Category Archives: The Bombed City

Photos and stories from the bombed areas of London

The Lost Buildings of South Square, Gray’s Inn

Gray’s Inn is one of those self contained areas in London with a very distinct character when compared to the surrounding streets. One of the four Inns of Court with the long held right to call a person to the Bar and to hold the position of Barrister.

Within Gray’s Inn are many different squares, buildings and alleys, there is also a large area of formal gardens, also known as The Walks which have a history dating back to their creation in 1606 by Sir Francis Bacon.

Whilst the history of Gray’s Inn could fill a number of posts, for this week I want to focus on one small area of Gray’s Inn.

There are several small entrances to Gray’s Inn, many of which are closed and locked outside of working hours and last Saturday, on a very bright January morning I walked down the only entrance that is open at the weekend, the same entrance that my father had walked down 67 years ago to photograph some of the buildings damaged by wartime bombing.

Walk from Chancery Lane underground station along Holborn and immediately before the Cittie of Yorke pub, you will find an archway through which a narrow side street provides the main entrance to Gray’s Inn. Walk down this side street, to the first square. This is South Square, the subject of this week’s post.

Stand just inside the entrance and look out to South Square. This would have been the view just after the war:

South Square 1

The dark area on the right is the back of one of the wooden doors that closed off the entrance. I am not sure why my father took the photo from this position rather than move into the square.

The building on the right is the Hall, the focus for the communal life of the Inn. The building on the left is one of the 17th and 18th century buildings that ran along the edge of the square and provided offices and accommodation for the members of the Inn.

The type of damage to the building on the left is typical of incendiary bombs, where a bomb has landed on the roof, caused a fire which was extinguished before reaching the floors below. The archway between the two buildings provides access to the rest of Gray’s Inn with Gray’s Inn Square being just beyond the arch.

In 2015 I took the following photograph of the same view:

South Square 4As you will see from this and the following photos I did not pick the best day to avoid deep shadows. A very bright, but low January sun caused deep shadows from the surrounding buildings.

The Hall on the right was rebuilt after the war with the main features of the building being retained.

The original Hall was built-in 1555-60 and we can get a view of what the Hall was like from “Arthur Mee’s London – A Complete Record Of London As It Was Before The Bombing”:

“The Hall is famous for its magnificent hammerbeam roof and is a noble example of Elizabethan architecture. Its windows have heraldic glass of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the walls are gay with heraldry painted on its Queen Anne panelling. Here hang portraits of three Stuart kings, with Nicholas and Francis Bacon, Bishop Gardiner, and Lord Birkenhead. there is also a fine portrait of Queen Elizabeth showing her as a young woman, She is said to have given the oak screen at the west end of the Hall; it has four richly carved columns supporting a beam on which the decorated gallery rests. On the gallery balustrade are busts of women, and figures holding palms and wreaths recline in the spandrels of the arches. It was in this hall that Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors was acted at the Christmas of 1594.”

The oak screen mentioned in Mee’s text was said to be made from the wood of a galleon from the Spanish Armada. Although the Hall suffered severe damage in the war the screen had been taken apart for removal and was fortunately recovered with minimal damage. The screen is now in the rebuilt Hall.

The Hall is also one of the few buildings in London that was bombed in both the first and second world wars. In the first, an incendiary bomb landed on the Hall but was quickly extinguished before any serious damage, unlike the second war.

The following photo shows the pre-war interior of the hall (“Reproduced with the kind permission of the Masters of the Bench of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn”.)

Hall Gray's Inn

What did surprise me was that the entrance to the rest of Gray’s Inn had been slightly relocated to the left and the original building on the left has been replaced with one of post war construction. A real shame, as from the post war photo, damage did not seem too bad and before visiting the site I was expecting to find the same buildings, but with repairs to the top floor and roof.

The Archivist of the Hon Soc of Gray’s Inn has kindly provided the following information regarding the building on the left:

“the large building to the left of the little bridge, although in the style of the other buildings in the squares, was the Common Room block, built only in 1905 to replace a ramshackle brick structure (this area is the site of the old kitchens). It was in fact repaired after the war, I imagine for precisely the reason you give, but was taken down in 1970/71 – when the bridge was also taken down, although rebuilt in 2011 –  and replaced by the present building, by the architect Quinlan Terry. One of the aims was to align the frontage with that of  No 1 Gray’s Inn Square behind it, and the block was moved several yards to the west, in the process covering the old passageway that used to run from that corner of South Square into Field Court, which was just off the left side of your father’s photo”

Just above the door to the Hall in both the modern and post war photos can be seen the badge of Gray’s Inn, the golden griffin on a black background.

South Square 7

The griffin as the badge of Gray’s Inn has been in use from the 1590s, replacing an earlier badge.

If you now enter the square, turn right and walk to the corner of the square, look across to the building next to the Hall. This is the old Steward’s Office or Treasury Office (built in the 1840s)and this is the photo my father took just after the war:

South Square 2

The name “Gray’s Inn” dates from the 14th century: the premises of the manor house of the de Grays were in use as an Inn of Court by, at the latest, 1388, including the Chapel.

Today’s view of the site of the old Steward’s office is shown below:

South Square 5

A very different building following post war reconstruction, but with the same style of three arches to the entrance.

Now turn to the left and look at the far side of the square. After the war this side of the square was still showing the severe damage suffered during the war:

South Square 3

The building on the right is the same building as in the first photo looking into the square. Post war this side of the square was completely rebuilt:

South Square 6

Whilst this is a post war reconstruction, note that the entrances are the same style as the original building to the right. I suspect that these entrances were recovered from other buildings when they were demolished and reused on the post war buildings to integrate them more into the square and give the impression of earlier construction.

Charles Dickens would have known the South Square well as he was employed there between 1827-8 as a clerk. South Square featured in Dickens David Copperfield. It was in South Square that Tommy Traddles and his wife had rooms at the top of the house when they were first married and it was in this house that they had to house the five sisters from Devonshire when they came to visit.

As with so many places in London, South Square is not the original name. The Inn was originally divided into four courts, Coney Court, Holborn Court, Field Court and Chapel Court. Holborn Court was the original name for South Square.

To the right of the Chapel is the Library. This was also destroyed in the last war and with it, some 32,000 books were lost including books such as the complete collection of old English and Ecclesiastical laws of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The rebuilt library along one side of South Square with the statue of Francis Bacon standing in the central gardens:

South Square 8

Very few of the original buildings survived the considerable damage done to South Square during the last war, a couple of buildings have survived including this one from 1759.

South Square 9

This building has the same entrance as the building in the post war photo and the same as on the post war reconstructions. The square must have been a fantastic sight before wartime destruction if the three sides of the square were this type of building with identical entrances lining the square, all facing the original Hall and Chapel.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • My thanks to the Archivist of the Hon Soc of Gray’s Inn for providing corrections to the original text and for the pre-war photo of the interior of the Hall
  • The Lost Treasures of London by William Kent published in 1947
  • Georgian London by John Summerson published in 1945
  • Arthur Mee’s London (A complete record of London as it was before the bombing) published in 1960
  • The Face of London by Harold Clunn published 1932
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878

 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

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The St. Paul’s Watch

In August of last year, I was standing on the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral on a beautiful sunny day with London looking fantastic in all directions. I had my iPad with me which contained photos my father had taken from the same place just after the war, showing a very different London. I covered these photos in two posts which can be found here and here.

Looking at the devastation caused by wartime bombing, it was remarkable that St. Paul’s survived relatively unscathed. How had this happened, and what would it have been like to have experienced such a dramatic event in London’s history?

I wanted to find out more, and I have written two posts consolidating the results of some research carried out since that August day. I decided to pick one day’s events to provide some focus. The bombing on the 29th December 1940 caused fires of such intensity and scale that it became known as the 2nd Great Fire of London and from a distance it appeared that St. Paul’s would be lost.

I have split this across two posts which I will publish over two days on the 3rd and 4th of January 2015. This post covers the St. Paul’s Watch, the volunteers who protected the Cathedral during the war. The second will cover the night of the 29th December 1940, the 2nd Great Fire of London.

My apologies for the length, however I hope you will find these two posts as interesting to read as I did to research. (Unless otherwise stated, in this post, all photos and documents are from the St. Paul’s Cathedral Architectural Archive).

So let’s start with:

The St. Paul’s Watch

In the months leading up to the start of the 2nd World War, there was much preparation in London for what was expected to be a devastating war from the air. Limited bombing during the 1st World War had shown the possibilities, further developed in the Spanish Civil War and then by the Blitzkrieg or lightning form of mechanised warfare used by Germany in the attack on Poland which was the catalyst for bringing the UK into formal war with Germany.

St. Paul’s Cathedral was considered at high risk from aerial bombing. Unlike today, the Cathedral was by far the tallest building in London, standing clear on one of the two hills that formed the original City. Not only was the Cathedral an architectural masterpiece created by Wren, one of London’s main architects after the Great Fire, it was a central landmark in the life of Londoners and to the nation.

In the month’s leading up to the start of the war, the Cathedral started to prepare. On Saturday, 29th April 1939 one of the regular meetings of the Chapter of St. Paul’s was held, and although a regular meeting, this day’s session was different, it was to start planning for how the Cathedral could be protected.

During the 1st World War, a volunteer watch had been kept at the Cathedral and it was along these lines that planning for the new threat was made, with the creation of a volunteer Watch who would have responsibility for defending the Cathedral against any form of aerial attack.

Mr Godfrey Allen, the Cathedral Surveyor was appointed to command the Watch and preparations were made to put the Cathedral onto a war footing.

One of the first challenges was to find sufficient manpower to mount a fulltime, day and night watch over the Cathedral. This was at a time when the majority of the able-bodied, younger male population was expected to be involved within the armed forces. The Cathedral Watch initially started with 62 volunteers from the Cathedral staff, however this number was not sufficient to maintain a full 24 hour Watch over the Cathedral and many of these volunteers were also approaching retirement and when action was needed across the heights of the Cathedral, in the roof spaces, under the Dome etc. additional support was needed.

At the suggestion of Mr Godfrey Allen, a request by the Dean was made to the Royal institute of British Architects (RIBA) for volunteers to join the Watch. RIBA was a perfect match with members having knowledge of architecturally complex buildings and therefore perfectly suited to working in a building such as St. Paul’s and the age profile of experienced architects probably made a larger pool of people available.

The Dean of St. Paul’s made the following appeal:

“St. Paul’s Cathedral is in urgent need of double the present number of Firewatchers. The average strength at the moment is about 20 men a night. Dr. W.R. Mathews, the Dean, is sending out an appeal for volunteers and his first letters have gone to the Royal Institute of British Architects and to the High Commissioners for each of the dominions. He stated yesterday that the work is interesting and volunteers have the unique privilege of being given the freedom of the Cathedral. They are expected to watch one night a week; but the hours of duty can be adjusted to suit individual requirements. The watchers are required to be at the Cathedral not later than 9.30 PM. Subsistence allowance is paid and bunks, blankets and mess room accommodation are provided.”

I would have thought that being given the freedom of the Cathedral would have been a considerable incentive for anyone interested in the architecture and history of the building.

The appeal was successful as another 40 volunteers came forward, with the first full meeting held on the 15th September 1939 and from the 25th September a regular “night shift” from 9.30pm to 6.30am was maintained.

Whilst the Watch was made up of volunteers, it was far from an amateur operation. Under the guidance of Godfrey Allen the Cathedral was prepared and the members of the Watch participated in an extensive series of lectures, training and exercises to prepare them to work in the expected intense bombing to come.

Many of the original lecture notes and training material remains in the archives at St. Paul’s. The following two pages are the initial Air Raid Precautions documented in November 1939. The level of planning and preparation is very clear and highlights what is needed to protect such a complex building as St. Paul’s.

Firewatcher document 2

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Note the reference to “gas proof area” and “gas curtains” in the following page. This was before any serious bombing had commenced and there was still an expectation that as well as explosive bombing, London would also be attacked with poisonous gas. Exercises included first hand experience of gas. A hut in Cripplegate was used to provide the experience of passing through a chamber filled with tear gas. Fortunately this was to be the only contact that London and the members of the Watch had with the much dreaded gas.

Firewatcher document 3

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The complexity of St. Paul’s, the numerous stairs, small corridors, access to roof spaces, access to the external roofs, access to the interior of the Dome etc. were a considerable challenge for those volunteering and without an in-depth knowledge of the building. Many sessions were held, training the members of the Watch to find their way around the Cathedral. Where to find equipment, water supplies, telephones etc. and to be prepared to do this whilst the Cathedral was in the dark,  being bombed, on fire and with the constant threat of high explosive bombs.

To give some idea of the types of small corridors that connect different parts of the upper building, the following are two photos that I took on the way to the Archive.

st pauls corridor 1

Adding to the challenge of trying to get to the site of a fire, the Watch would probably have to work through these corridors by torch-light whilst carrying tools and buckets of water. Remove the electric lighting, cabling and pipes and these corridors are probably unchanged since the time the Cathedral was originally built.

st pauls corridor 2

There were a number of key factors to be considered when fighting a fire.

Large quantities of water could do damage to the fabric of the building. There was a balance to be achieved with using the right approach to extinguish a fire without causing undue damage to what is an architecturally complex and delicate building.

There was the issue of access to difficult locations. In a building as complex as St. Paul’s with many small, hidden locations, access to a large quantity of water was just not possible.

And availability of large quantities of water was always a concern as would be demonstrated on the night of the 29th December 1940. Water would be required not just for St. Paul’s, but also to protect all the buildings in the City. Storage was a problem, the River Thames was tidal and bombing could also damage the pumps extracting water from the river and the complex pipes and hoses bringing water up from the river along the City streets.

One of the key tools in use by the St. Paul’s Watch was the Stirrup Pump. The following photo from the Imperial War Museum collection © IWM (FEQ 864) shows a typical Stirrup Pump in use by the St. Paul’s Watch:
Stirrup Pump

The Stirrup Pump was in such great demand as a fire fighting tool that at one stage, just a single factory in 1941 was producing 10,000 a week. As with all other areas of the Watch, there were detailed instruction and training in the use of the Stirrup Pump.

Firewatcher document 13

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

It is interesting to read in one of the introductory lectures that the Cathedral was classified as a “business premises” with the Dean and Chapter being the occupier. As the occupier, their responsibilities were clearly defined as:

  1. for organising the fire watch;
  2. for supplying equipment, appliances and water;
  3. for the instruction and training of fireguards;
  4. for keeping a register of all attendances and defaults;
  5. for giving directions as to the place and time the fireguards are to perform their duties;
  6. for providing sleeping accommodation, bedding, adequate sanitary arrangements and lighting;
  7. for providing facilities of access to all parts of the building, except such parts as may reasonably be excluded

As well as the Watch, St. Paul’s was also prepared for the possibility of direct bombing by the removal of all that was possible to remove and the protection of anything that could not be removed.

The Grinling Gibbons Choir Stalls were dismantled with the more valuable pieces being sent out of London, the rest being stored in the crypt. The ironwork gates by Tijou along with Wren’s model of the Cathedral were also sent out of London. The rarer books were sent from the Library to the National Library of Wales.

Statues and busts which could be moved were relocated to the crypt. For anything that could not be moved, for example the memorial tablets to the Wren family, they were bricked in to provide some degree of protection.

There are a number of photos in the Cathedral Archives that show the Watch. These appear mainly to be posed photos, possibly for newspapers and magazines, however they provide a very good record of the Watch and their working conditions.

A lecture class given in the Stewards Office:

Firewatcher photo 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The following photo shows Stretcher Practice in the Dome galleries. In preparing for any bombing, there was a very real concern that the Watch could suffer injury. The Watch would not have waited until bombing has ceased to go out and fight fires, the Watch would have been across the roofs, in the Dome etc. looking out for damage, fighting fires and checking for incendiary bombs that had lodged in hidden parts of the Cathedral in the middle of raids.

Bringing those injured down the long stairs from the upper reaches of the Cathedral was not considered practical, therefore arrangements were in place and tested to lower casualties on stretchers over the edge of the upper areas (for example the Whispering gallery) and lower them down to the ground floor of the Cathedral. I am not sure what would have been more frightening, the external threat from bombing, or being lowered in one of these from the great heights of the Cathedral.

Firewatchers photo 3© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Another photo showing stretcher lowering being tested:

Firewather photo 2

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The risk of injury or death was not just when on Watch in the Cathedral. The journey into the Cathedral was just as intense. From St. Paul’s Cathedral in Wartime by the Dean of St. Paul’s:

“Many of our members came from distant parts of London and the task of getting to St. Paul’s on many a noisy night might have daunted the stoutest heart, but it did not daunt the Watch. They came through darkness, falling shrapnel from our guns, and the debris of wrecked buildings, sometimes having to throw themselves on the ground when a bomb fell near, on foot or on bicycle when other transport failed, they came to keep their Watch, whilst those they relieved made similar nightmare journeys home. Men at the look-out posts on the roof glanced occasionally towards their homes and offices wondering what they would find there on the morrow. Some saw their homes go up in flames, but they did not flinch”

This rather puts the modern-day irritation of a delayed train on the way home in context.

The following photo shows members of the Watch at one of the advance locations around the Cathedral:

Firewatcher photo 5© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

And another similar photo:

Firewatchers photo 7

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Locations were set-up around the Cathedral that could be used as waiting and reporting points and to control specific areas of the Cathedral. Each was equipped with a telephone to enable reporting back to the Control Station in the Crypt of the Cathedral.

These photos also show the ages of the Watch. In 1939 conscription covered males of between 18 and 41 and by 1942 this has been extended to the age of 51. This would have limited the pool of men available to the Watch only to those over the age of conscription.

The remainder of 1939 and the first half of 1940 was relatively quiet for the Watch. Training progressed, exercises were performed and the Cathedral was prepared as best as possible for what was still a threat that whilst imagined had not yet been experienced.

Bombing of central London of any intensity started in August 1940 when on the 24th there was some limited bombing of the City with two bombs near the Cathedral. The first air attack took place on the 7th September when an attack was concentrated on the London Docks. Members of the Watch experienced this first major raid from the high points of the Cathedral. From the Dean’s book:

“It was a golden, peaceful evening and, as the light faded from the sky, the angry red glow in the east, diversified by leaping flames, dominated the prospect, while from time to time the peculiar thud of bursting bombs punctured the silence. We were a silent company as we gazed upon the apocalyptic scene, each no doubt pondering many things. We noted, without remark the apparent absence of defence – an observation which we were to make often in the next few weeks. We wondered how long it would last before the attack moved westwards to the heart of London. We feared that the whole port of London was being annihilated. At last someone spoke, “It is like the end of the world,” and someone else replied, “It is the end of a world””.

For the Watch training and preparation continued. Note the Watch members assigned medical tasks in the following photo with the cross on the white helmet.

Firewaychers photo 6
© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Axes and hoses were key components of equipment, however hoses were very dependent on having a readily available source of water under pressure.

Firewatchers photo 8

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The availability of water was a constant issue for the Watch team. As would be found on the 29th December 1940, when water from the River Thames could not be relied on. Damage to pumps and pipes was always a risk, but also low tides in the river which took the main body of water below the level of the intake pipes.

The Cathedral had then as well as now a riser system providing distribution around the Cathedral:

Water Riser 1

However in the event of mains supplies of water failing, these would be of little use. The Watch team prepared the Cathedral by storing supplies of water in all areas of the Cathedral using any form of container that could hold water. This would be invaluable in fighting the fires on the 29th December.

The area to the immediate north of the Cathedral was destroyed in the raid of the 29th December. In the following months the buildings were cleared and water storage tanks installed. The outlines of these were still visible in the photos my father took from the Stone Gallery after the war. The following photo taken from the Cathedral shows the tanks in place, a couple of which can be seen in the lower right of the photo.

Firewatcher photo 4

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Following the initial raids, the St. Paul’s Watch settled into a routine of periods when there would be intense activities, raids almost daily for a number of months, followed by periods of quiet, a time to regroup and repair damage.

The Watch were critical in protecting the Cathedral from fire and the huge amount of incendiary bombs that fell on the City. The Cathedral suffered a few direct hits from high explosive bombs during the war. The following photo shows bomb damage in the North Transept caused by falling debris.

St Pauls bomb damage 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Cathedral had a very narrow escape on the 12th September 1940. The night had been one of intermittent attacks and in the early morning a high explosive bomb fell very close to the South West Tower. It narrowly missed the tower by a few feet and penetrated deeply below the road surface. The bomb did not explode, but due to the soft clay beneath the surface, the bomb gradually sunk deeper, eventually to reach a depth of 27 feet 6 inches below the surface.

The bomb was removed on the 15th September and taken to Hackney Marshes where the bomb was blown up, it left a crater 100 feet in diameter. Had the bomb exploded on impact it would almost certainly have taken out the whole of the South West Tower and much of the West front of the Cathedral.

There was very little that the Watch could do with an explosive bomb. If one hit the Cathedral it would explode on contact, any bomb that did not explode, either due to a fault or a delayed action fuse, was left to the professional bomb disposal teams.

Emphasis for the Watch was always on the roofs of the Cathedral, the Dome and the risk of fire.  The following memorandum from Godfrey Allen in September 1941 details the duties and procedures to be used in an emergency.

Firewatcher document 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Dome patrol was critical to ensure that a fire could not get hold in the timbers supporting the Dome. The Dome must have been a strange place to be during the height of a raid. In his book, W.R. Matthews recorded that:

“The Dome was not a healthy place in the height of a blitz and the patrol was changed at half-hourly intervals. Men have told me of the awesome feeling they experienced when carrying out their patrols in the darkness of the Dome while the battle ranged around them and of how the din seemed to be magnified by the Dome, like the beating of a drum. If they had any compensation it was perhaps that of witnessing from their lofty perch of the Stone Gallery the spectacle of the Battle of London as few others can have seen it.” 

Training continued throughout the war, the types of threats continued to evolve and updates from the appropriate authorities provided the Watch with information on the threats they may have to face.

The following two pages are an Intelligence Notice from the Corporation of London detailing new models and versions of bombs.

  • A 1Kg Anti-Personnel Bomb
  • Parachute Bomb
  • Jet-Propelled Glider Bomb
  • A new version of the Phosphorus Incendiary Bomb

Firewatcher document 4

 © The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Firewatcher document 5

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

In researching the work of the Watch, one name keeps recurring, whether as the author of much of the training materials and instructions for how the Watch should operate, to the very limited number of books that have been written about the Watch. Godfrey Allen was the Surveyor of the Fabric before the War (he held the post from 1931 to 1956) and took on the command of the Watch for the duration. It was not only his intimate knowledge of the construction and layout of the Cathedral, but also his organisational abilities in moulding the Watch into the team that protected the Cathedral during the height of the blitz. He was also responsible for the immediate repairs needed to those parts where bomb damage had been suffered, both the immediate repairs to protect the building from the elements, but also the long-term repairs.

Before the war, Godfrey Allen was also responsible for the St. Paul’s Heights policy. These were put together in the 1930s following the construction of The Faraday Building and Unilever House, which started to obstruct the views of St. Paul’s. The Heights Policy has remained in force ever since and is now part of the Local Development Framework of the City of London.

Mr Godfrey Allen (in the white hat) in the crypt control room.

Godfrey Allen 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Dean of St. Paul’s wrote at the end of the war “If any one man could claim to have saved St. Paul’s, that man is Mr Allen”.

The Christmas and New Year card sent by Godfrey Allen to members of the Watch for Christmas 1940, during and continuing into the peak period of the London Blitz.

Christmas Greetings

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

During the latter stages of the war, there were no threats to the Cathedral (apart from the period of V1 and V2 rocket attack), however the Watch still maintained a nightly vigil. To help with the monotony of nightly exercises the Watch organised a series of lectures and the following provides an example of the lectures from one week in January 1945:

C.A. Linge The Preservation of Durham Cathedral
J.D.M. Harvey Time
J. Steegman Iceland to Istanbul n Wartime
R.M. Rowett Women in Poetry
P.B. Dannett Some Lantern Slides, Record and Pictorial
Basil M. Sullivan The People of India

The Watch continued until the very end of the war in Europe. The “stand down” of the Watch was arranged and an act of worship planned for the final meeting of the Watch on the 8th May 1945. By coincidence, this was also the day that the German forces surrendered, VE day and the Cathedral was crowded all day long with frequent services held from early morning to dusk (an estimated minimum of 35,000 people attended the services during the day along with countless others who called into the Cathedral to mark the day’s events). The final meeting of the Watch took place at the end of the day’s public events.

thanksgiving 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

One of the closing paragraphs from Godfrey Allen’s reply to the Dean during the Service of Thanksgiving sums up what the members of the Watch must have felt at the end of such an intense period in their lives as well as in the history of St. Paul’s and London.

“To many of us, I am sure, these years will prove to be the most memorable of our lives and when we recall them in the quiet of our homes we shall think, not only of the horror and waste of those dreadful days and nights, but also of the great building which bound us all together and for which we fought with all our might.”

To provide a lasting reminder of the work of the St. Paul’s Watch, the following tablet was set in the floor by the western end of the Cathedral:

floor plague

In tomorrow’s post I will cover the night of the 29th December 1940, the impact to the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral, and how the Watch protected the Cathedral from the surrounding devastation.

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

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

For this week’s post, we continue on our walk around the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 376 steps and 53 meters from the cathedral floor. We have covered the south and east views and this week it is the turn of the north and south and the first photo is looking roughly due north:

2014 North 1 old

The street on the left is King Edward Street and the street on the right is St. Martin’s Le-Grand. The large buildings that occupy the space between these were General Post Office buildings  with the larger building in the centre of the photo being the headquarters of the General Post Office.

Whilst the roads are still in the same position, the view again is very different. In the following photo, apart from the streets my only reference points are the building on the extreme left of the photo and the church tower of St. Giles, Cripplegate on the right. These appear to be the only buildings that remains from the immediate post war period.

2014 North 1

Now walk a few feet to the left and look out over to Christchurch Greyfriars.

Newgate Street is running left to right with King Edward Street heading north from Newgate Street.

2014 North 2 old

And the same view today. The body of the church has been left to this day as it was after being destroyed in 1940. Flower beds now occupy the space where the pews once stood. Apart from the church, the building just behind the body of the church also remains.

2014 North 2

The above photos and the ones below are looking down on the area of Paternoster Square and Paternoster Row.

Paternoster Row was mentioned in the thirteenth century when Stow states that it was built around 1282 and that rents from the houses were used for the maintenance of London bridge. Before the war, this area was well-known for book publishing, distribution and warehousing, a fact that contributed to the intensity of the fires that raged in this area. This trade started well before the 20th century. It was in Paternoster Row in 1720 that William Taylor published Robinson Crusoe after Defoe had tried all over London to sell the manuscript. In 1724 Taylor’s publishing business was purchased by Thomas Longman who had founded the publishing firm of Longman, Green and Company also in Paternoster Row. Longman is still an imprint today, owned by the Pearson publishing company.

The following paragraphs are from the book “The Lost Treasures of London” by William Kent and give some idea of the dreadful loss to the long-established businesses that use to thrive in the City.

“On the night of the 29th December 1940 the bombs rained down here and Paternoster Row was more completely destroyed than any other City thoroughfare of importance. All that remained were a few buildings at the east end. The devastation in respect of books has been indicated by Evan Pughe, the Deputy Chairman of Simpkin Marshall and Co. Ltd:

On the night of the 29th December 1940, Simpkin Marshall, Ltd, the greatest distributor of English books in the world, carrying the largest comprehensive stock, lost approximately four million books when their premises in Ave Maria Lane, Stationers’ Hall Court, Stationers’ Hall, Amen Corner, Paternoster Row and Ludgate Hill, were entirely destroyed by the incendiary bombs of the enemy.

This disastrous fire eliminated everything. All the old records of the business going back a hundred and thirty years were destroyed; and most important of all, the great cataloguing system, the only one of its kind in the world, dating back for a hundred and fifty years. These catalogues were handwritten records of books, cross-referenced, so that books on all subjects could easily be traced. These records could immediately give books that had been published on any subject during the hundred and fifty years covered by them, the publisher, date of publication, the price, the size of the books, etc. They were invaluable and their loss will be felt by the reading public for many years to come.”

As a result of the blitz, Simpkin Marshall went out of business. It is hard to imagine the loss that must have been felt when Londoners returned to their place of work after an air raid and realised not just the loss of the buildings, but also what was held within and long established businesses.

Turning a bit more to the left and peering down we can get a glimpse of the Chapter House and the road that was St. Paul’s Church Yard that closely circled the cathedral.

The five circular shapes just behind the Chapter House are the impressions left by water storage tanks. Access to water was always a problem during the blitz. Damage to water distribution pipes, blocked roads and low tides in the Thames all contributed to the lack of the plentiful supplies of water needed to fight the sheer number of fires that would take hold after a raid. After the Paternoster area was destroyed on the 29th December 1940, the area was quickly cleared and these water tanks were built and kept full ready for the next raid.

Further back can be seen the rectangular shape and surrounding streets of Paternoster Square.

2014 North 3 old

I was able to frame the following 2014 photo reasonably well using the statue at the bottom right, to take a photo in exactly the same position as my father 67 years ago. The current incarnation of the Chapter House is currently undergoing re-building / restoration work hence the protective covering.

2014 North 3

Now look up again and walk further to the left and out across to the west. In 1947 the Old Bailey with the “Lady of Justice” holding the sword and scales of justice stand well above the surrounding buildings, with the Senate House of the University of London the next tallest building in the distance.

2014 West 4 old

In 2014, the Old Bailey still stands clear but the rest of the view towards the west is very different. The view of the Senate House is now obscured, and the next tallest building on the horizon is the BT Tower.

2014 West 4

Turning to look further to the left, we can see one of the western towers at the front of St. Paul’s.

2014 West 5 old

And the same view today in 2014:

2014 West 5

Looking at these towers at the front of St. Paul’s, at the Dome, across the different levels of roof across the cathedral, the many small walkways, along with the many stairways leading up to the heights of the cathedral really bring home the complexity of protecting the cathedral during the air raids of the blitz.

The Very Reverend W.R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul’s wrote an account of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Wartime published in 1946. The following extract covering the 29th December 1940 brings to life the challenges that the Fire Watchers faced whilst protecting the cathedral. We join the account after the external water supplies have dried up:

“The Watch was now forced back on their reserves and had to rely entirely on stirrup pumps and sandbags. How we blessed the prescience of our commander, who had insisted on having our supplies of reserve water augmented in case of an emergency like that which we now confronted. Tanks, baths and pails full of water with their compliment of crowbars, shovels and other fire-fighting equipment were now liberally installed in all the vulnerable parts of the building and were so arranged that men approaching the scene of the fire from any direction would be certain of finding the necessary appliances to hand. But for these precautions there might well have been a different story to tell of the fate of St. Paul’s that night.

The action in the cathedral became for a while a number of separate battles in 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 on 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 little 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 account also makes clear the need for a “head for heights” when working in the roof spaces and above the cathedral floor. It is the bravery of the Fire Watchers that we have to thank for the survival of the cathedral.

Now for the final view from the Stone Gallery in 1947 and we are looking out over the southerly of the western towers across the River Thames to Westminster. We can see Waterloo Bridge along with the Shot Tower on the south bank of the Thames.

2014 West 6 old

And in 2014, the view of the river and Waterloo Bridge remain but there has been considerable change on both banks of the river. In the 1947 photo, the south bank would soon be cleared for the Festival of Britain, after which the site was part occupied by the Shell Centre building then continuous development leading up to the London Eye.

In the foreground in the extreme lower left of the photos is St. Benets, Paul’s Wharf.

2014 West 6

The following map from Bartholomew’s 1940 Reference Atlas of Greater London covers the area to the north of St. Paul’s and shows the streets between St. Paul’s Church Yard and Newgate Street. This was the area shown in the photos covering Paternoster Row and Square and shows the many small streets that were occupied by numerous businesses including that of Simpkin Marshall Ltd. These were soon to be lost with the rebuilding of the area over the coming decades.

map part 2

Compare this 1940 map with the Google map of today:

View Larger Map
That completes our walk around the Stone Gallery. The air raid of the 29th December 1940 destroyed a significant part of the surroundings of St. Paul’s and the area has since changed dramatically.

The air raids destroyed not only buildings but also business that had been operating for many years, not to mention the thousands of lives that were lost. That St. Paul’s remains is thanks to the bravery of those who protected the building as the area was covered by a deluge of bombs.

For Londoners, it must have seemed that their City was changing forever almost on a nightly basis.

The following photo is from the Imperial War Museum collection © IWM (D 6412) and was taken in January 1942 and perhaps typifies the atmosphere that must have pervaded many parts of the city.

bombed london in the snow

The Stone Gallery (and the higher Golden gallery) provide a perfect location to view the wide sweep of London, from Shooters Hill, to Alexandra Palace, the City, Westminster, North and South Bank. The last stone of the cathedral’s structure was laid in 1708 and since that time it has looked down on a City that has changed beyond all recognition and hopefully will continue to do so for many centuries to come.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Lost Treasures of London by William Kent published 1947
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral In Wartime by the Very Reverend W.R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul’s published 1946
  • The Blitz by Constantine Fitz Gibbon published 1957
  • The City That Wouldn’t Die by Richard Collier published 1959
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • The Streets of London by Gertrude Burford Rawlings published 1926
  • And for a detailed minute by minute account I recommend reading The City Ablaze – The Second Great Fire of London 29th December 1940 by David Johnson published 1980

 alondoninheritance.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next morning, Londoners awoke to a very different City.

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

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

The view today is shown in the following photo:

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

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

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

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The same view today is shown below:

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

A slightly different view just further to the left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

old map st pauls

Compare this 1940 map with the Google map of today:

View Larger Map

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

IWM St Pauls

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

The sources I used to research this post are:

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

 alondoninheritance.com

 

St. Vedas and Foster Lane

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

original photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1020415 And looking back towards the entrance to the church:

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

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

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

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

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

The sources I used to research this post are:

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

alondoninheritance.com

 

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

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

Dads Nicolas Cole

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

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

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

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

The following is my 2014 photo:

2014 St Nicolas Cole Abbey

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

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

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

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

old nicolas

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

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

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

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

Lavender Hill Mob 1

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

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

The sources I used to research this post are:

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

alondoninheritance.com

Foyles and the College for the Distributive Trades

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

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

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

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

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

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

book and slip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

 

St Zachary, St Alban and Blowbladder Street

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

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

Site of the church and churchyard of St John Zachary

Site of the churchyard of St John Zachary

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

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

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

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

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

What looks like the original plaque, now slightly relocated.

What looks like the original plaque, now slightly relocated.

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


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

Looking down Wood Street at the tower of St. Alban

Looking down Wood Street at the tower of St. Alban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alondoninheritance.com

 

The First Bomb And A Church Shipped To America

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking towards the remains of the Roman Wall from Fore Street

Looking towards the remains of the Roman Wall from Fore Street

Plaque on the Roman Wall

Plaque on the Roman Wall

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

The garden at the former churchyard of St Alphage

The garden at the former churchyard of St Alphage

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

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

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

Nothing!

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

The plaque in the garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

The plaque in the garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

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

The garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

The garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign at the entrance to the garden at St Mary Aldermanbury

Sign at the entrance to the garden at St Mary Aldermanbury

 

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

 

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