quarters of an hour before they were put out and had to be attacked by two squads, one from below and the other from above. The lower squad had the additional discomfort of being drenched by the pumps of their more elevated colleagues.”

The benefit of all the previous evenings of preparation, training and exercise and the work of Godfrey Allen in preparing the Watch and the defences of the Cathedral were now clearly evident in the way the members of the Watch went to work.

The Dome was always considered a very vulnerable part of the Cathedral. Not only was the Dome one of the defining features of the Cathedral, it was also at a very high risk from fire.

Wren’s design for the Dome was ingenious.  Along with the Dome, there is the Lantern structure at the top of the Dome. the Dome alone could not support the weight of the Lantern, therefore Wren constructed three domes. There is the interior Dome, visible from the floor of the Cathedral. Above this there is a second Dome, actually a brick cone structure reaching up to the Lantern and supporting the weight of the Lantern. The third, exterior dome that we see from outside the Cathedral is constructed around this cone, with a wooden structure supporting the lead on the exterior of the Dome and supporting the weight of the Dome by wooden beams and joists resting onto the cone and the floor.

Any penetration of the Dome by an incendiary would gain access to this wooden structure which could quickly develop into a fire that would engulf the Dome.

Whilst the Watch was busy fighting the fires across the roof, the Cathedral received a call from Cannon Street Fire Station to say that the Dome was on fire. A team was dispatched to deal with this new threat and found that whilst the Dome was not actually on fire, an incendiary bomb had not fully penetrated the Dome and was lodged half way through the lead roof, which was beginning to melt.

Watch teams were allocated to patrol the Dome, but fighting fires in this area was difficult with Watch members having to balance along beams of wood to get to a fire, carrying a stirrup pump and bucket of water.

The bomb eventually fell out of the Dome and onto the Stone Gallery where it was quickly dealt with. The molten lead presumably not providing enough support and the weight distributed in such as way that it fell outwards rather than in.

The survival of the Cathedral was critical for many reasons. In 1940, America had not yet entered the war and there were factions that assumed that the UK was a lost cause and could not withstand the German onslaught. When the Dome was hit, American reporters were already sending cables to their newspapers in the US that St. Paul’s had been lost. The ability of London and the country as a whole to survive the blitz was critical in demonstrating to the US that the UK would withstand the attack and act as a base for any future attack on the occupied continent.

The Dean records: “Whilst the whole sky over the City was brighter than day with the flames that were leaping all around St. Paul’s, Mr Churchill sent a message to the Guildhall that the Cathedral must be saved at all costs. The Guildhall sent the message on to us. We were grateful for this voice from the outside assuring us that the thoughts of many were with us that night, though it would not be true to say that the Watch was spurred to greater efforts, for it was already extended to the limit of human endurance.”

By late evening the areas around St. Paul’s were ablaze. In addition to the above photo of Paternoster Square, the following is from Ludgate Hill looking up towards the western front of the Cathedral on the evening of the 29th December 1940 (photo ©Mirrorpix)

W27_15.jpg

This photo was taken at night, with no artificial lighting. The scene is lit by the fires burning around St. Paul’s. It was claimed to be as bright as day. The vehicles lined up along the road are those of the fire crews working on the surrounding buildings. To the right can be seen fires in buildings between the Cathedral and the River and to the left can be seen the glow of fires from Paternoster Row and down towards Cheapside.

74 years later, on the evening of the 29th December 2014 I took the following photo of the same scene:
st pauls BW

A much calmer scene with only the stopping of tourist buses providing any activity.

Just to the left of where this photo was taken is Ave Maria Lane, a short road that leads from Ludgate Hill to Amen Court. On the 29th December 1940 this lane was ablaze with fire crews working in pairs trying to stop the spread of the fires (photo ©Mirrorpix). Two men and a hose trying to control a long stretch of burning buildings, with the constant threat of explosions, bombing and the structural failure of the burning buildings causing a catastrophic collapse into the street.

W22_3.jpgAnd on the 29th December 2014 I stood in Ave Maria Lane contemplating what it must have been like, and took the following photo:

Ave Maria LaneAnother perspective of the area around St. Paul’s on that evening can be found in the memoirs of the wonderfully named Commander Sir Aylmer Firebrace, Chief of the Fire Staff and Inspector-in-Chief of the Fire Services. On the evening of the 29th December he was working through London to see what needed to be done and what support was required. He started travelling by car from Southwark where serious fires were developing. Across the river he had to abandon the car and worked through the city, walking from Cannon Street to the Redcross Street Fire Station just to the north of St. Paul’s.

Redcross Street is one of those lost under the Barbican development. Fore Street used to extend to St. Giles Cripplegate from where Redcross Street ran roughly north to Golden Lane which still remains. Stand on the north side of St. Giles and look slightly west of north across the water and that is the routing of Redcross Street and the location of the Fire Station is directly in front of you.

We join Commander Firebrace in the control room at the Redcross Street Fire Station:

“In the control room a conference is being held by senior London Fire Brigade (LFB) officers. How black – or, more realistically, how red – is the situation, only those who have recently been in the open realise.

One by one the telephone lines fail; the heat from the fires penetrates to the control room and the atmosphere is stifling. earlier in the evening, after a bomb falls near, the station lights fail – a few shaded electric hand lamps now supply bright pin-point lights in sharp contrast  to a few oil lamps and some perspiring candles.

The firewomen on duty show no sign of alarm, though they must know, from the messages passing, as well as from the anxious tones of the officers, that the situation is approaching the desperate.

A women fire officer arrives; she had been forced to evacuate the sub-station to which she was attached, the heat having caused its asphalt yard to burst into flames. It is quite obvious that it cannot be long before Reccross Street Fire Station, nearly surrounded by fire will have to be abandoned.

The high wind which accompanies conflagrations is now stronger than ever, and the air is filled with a fierce driving rain of red-hot sparks and burning brands. The clouds overhead are a rose-pink from the reflected glow of the fires, and fortunately it is bright enough to pick our way eastward down Fore Street. Here fires are blazing on both sides of the road; burnt-out and abandoned fire appliances lie smouldering in the roadway, their rubber tyres completely melted. the rubble from collapsed buildings lying three and four feet deep makes progress difficult in the extreme. Scrambling and jumping, we use the bigger bits of masonry as stepping stones, and eventually reach the outskirts of the stricken area.

A few minutes later L.F.B. officers wisely evacuate Redcross Street Fire Station, and now the only way of escape for the staff and for the few pump crews remaining in the area lies through Whitecross Street (also now lost under the Barbican development)”.

Quite remarkable to stand outside St. Giles Cripplegate and consider these events happened here 74 years ago, and that this area is so close to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had it not been for the Watch would almost certainly have suffered the same fate and been severely damaged if not destroyed by fire.

One of the frustrations for the St. Paul’s Watch and also for many members of the Fire Services was that so much could have been saved if many of the buildings also had a Watch, or were open for access. From their vantage point on the Cathedral, members of the Watch saw many instances where an incendiary landed on the roof of a building and smouldered before the heat caused a fire to take hold.

Immediately after landing, an incendiary bomb was relatively easy to do with, sandbags, a stirrup pump and a small supply of water were sufficient, however after a while when the magnesium coating had ignited, temperatures reached very high levels and anything flammable within range of the bomb would catch fire and spread very quickly. Had other buildings employed teams to watch over the roofs, many fires could have been extinguished quickly. As it was the weekend, many buildings were also locked and secured so whilst a bomb may be visible on the roof, gaining access was a challenge.

The lack of water also prevented fires being extinguished. The St. Paul’s Chapter House could have been saved when hit by an incendiary if there had been six buckets of water immediately available.

The scope of the fires that the L.F.B had to fight and the resources needed were immense. The regional L.F.B record for the night recorded that:

  • There were 6 conflagrations that needed one hundred pumps each
  • 28 fires each needing over thirty pumps
  • 51 fires needing twenty pumps
  • 101 requiring 10 pumps each
  • And 1,286 fires which had one pump each

Pumps were sourced from the rest of London and surrounding regions to help fight the fires in the heart of the City. Around 2,300 pumps were eventually in use that night. (Just before the war there had been only 1,850 pumps covering the whole of Great Britain. Far more than this were in use in the City alone on that one night.)

Late in the evening, although the City was ablaze and the Watch keeping a careful watch on the possibility of burning embers spreading the fire to the roof of St. Paul’s the All Clear was surrounded.

German plans had been for further waves of bombers after the first waves with incendiaries, to then attack with high explosive bombs which would have ripped the city apart, have been a very severe risk to those trying to control the fires and to the equipment used to fight the fires.

The weather over France had been getting worse, the grass runways were being turned into mud and late in the evening the command was given to cancel the waves of bombers with high explosive bombs.

The tide also turned in the Thames and the returning water provided much-needed resources for the considerable numbers of pumps now fighting the fires throughout the rest of the night.

After a long night, the situation was bought under control by 8 a.m. on the morning of the 30th, however many fires continued to burn, but did not spread.

My father was 12 years old at the time and lived in flats near Albany Street just off Regents Park. His account of the night:

“1940 ended spectacularly with the great City fire raid of December 29/30. The sirens wailed shortly after 6 p.m. and the raid was in full swing in a matter of minutes,. For once there was only the sound of planes passing overhead and gunfire, no explosives seemed to be dropping. I found this very strange, And then slowly came the orange glow of fires, small at first then increasing in intensity. During a lull in the raid I ventured out to walk the short distance to Camberley House where I knew that a flat section of the roof, accessible to tenants, would provide me with a panoramic view from Highgate to the City. The sight was breath-taking. Two miles to the south-east raged a huge line of fire with great columns of flames shooting hundreds of feet into the night air at intervals as buildings collapsed into the inferno, and later as the raiders returned in numbers showers of incendiaries could be heard with a noise like an express train, well heard above the combined noise, planes, guns and the shots of the night fighters overhead. the sound was unusually distinctive. The raid ended abruptly, just after 9 p.m. and to my astonishment the raiders never returned. After the “All Clear” sounded I went out again looking for shrapnel, now a form of currency between boys. The night had become as day, the great orange glow reflected from the low clouds. Even the barrage balloons appeared as glowing orange balls. the smell of smoke filled the air and from the far off, the roar of flames and dull crash of falling buildings combined to sound like some distant, gigantic blow lamp”

The Dean of St. Paul’s summed up the night’s events:

“The Cathedral came out of this night of havoc with no serious injury. When we reviewed the situation, remembering the perils which had been endured, we were astonished and thankful. The damage amounted to two burnt partitions in the Library Aisle, local injury to the lead and timber work of the roofs and a desk in the Surveyor’s office. When we looked out over the City we saw an appalling scene of destruction. The area to the east, west and north was laid waste and many of the buildings burned for days.”

After the All Clear had been sounded, Londoners were amazed to see that St. Paul’s Cathedral was still standing. The billowing smoke and colour created by the fires resulted in the strange visual effect of the Dome of the Cathedral appearing to float on a glowing sea of cloud, with the colours changing as the wind blew in different directions.

An estimated 24,000 incendiary bombs fell on London that evening. The potential impact of each bomb being amplified by the damage that a single out of control fire could cause, given strength by the wind that blew across the City.

To give an idea of the devastation, the following extract from the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps (source: the London Metropolitan Archives) illustrates the bomb damage around St. Paul’s. (Purple is damaged beyond repair). Whilst this covers the period 1939 to 1945, much of this damage was on the night of the 29th December 1940.

bomb damage map

The scenes that welcomed workers returning to the City on the Monday morning were of devastation. Fires still burning and the streets covered in debris and with fire fighting equipment. The following photo was taken on the morning of Monday 30th December and shows Ludgate Circus and the road up to St. Paul’s. The results of the night’s work still clearly visible.

Ludgate 1

To walk around the Cathedral, late in the evening of the 29th December 2014, the contrast with that night 74 years ago was very apparent. The streets were quiet, Christmas decorations added light to the scene and the Cathedral was lit up, not by fire but by spotlights which nightly turn the Cathedral into one of the most dramatic and beautiful landmarks of the City.

st pauls 2

The incendiary that lodged in the Dome, must have been in the area of the Dome shown in the above photo. It was reported by the Fire Station at Cannon Street so would have been in this segment.

Towards Cheapside, another difference between the two nights is apparent. In 2014, the night was clear with a moon shining across the City. Had the weather been like this 74 years ago, the later waves of bombers carrying high explosive would have been able to take off and the outcome for St. Paul’s, the City and the Fire Fighters would have been very different.

st pauls 3

And down on the Thames, the tide was high in 2014 and had this been 1940 would have been able to supply the water needed for the hundreds of pumps across the City and for the riser water system of St. Paul’s Cathedral, along with the Fire Boats that would have attacked the fires in buildings along the water front..

river thames 1

That rounds off my two posts covering the St. Paul’s Watch and the raids on the night of the 29th December 1940.

I hope this has done justice to the work of the Watch during this single day, and during the war, as well as the London Fire Brigade who worked tirelessly throughout that night, and through the war.

It has been fascinating to research and learn and I have only scratched the surface on this subject. I recommend the excellent books in the sources section below for further reading.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • I am very grateful to Sarah Radford, Archivist at St.Paul’s Cathedral for providing access to the documents covering the St. Paul’s Watch
  • The Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral during the war, the Very Reverend W.R. Matthews published a comprehensive account titled St. Paul’s in Wartime published in 1946 (this article only scratched the surface of the work of the Watch. I recommend this book for a detailed and very readable account)
  • St. Paul’s In War and Peace published by the Times Publishing Company in 1960
  • Fire Service Memories by Commander Sir Aylmer Firebrace published in 1949
  • The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939 – 1945 published by the London Topographical Society 2005
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Great London published 1940
  • The three black and white photos covering St. Paul’s, the view over Paternoster Square and Ave Maria Lane are from Mirrorpix who retain the copyright for these photos

alondoninheritance.com