Tag Archives: 29th December 1940

Operation Textiles – A City Warehouse In Wartime

Yesterday evening, the 29th December, was the anniversary of one of the most intensive bombing attacks on London, when on the 29th December 1940 a mix of high explosive and large numbers of incendiary bombs created significant destruction across the City. It was during this raid that the image of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, rising above the smoke and flames of the surrounding destruction was symbolic of both the suffering of the City and the will to survive.

I have written about the raid in a couple of previous posts including The Second Great Fire of London and the St. Paul’s Watch, and for this week’s post I would like to bring you another perspective from the same night.

Of the many buildings that surrounded the Cathedral to the north along St. Paul’s Churchyard and Paternoster Row were the offices, factory and warehouses of Hitchcock, Williams & Co. I am not sure how best to describe the company, but at the time they were a form of Fashion House and drapery, manufacturing and selling a wide range of clothes, hats, fabrics, ribbons etc.

The firm was established in 1835 by George Hitchcock and a Mr Rogers, who would leave in 1843.  George Williams who originally joined the company as an apprentice, became a Director with Hitchcock in 1853 when the partnership Hitchcock, Williams & Co was formed. Always based in St. Paul’s Churchyard, firstly at number 1, then at number 72, with the firm expanding to take in many of the surrounding buildings.

George Williams originally joined the business as an apprentice, and as well as becoming a partner with Hitchcock, received a knighthood from Queen Victoria for services, which included the inauguration of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)  which was founded in a room of the company’s premises in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

The buildings of Hitchcock, Williams & Co. were destroyed during the raids of the 29th December 1940. A paragraph in the newspaper reports of the raid included a mention of the company:

“The historic room in which the Young Men’s Christian Association was started was among the places destroyed on Sunday night. With seven other buildings, the George Williams Room – named after the founder, the late Sir George Williams – was burned to ashes. It was situated in the premises of Messrs. Hitchcock, Williams and Co, manufacturers, warehousemen and shippers, of St. Paul’s Churchyard, and was originally one of the bedrooms used by the 140 assistants employed in the Hitchcock drapery business.”

Just after the war, a small book was published by the Company, titled “Operation Textiles – A City Warehouse in War-time”, written by H.A. Walden, an employee of the company.

It is a fascinating book and provides not just a detailed account of an individual business in the City of London, but also as being written at the time, by an employee, provides a view of how a typical City company operated.

The book includes a number of photos which show daily life in the company before the war, during preparations for war and the results of the raid of the 29th December.

The following photo is titled “A Pre-Blitz View of our Blouse Department”:

29th December 1940

“Staff Quoit Competition” – This photo helps show exactly where the Hitchcock, Williams building was located with the main entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral, facing Ludgate Hill, seen in the background.

29th December 1940

In fact St. Paul’s Cathedral features in the background of many of the photos in the book. The following photo taken in 1940 is titled “Our Firefighting And First Aid Units”:

29th December 1940

In the following view of St. Paul’s Churchyard today, the buildings of Hitchcock Williams & Co occupied the majority of the space now occupied by the buildings, starting with the brick faced building on the right, where the old Temple Bar now stands and the majority of the space occupied by the taller building curving from right to left.

29th December 1940

In the early stages of the war, building owners were encouraged to form their own fire fighting teams, and many City buildings were manned by employees of the company to help defend the building from what was expected to be attacks from explosive and incendiary bombs, although they were mainly equipped with buckets of sand and stirrup pumps, which were to prove of limited use on the night of the 29th December.

Preparations for war included not just the formation of fire fighting and first aid teams, but also protecting the building with sandbags as this photo titled “Sand Shifting Volunteers” demonstrates:

29th December 1940

This photo titled “Stand Easy” shows part of a roof apparently lined with sandbags.

29th December 1940

Hitchcock Williams & Co, as practiced by other large City companies, had a number of residential employees and during the war preparations included converting rooms to overnight shelters for residential staff and those assigned to fire watching shifts. This photo titled “Squeezin Hotel Bedroom” shows one of the converted rooms.

29th December 1940

Judging by the preparations and planning detailed in the book, Hitchcock Williams & Co. was probably as well prepared as any City company at the start of the war, however such was the intensity of the raid on the 29th December 1940 that even with incredibly dedicated staff and detailed planning and preparations, they were insufficient to save the buildings in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Rather than precis the events described in the chapter of the book that covers the 29th December, the following are the words written by H,A. Walden who was there on the night. The chapter has the perhaps rather understated title:

“The Great City Fire Blitz And How It Affected Our Personnel And Premises”

“It has been said, and written, that not since the Great Fire of 1666 has there been such a conflagration in the City of London as occurred on Sunday night, December 29th, 1940, the result of Nazi incendiary bombs. In this ‘blitzkrieg’ whole areas of the City became smoking ruins within a few hours. Narrow thoroughfares, old familiar places and historic landmarks, were obliterated. To write adequately of the scenes of destruction seems beyond the limit of one’s descriptive powers.

It was an awe-inspiring sight for those of us who witnessed it. St. Paul’s Cathedral, ringed by raging fires and falling masonry, its great dome superimposed and reddened all night by the reflected flames, seemed to take upon itself an even greater dignity, as it stood in the midst of this example of ‘Man’s inhumanity to man.’

Approaching the City from the South, I saw by the lurid sky that the fires must be near the Cathedral, and felt apprehension about our own premises. The journey on foot along Cannon Street, deserted but for firemen, was of a nightmare variety. Several big fires were in progress, particularly a large Queen Victoria Street block, the smoke and sparks of which filled the air. the sound of hostile planes roaring overhead and the hiss of great numbers of falling incendiary bombs, seemed more menacing than usual. Taking cover in various doorways en route, and reaching the Cathedral, I found that our near neighbours, Debenham and Company’s premises were almost gutted and Pawsons and Leaf’s roof alight in several places. The roadway was a mass of fallen masonry, and hose-pipes interlaced towards the brow of Ludgate Hill, where other fires were taking hold. Various buildings in Paternoster Row, Ivy Lane, Warwick Avenue and London House Yard were burning furious, and I shall not forget seeing the faces of some of our fire fighters in the glare, with every detail defined at a considerable distance. It should have been possible to read clearly by the light of the many fires.

Passing into the Warehouse, I learned that hundreds of firebombs had fallen in the near vicinity, some even on the Cathedral. Those which fell on our roof were effectively dealt with by our own squads, some of whom went out into the street to extinguish other incendiaries.

Here it must be recorded that many fires might have been avoided if other Warehouses and buildings nearby had had organised watchers and fire fighting staffs, such as our own. Perhaps, indeed, our premises would have been spared, for there appears to be little doubt that we became the eventual victims of other negligence, or lack of precaution.

In addition to our own fire fighters and first aid men on duty, there were about 80 other occupants of our basement shelters, comprising assistants of both sexes and domestic staff, most of whom were unaware of the close proximity of the fires or the danger outside. Soon word was received that our premises must be evacuated at once, and Mr. Lester instructed me to conduct the women members of the staff immediately to the Crypt of St. Paul’s , where arrangements had been made to receive them. They quietly collected their necessities and blankets, and with one or two excusable exceptions, the calm manner of their journey despite the sight of flames and sparks which greeted them upon coming out of doors at ground level, is worthy of very special mention. The men followed shortly afterwards. All were most kindly received by Canon and Mrs’ Cockin and other clergymen and helpers. We were given cocoa and made as comfortable as possible on pews and forms. The quiet atmosphere of the Crypt made it seem miles away from the outside world. It was the first visit for some of the staff, and one clergyman was soon answering questions from a young lady regarding the Duke of Wellington’s huge funeral carriage standing nearby. By this time, Wren’s Chapter House adjacent to our own premises, was ablaze, and our old building, 69/70 St. Paul’s Churchyard, despite the firemen’s efforts, had caught fire.

It was a hopeless fight from the start. memories of this old part of the House, with its Victorian outline, came crowding in. How it had witnessed so many of the Cathedral ceremonies! How, in happier days, over many years, it had been made colourful and bedecked with flags and bunting to welcome Royalty and others visiting the City and St. Paul’s, the personalities who had worked there and long since passed on – old friends who used to visit its departments – the present staff which manned them, and their reactions when on the morrow they would come and find the old place a ruin of twisted steel! The quiet, philosophic bearing of Mr. Hugh Williams and the Manager as they stood and watched the burning warehouse were an example to us all.

To define in praise the work of our fire fighters would be to limit the extent of their great service. Three times the Police instructed them to leave as the building was becoming dangerous; but they refused to go, and eventually Mr. Lester had personally to order and almost drag them away. Even then they asked to stay and continue the unequal struggle. Stirrup-pumps were futile weapons to deal with such a fire. many of our men were utterly exhausted when finally they withdrew.

As we feared, there was worse to follow. The flames of burning buildings in narrow Paternoster Row fanned by a strong wind contributed to the succumbing of the newer blocks of our premises, the rear portion of which was soon doomed – steel and concrete have their limitations. The task of the squads of regular and auxiliary firemen was hopeless and overwhelming. Water was at a low pressure because of its universal demand over a wide area. Many of us could neither rest nor remain in the Crypt, but came out at intervals to stand and stare, fascinated – and dejected – at the scene confronting us but a few yards away; we were even warmed by the heat of the blaze. It was eerie to see the hoses lit up by the flames. They resembled giant snakes sprawling across the roadways and pavements. Most of the staff had by now put down their blankets on the stone floor of the Crypt and endeavoured to obtain some sleep. My own blanket covered a flat gravestone, the inscription of which recorded the death in 1787 of Elias Jenkins, a former verger of the Cathedral. It was surprising that so many actually slept, particularly those who were shouldering the great responsibilities and anxieties of the future.

The following photo is titled “Our Old Building, December 29th, 1940”:

29th December 1940

On the 29th December 2018 I took the book with me to St. Paul’s Churchyard to track down the location of a couple of the photos. The following photo is of the same view as the above. Part of the Chapter House can be seen on the right of both photos. This is the only building that was rebuilt after the war and remains to this day.

29th December 1940

In the grey light of a chaotic dawn, with buildings still ablaze, breakfast was where one could find it. There was very little water, and it was a strange sight to see people walking about with kettles in their hands trying to obtain it. Most of the staff who had been there all night were now sent home. The Headquarters of the Firm were made temporarily at Messrs. Evans’ Restaurants (next to our own premises), which had, apart from water damage, escaped the fire. We record our grateful thanks and admiration of Miss Richards and Miss Sheer, of their staff, who literally took us in and fed us. They made tea and cooked under the most irksome conditions, and were indefatigable in their cheerful assistance. They had slept in our basements for many weeks previously.

Our staff assembled here on Monday morning, seeking advice and instruction. The addresses of all were registered, and, with a few exceptions they were told to return home and await orders. This went on for two or three days, and about a dozen of us occupied the Crypt for a second night. Parts of our building were still burning, and it was late on this second occasion that some of us had the unusual sight of the Dean of St. Paul’s in his shirtsleeves, surveying our premises from the Crypt door. With a smile he remarked, ‘It takes Hitchcock, Williams an awfully long time to burn’.

The Firm had by now sought and found temporary offices at Textile Exchange, in the Churchyard, overlooking our still smoldering premises. The main room of these offices became a meeting place for everyone seeking information or giving it. A small Counting House and Entering Room staff were occupied acknowledging all mail and dealing with inquiries and urgent affairs. Mr Lillycrop had, fortunately, before leaving our stricken building, removed some books containing our customers’ names and addresses, thus enabling us to inform some thousands of them by January 7th of the calamity which had befallen our premises. A great number of replies were received expressing sympathy and offering help in some form or another. These greatly heartened and encouraged the Firm and staff in their determination to carry on. One letter concluded with, ‘Heil Hitchcock’s! Damn Hitler’.

The following photo is titled “Our Paternoster Row Frontage (after December 29th, 1940)”:

29th December 1940

The following photo is of roughly the same scene today. The above photo extends further to the right than the photo from today, however that part of the view is obscured by the building on the right.

29th December 1940

The following photo is titled “One Of Our Departments After The Fire”:

29th December 1940

The following photo is titled “Main Roof Damage”:

29th December 1940

The following photo is titled “Our Warehouse After Hitler Passed”:

29th December 1940

Many problems were now being dealt with, to give but a few – Where should we find premises to house our Departments? In what state were the hundreds of ledgers and account books in the strong room which had now been submerged in debris and 14 feet of water? Where to obtain new stocks with the ‘Limitation of Supplies Act’ in operation? The claims of many members of staff who had lost their personal possessions in the fire? Where to accommodate the previously ‘living in’ staff, of whom there were approximately 150, when they returned to business? Immediately on seeing the staff on Monday morning, Mr. Hugh Williams, the Manager and some of the buyers went to inspect various places with a view to securing the premises and were able to obtain possession of four warehouses in the West End, and two showrooms in Cannon Street. By January 13th all these premises were in occupation by the various Departments which began establishing stocks and dispatching goods, though handicapped by a complete lack of counter fixtures etc.

The floor space in those early days was but a shadow of our former capacity, and indeed still is.

In addition to the complete loss of our main premises, there were also completely destroyed our four factories and workrooms, maintenance workshops at Warwick Lane and resident quarters at Crown Court, with everything they contained. Only Soft Furnishing and Piece Goods Departments were re-established in the City, at Scott House, Cannon Street, but on May 10th 1941, this building was also totally destroyed by enemy action. These departments were eventually transferred to the rehabilitated first floor of what remained of our 72 St. Paul’s premises.

The problem of the flooded basements containing our strong room and in it all our books and records was a serious one. Pumps were installed and operated for several days before the water was cleared, and debris removed, to allow an examination to be made of the contents. The strong room was found to have been badly flooded, and the removal of sodden books and documents and the process of hand drying every page by our already augmented staff will not soon be forgotten. The drying and de-ciphering continued for many months, in many cases figures became obliterated by mildew setting in. The practical help given by our customers who, when remitting, forwarded copies of their own ledgers was of great assistance to us. Many were themselves in a similar case and the difficulties of reconciliation of indebtedness can be appreciated. One customer at Hull had his premises destroyed on three occasions. Our bankers placed their special drying rooms at our disposal for some important documents and books – even a laundry gave assistance through the medium of its special apparatus.

Many of our ‘living in’ assistants and fire fighters had lost most of their clothes and personal belongings and for a few days the Guildhall (also badly damaged) was besieged by claimants for compensation. Each was interviewed by the Relieving Officer, and, in most cases, a cash payment on account was made for immediate necessities. A comprehensive form, setting out personal losses had to be completed and returned within 30 days. The administration at the Guildhall was sympathetic and businesslike. There must have been thousands of claims made as a result of the night of December 29th, 1940.

For some time, members of the staff worked among the debris and basements, clearing and salvaging whatever possible. The builders erected scaffolding at certain points with a view to rendering first aid to that part of our remaining building which might be made habitable for business. Meanwhile in Paternoster Row the Royal Engineers and Pioneers were in full possession continuing their work of demolition of unsafe buildings and walls. What remained of the older portion of our building was finally demolished by explosive charges on February 7th, 1941. Despite great damage, it fell only after great reluctance. Paternoster Row and London House Yard remained closed thoroughfares for the rest of the war.

This scene of desolation in the area at the rear of our buildings was terrible. It could be likened to the result of an earthquake. Publishers, publicans, booksellers, scent makers, cafes, solicitors – in fact, all branches of the professions and industry suffered. Notices and papers strung along railings and ropes indicating location of new or temporary addresses could be compared with washing hanging on a line.

The salvaging, drying and storing of a quantity of packing paper and string provided extremely useful, as these commodities became scarcer in supply. Our artesian well which pumped water from a depth of 500 feet in sufficient quantity to supply all our needs, was rendered useless. The reserve tank, for three days’ supply had a capacity of 18,000 gallons and weighed 90 tons. This provided useful salvage and ‘tank-busters’ was no misnomer for the men who were eventually employed to dismantle it.

Finally, we were indeed thankful that no lives were lost, nor serious injury received by any of our staff. Despite the great material losses the Firm sustained they set an example to all in their determination to rise again, Phoenix like, from the flames. Meanwhile over the front entrance door, the sculptured stone figure of ‘Industry’, undamaged, still smiles serenely down on our undertaking.

What further symbol is needed for this great century old business?”

The following photo is titled “Our Block, December 1940”:

29th December 1940

In the above photo, the white lines shows the boundary of the premises of Hitchcock Williams & Co and demonstrate the size and scale of their operation around St. Paul’s Churchyard and Paternoster Row. In the lower right corner, part of the shell of a building can be seen with a rather distinctive chimney with lighter colour lower section and darker upper section. This building is the Chapter House of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

My father took a series of photos from the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s just after the war (I covered these in two posts here and here).

He did not take a photo that exactly covers the area of the Hitchcock Williams building, however he did take the following photo showing the Chapter House with the same distinctive chimney.

29th December 1940

In the above photo, the area occupied by the buildings of Hitchcock Williams are to the left and have now been cleared. The round circles are the marks left from the siting of large water tanks that were built after the raid of the 29th December on cleared land. This was to address the problem of water availability and low water pressure as described in the account of the raid.

To help locate where Hitchcock Williams stood in the area around St. Paul’s today, this is a photo I took a couple of years ago when the Chapter House was being restored showing the same view as in my father’s photo above. The premises of Hitchcock Williams were to the left of the Chapter House.

29th December 1940

Operation Textiles – A City Warehouse in War-time is a fascinating little book, not just for the account of the 29th December 1940, but also for the background as to how a company operated in the City of London covered in the rest of the book. It is amazing how the company tried to operate as normal in the first months of war, including sending sales representatives with samples to the Channel Islands – they just escaped on the last boat as the islands were being invaded.

The company also appears to have had a very paternalistic approach and was very male dominated as were the majority, if not all of City companies of the time. A photo in the book taken on the roof shows the buyers meeting. Of the 25 staff of buyers, only two were female.

29th December 1940

Hitchcock Williams & Co rebuilt their operations during and after the war and continued trading, however changing tastes, foreign competition and the economic recession of the early 1980s all took their toll and Hitchcock Williams closed in 1984. The company had been trading for 149 years and when it closed a fifth generation Williams was a Director of the company.

The area around St. Paul’s Churchyard and Paternoster Row are very different today, having been rebuilt twice since the destruction of the 1940s. Nothing remains of the buildings of Hitchcock Williams, however it is intriguing to wonder if the remains of their 500 foot deep artesian well can still be found somewhere deep under the current incarnation of buildings – something for future archaeologists to wonder about.

To close, here is a poem from the book which describes what must have been the feelings of those who looked over the bombsites of buildings that had been a significant part of their lives:

City Street, 1942

Desolate and gaunt the ruined buildings brood,

And gargoyles from a long dead sculptor’s mood

Still peer, unseeing, grinning in the dust,

Athwart with twisted girders etched with rust,

Who looks unmoved upon these rubbled mounds

Which once knew friends, and heard familiar sounds?

Has compensating Nature spread its gown

Far from the Country to the heart of Town?

Where basements newly greet the sun and showers,

And nourished rockeries grow Summer flowers

My thoughts rebuild the place I used to know

And sadness comes unbid; my voice is low.

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All Hallows By The Tower

There are a few locations in London where it is possible to feel very close to the earliest days of the City, one of these is the subject of today’s post, the church of All Hallows by the Tower.

All Hallows by the Tower, or All Hallows Barking as it was known due to the original association with the Abbey of Barking in Essex who owned the land on which the first church was built-in the late 7th century, is to be found at the top of Tower Hill alongside Byward Street.

The area between Byward Street and the River Thames suffered very badly in the last war and All Hallows by the Tower suffered a direct hit, along with the impact of nearby explosive and incendiary bombs. By the end of the war, the church was an empty shell.

My father took the following photo of the church in 1947.

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The photo was probably taken from Beer Lane, a street that once ran from just in front of the church down to Lower Thames Street. The old Port of London Authority building is in the background and the buildings that once ran along the edge of Tower Hill are on the right.

Beer Lane does not exist now, and the area to the south of All Hallows by the Tower is occupied by the recent development, Tower Place. Trying to take a comparison photo of the church is the only time I have been stopped taking a photo in London.

Tower Place consists of two buildings forming the two sides of a V shape. In between the two buildings is a large glass atrium that looks to be part of the open space in front of the church. Walking into this atrium I was swiftly told by the security people who appear to be permanently wandering around the area, that I could not take photos (despite explaining what I was doing and also that the photos were not of Tower Place).

Tower Place (and if I remember correctly the building that was here before the Tower Place development) is an example of how streets such as Beer Lane disappear and become private space.

I wanted to get the old Port of London Authority building in the background, however as I could not get far enough back from the church, the following photo is the best I could get to compare with my father’s photo.

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Only the outer walls of the church along with the tower survived the war. The restored church was reopened in 1957 and although the construction of the church appears traditional, reinforced concrete beams were used to carry the roof. The 17th century tower was capped by a ‘renaissance’ style steeple.

An earlier tower to the one we see today was badly damaged in an explosion caused by gunpowder being stored in some nearby buildings in 1649. The current tower was completed in 1659 and is the only surviving feature on a City church dating from the Commonwealth period after the Civil War. It is this tower from which Pepys watched the Fire of London. His diary entry for the 3rd of September 1666 reads “I up to the top of Barking steeple and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw”.

So many interior features was lost during the blitz, including the original pulpit (1613), reredos (1685), altar table (1636) and a chancel screen from 1705 which had been a gift from the Hanseatic League.

The restoration of the church created the interior we see today. It is remarkable that everything in the photo below is part of the post war restoration with the exception of the exterior wall.

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Whilst my father’s photo shows the view from the outside, it does not fully convey the level of damage within the church. The following photo is from the 1947 publication “The Lost Treasures of London” by William Kent and shows that apart from the tower and the external walls, there is nothing left of the church.

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The original font was destroyed in the war. The new font was carved by a Sicilian prisoner of war known only by the name of Tulipani in 1944 using limestone from Gibraltar and is a memorial to the tunnelers of the Royal Engineers who excavated tunnels in the Rock of Gibraltar during the war.

The font cover is attributed to Grinling Gibbons and from 1682. It is one of the finest of the period.

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The pre-war font. Whilst the font was destroyed in the blitz, the font cover had been moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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The proximity of the church to the Tower of London and the execution place on Tower Hill meant that many of those who were executed were then carried into the church. This includes Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and 26 years later his son, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Lord Thomas Grey (the uncle of Lady Jane Grey), Cardinal Fisher and Archbishop Laud.

The Calendar of State Papers from June 2nd 1572 records the fate of Thomas Howard:

“His head being off, his body was put into a coffin belonging to Barking Church and the burying cloth of the same Church laid on him. He was carried into the Chapel of the Tower by four of the Lieutenant’s men and there buried by the Dean of St. Paul’s, he saying the service according to the Queen’s book without any other preaching.”

The church was also used as a temporary resting place following execution. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury was executed on the 10th January 1645 and the body was buried in a leaden coffin at All Hallows Barking by the Tower of London. Twenty years later, on July 24th he was then laid in a vault at St. John’s College, Oxford at 10 pm, having been “the day before taken from London, where he was buried.”

All Hallows by the Tower has numerous nautical associations and reminders of these can be seen throughout the church, including some superb model ships.

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The pulpit. This was originally in the church of St. Swithin in Cannon Street and is dated to around 1682. St. Swithin was one of the City churches destroyed by bombing and not rebuilt.

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Looking down the length of the church towards the organ. Remarkable that everything in this photo is from the post war reconstruction. After the war the church was an empty shell with nothing between the outer walls.

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In the Lady Chapel is the following tomb of Alderman John Croke from 1477. It was destroyed during the war, but rebuilt and restored from the remaining fragments.

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The 16th century monument to the Italian merchant Hieronimus Benalius who lived in nearby Seething Lane and died in 1583 and left instructions for Mass to be said for his soul.

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A niche in the wall holds a 17th century wooden statue of St. Antony of Egypt.

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Ornate Sword Rest:

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At the west end of the church is the Saxon arch that was uncovered during the last war by the bomb damage to the church. The date of the arch is variously given as the 7th, 8th and 11th century. The Bradley and Pevsner Guide to City Churches states that an 11th century date is preferred.

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Although I suspect the arch will never be accurately dated, the key point is that the arch is pre-Norman and highlights the antiquity of the church. Also interesting to see Roman bricks within the arch – reuse of building material from much earlier London buildings.

Beneath the church is the Crypt Museum. This is a remarkable place, not just for the exhibits, but for the sense that here, below ground level, we are close to the early years of London.

I was in the Crypt Museum for about 15 minutes and during this time there was no other visitor. This solitude enhanced the sense of the antiquity of the crypt, but it is a real shame as both the church and the crypt museum are superb and deserve support and visitors.

On climbing down the steps from inside the church, this is the view along the crypt museum. On the floor in the foreground is the tessellated pavement from a 3rd or 4th century Roman house. Although this has been recently relaid, there is an in-situ Roman pavement which I will come to later.

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The crypt museum has on display many of the artifacts that have been discovered in and around the church.

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There are also recent exhibits which tell of the history of the church during the 20th century including the remains of the north door, constructed in 1884, but damaged during incendiary bombing on the night of the 29th December 1940.

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Along with the plaque that records the baptism of William Penn, the founder of the US state of Pennsylvania in the church on the 23rd October 1644.

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In addition to the relaid Roman pavement shown above, the Crypt also has an in-place, perfectly preserved floor of a 2nd or 3rd century domestic house. The gully in the centre is thought to be the location of a wall and traces of plaster have been found on the edge. The pavement is cut across by one of the walls of the original Saxon church.

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There are many places in London where Roman remains can be seen, however, looking on at this Roman floor, in its original setting, in a quiet and empty crypt has to be my favourite – those early Londoners who would have walked across this floor feel very close.

Standing here also shows the layers that have built up London. The original Roman floor, the Saxon foundations, wall and arch, elements of the Medieval church which can be found above, along with the 17th century church tower which looked down on and survived the Great Fire, 20th century destruction and restoration – almost 2,000 years of London history in one place.

As well as the Saxon arch, damage during the blitz also revealed a number of other pre-Norman remains that had been embedded in the fabric of the church.

The Rev. P.B. Clayton describes the finds:

“Out of the wall adjacent to the arch great fragments fell, which had for at least 800 years been embedded as the capstones in the strong Norman pillars of that date. Some of these stones were most remarkable. The Keeper of the Medieval Department of the British Museum announced them to be unparalleled. The pillar has preserved them to this age intact, unique, alone and unexampled. They represent a school of craftsmanship whereof we have no other evidence. They form a portion of a noble Cross which once upreared its head on Tower Hill, before the Norman William conquered London.”

The photo below is of the upper half of an original Saxon cross. Dated to the early 10th century. The inscription around the edge reads “Thelvar had this stone set up over here….” the rest of the inscription would have carried on around the missing lower half.

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Part of the shaft of a Saxon cross stands in one of the alcoves. One piece of the shaft was found during clearing of the lower chapels in 1925-27 and the rest of the shaft was found in the rubble of the Nave Pillars following the blitz as described above by the Rev. P.B. Clayton. The shaft includes Anglo-Saxon knot designs along with St. Peter and St. Paul on the side panel. The shaft has an inscription which may read “Werhenworrth”.

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At the end of the Crypt Museum is the Undercroft Chapel. At the far end of the chapel, above the altar can be seen the rough wall of the 14th century church. The altar stones are from Castle Athlit on the coast of what is now Israel. Castle Athlit was a Crusader castle which fell in 1291.

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An unusual relic in the crypt is the original crows nest from Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Quest. A ship that was not well suited to Antarctic exploration, the ship took Shackleton to South Georgia where he died in January 1922. Taking a route via the eastern Antarctic and Cape Town, the Quest finally returned to Plymouth on the 16th September 1922.

It is not known how the Crows Nest came to be in the possession of All Hallows, however the Rev P.B. Clayton used the Crows Nest in his fund-raising activities so he must have acquired it by some means. The Rev P.B. Clayton (who also wrote the earlier extract on finding the Saxon stones) was Vicar of All Hallows for 40 years from 1922 to 1962.

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Ending my visit to the Crypt, I walked back up through the church and outside. I took the following photo of the church from Tower Hill which was as busy as usual with visitors to the Tower of London and to the river boat piers on the Thames. It is really surprising that despite being this close to Tower Hill there were so few visitors to All Hallows and that I had so long in the Crypt on my own.

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View from the east of the church.

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All Hallows by the Tower from across Byward Street, during a brief gap in traffic.

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All Hallows by the Tower encapsulates London’s history, from the earliest Roman times to the destruction of the mid 20th century and the restoration that followed. Well worth a visit, and perhaps one day I will get to take a photo of the church from under Tower Place’s atrium.

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The Massey Shaw Fireboat – A Brief History

Last Tuesday, the 29th December 2015, was the 75th anniversary of one of the heaviest attacks on London during the 2nd World War. I featured this event last year in a post on the 29th December along with one on the St. Paul’s Watch, whose actions contributed to the preservation of the Cathedral when large areas of the rest of the City were destroyed by incendiary bombs.

Along with the St. Paul’s Watch, the Fire Services worked throughout the night of the 29th / 30th December 1940 to prevent the many fires from spreading and to gradually bring them under control. The Fire Services worked at considerable danger from falling bombs, collapsing buildings and the risk of being cut off by rapidly spreading fires.

Through the night of the 29th December 1940 the availability of water was a problem. Bombing destroyed water mains and the many pumps drawing water from the working water mains considerably reduced the water pressure.

Hundreds of land based pumps were used and to help with the provision of supplies of water, the London Fire Service’s Fireboats were used to pump water from the Thames ashore.

To commemorate the events of the 29th December 1940 and the bravery of the Fire Services a number of events were held in the City of London last Tuesday, including displays of Fire Engines from the time, and a procession of Fire Engines through the City at the same time as  the sounding of the original air raid sirens in 1940.

As well as the displays on land, the Massey Shaw, the last remaining fireboat from the 2nd World War put on a display on the Thames by the bridge into Cannon Street Station and Dowgate Fire Station.

I was very fortunate to be on board the Massey Shaw for the day’s events and for this weekend I have two posts about this remarkable vessel. Today, providing a brief history of the Massey Shaw and tomorrow the voyage out on the 29th December 2015.

The Massey Shaw was one of several fireboats constructed to broadly the same design for the London Fire Brigade, with the Massey Shaw being completed by J. Samuel White & Co at Cowes on the Isle of Wight on 1935. Such was their importance that in 1939, with the war looming, the London County Council placed an order for twenty Fire Boats which all saw action along the length of the Thames, including one being sunk by a bomb at Thames Haven.

Named after Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, the first chief fire officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (from 1861 to 1891), the Massey Shaw was designed with a shallow draught to allow access along the Thames, under bridges and into the creeks feeding into the river at nearly all states of tide.

The following photo shows the Massey Shaw along with two other fireboats in the Thames at Lambeth in front of the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade. Their low design ensures they can pass under bridges in almost all states of the tide.

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Fireboats were an essential tool in the ability of the Fire Services to fight fires on and along the river. In 1935 the banks of the Thames was still occupied by large numbers of warehouses storing vast amounts of combustible materials and often access from the river was the only means of fighting fires in these warehouses, and the river also provided a readily available source of water.

Large numbers of ships carrying all types of cargo also presented a fire risk both along the Thames and when moored up in the Docks and along the river edge.

The Massey Shaw was equipped with two, 8-cylinder diesel engines which would either drive the boat, or could be switched over to power two Merryweather centrifugal pumps each capable of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute through to the deck fire fighting equipment.

On deck was a large 3-inch Monitor (a steerable, high pressure water jet) along with banks of water outlets on either side of the deck which could be used to set up additional high pressure water jets, or to pump water from the river to land.

It was the ability to pump water from the Thames through hoses to land which was of such importance on the night of the 29th December 1940. Not only was there limited water available from water mains, but it was also a low tide so access to water from the banks of the river was difficult. Having a Fireboat which could moor in water and pump to shore was essential in fighting fires on the night and protecting St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The Massey Shaw was one of several boats that pumped water from the Thames to the streets of the City on the night of the 29th / 30th December 1940.

The following photo shows how hoses would be rowed ashore to connect to hoses run along the streets providing additional supplies, or to replace water from the water mains. It is interesting to see in this picture that land based firemen would have the traditional helmet and the firemen on the fireboats would have flat hats which would have provided very little protection.

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The Massey Shaw could also moor along side and deliver water as shown in the following photo taken at Westminster Pier.

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War service for the Massey Shaw started before the bombing of London as the Massey Shaw was one of the little ships that played such a key role in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The intention was originally for the Massey Shaw to fight fires at Dunkirk, however on arrival she was put to use ferrying troops from the beaches out to waiting ships, her shallow draft enabling the Massey Shaw to approach much closer to the waiting troops in Dunkirk harbour and the beaches.

The Massey Shaw made three round trips from Ramsgate to Dunkirk bringing back 110 troops in addition to those that she had ferried out to the larger shipping.

The book “Fire Service Memories” by Sir Aylmer Firebrace includes an account of the Dunkirk operation:

“Here, in its chronological position is a brief account of ‘excursion to hell’ (to use Mr J.B. Priestley’s graphic phrase) of the fire boat Massey Shaw, in which she played a gallant part in rescuing, from under the noses of dive-bombing Stukas, some of the 300,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force who were patiently and perilously waiting on the Dunkirk beaches.

The Massey Shaw, with a volunteer amateur pilot on board, arrived at Ramsgate on 31st May 1940. She made three trips to Dunkirk, bringing ninety-six men back on board and transferring five hundred others to larger vessels. It is believed that she was the last of the small boats to leave Dunkirk harbour. Whilst troops, British and French, were being taken off the beaches, heavy bombing was proceeding, air battles were being fought overhead, and the whole coast for many miles presented a panorama of raging fire and sullen smoke.

The embarkation bristled with difficulties; always there was the imminent danger of the fire boat going aground, and so becoming a total loss. The Dunkirk task completed, the Massey Shaw was on her way back to London, when, only two hundred yards away from her, the Emile de Champs, a French auxiliary vessel, struck a mine and sank within two minutes. Forty survivors, many of them in need of immediate attention, were picked up and transferred to H.M.S. Albury, a mine sweeper 

Vice-Admiral Sir Bertam Ramsey, K.C.B., Flag Officer commanding Dover wrote in the London Gazette of 17th July 1947:

‘Of the civilian-manned craft one of the best performances was that of the London Fire Brigade fire boat, Massey Shaw. All the volunteer crew were members of the London Fire Brigade or Auxiliary Fire Service, and they succeeded in doing three round trips to the beaches in their well-found craft'”

The Massey Shaw returns from Dunkirk on the 4th June, 1940.

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The Massey Shaw taking a fast ruin along the Thames. Greenwich Power Station is to the left.

Massey Shaw History 3Another photo of the Massey Shaw. The layout of the boat is much the same today, the only significant difference being the open steering position was replaced after the war by an enclosed wheel house.

Massey Shaw History 4The Massey Shaw fighting a warehouse fire using the main Monitor to fire a high pressure water jet. This photo illustrates how a river based craft can be far more effective at fighting fires along the river edge. Fully self contained and floating on an unlimited supply of water, the fire boat was a highly effective machine for fighting this type of fire.

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The Massey Shaw continued in operational service until being decommissioned in 1971. Left to gradually deteriorate in St. Katherine Docks, the Massey Shaw & Marine Vessels Preservation Trust was formed to rescue and preserve the boat.

A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled a full restoration to be carried out in 2012/13 and the Massey Shaw is now back to a fully operational status, with the majority of the boat still being of the original materials and construction.

The current mooring position of the Massey Shaw is in the South Dock on the Isle of Dogs. The following photo taken before setting out shows the deck of the Massey Shaw with the main water outlets.

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The permanent main Monitor is in the centre, just in front of the wheel house.

On both sides of the deck are four banks of deck connections with the outlets painted red. These are to provide water supplies for additional Monitors on the boat, or to connect hoses to provide a water supply to the shore.

The deck connections with the outlets painted black are for salvage work as the Massey Shaw also has the ability to suck water out of a stricken vessel.

The windows in the foreground provide light into the engine room directly below and can be opened to provide ventilation.

The following photo shows all the deck outlets in use to provide an additional 8 Monitors along the side of the boat.

Massey Shaw History 6The Massey Shaw continues to be powered by the two original diesel engines. Under normal operation, these both drive the boat at a full speed of up to 12 knots.

When fighting a fire, one engine would be switched to pump water with the remaining engine providing power to hold the boat in position. If the boat could be moored or anchored then both engines would be switched to pumping water enabling all the deck outlets to be used.

The engine room with the engines in magnificent condition after restoration.

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Indicator dials showing the vacuum created by the pumps when suction was needed to pump water from a vessel during salvage, and also the pressure in pounds per inch of the pump when supplying water.

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The heavy pipework and controls needed to transport the water under high pressure from the pumps to the deck.

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Working in the engine room with all engines and pumps working flat out was very noisy. Ear protectors are an essential aid, although nothing like these would have been in use in the 1940s.

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Signalling between the wheel house and the engine room continues to use the original system of bells and dials to indicate to the engineer in the engine room what power and direction is required from the  engines.

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The experience of being on the Massey Shaw along the Thames highlighted the considerable skill required to control the boat.

Whilst the shallow draft is excellent for navigating shallow water, it also reduces the water resistance so any wind has more of an impact. Due to the size of the boat and limited rudder size, there is a delay between turning the wheel and the boat starting to turn, and as the Captain does not have direct control of engine power, there is a further delay between requesting a change in power and the engines responding.

Keeping in position when fighting a large warehouse fire or manoeuvring in the Dunkirk harbour whilst under attack would have required a considerable amount of skill and experience.

The original indicator panel in the engine room showing the status of the navigation lights made by Siemens Brothers of London.

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The crew cabin of the Massey Shaw has a number of commemorative plaques as shown in the photo below.

The large plaque at the top was made just after Dunkirk, and the plaque below this details the names of the crew of the Massey Shaw at the time of Dunkirk.

Surrounding these are plaques presented to the Massey Shaw for the various commemoration visits to Dunkirk. The round plaque to the left commemorates the 2015 visit to Dunkirk on the 75th anniversary.

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As the last remaining fireboat from the 2nd World War, the Massey Shaw is a very graphic reminder of the engineering used at the time and the bravery of the crews who manned these boats that were so critical to the protection of London.

To have the Massey Shaw in a museum would be good, but to have the boat as a fully working craft able to demonstrate how fire boats operated at the time is remarkable.

My thanks to the Massey Shaw Education Trust for much of the information and photos used in this article (although any errors in recording this information are my responsibility). Other sources of information include the book Fire Service Memories by Sir Aylmer Firebrace published in 1949, which is highly recommended for an in depth account of the fire services up to and including the 2nd World War.

The web site of the Massey Shaw Education Trust can be found here and provides further information on the history, restoration and current operations of the Massey Shaw.

Join me in tomorrow’s post for a trip down the Thames on the Massey Shaw and a demonstration of fire fighting capabilities from both 1940 and 2015.

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