A Bomb Site In Ampton Street, Gray’s Inn Road

I was intending to write about Ampton Street a couple of weeks ago, It is the location of one of my father’s photos, taken in 1947, of a street with a cleared bomb site along one side of the street.

This was one of the photos my father had printed, and on the reverse was written Ampton Street, Gray’s Inn Road. I had assumed the photo was taken from Gray’s Inn Road (I will explain why later), but when I got home and checked the photos side by side on the computer, it was obvious that I had taken the photo at the wrong end of the street. I had a day off from work last week, so on a rather lengthy walk, I included Ampton Street on the route and finally photographed the scene from the correct end of the street.

Ampton Street is shown in the following map extract. In the very centre of the map, a relatively short street running right from Gray’s Inn Road towards Cubitt Street.  (Map  “© OpenStreetMap contributors”).

Ampton Street

This is my father’s photo taken in 1947. The  view is looking from Cubitt Street, along Ampton Street, in the direction of Gray’s Inn Road. A length of Ampton Street has been cleared of houses following considerable bomb damage.

Ampton Street

The first house still standing on the right hand side of the street is on the junction with Ampton Place, so the entire terrace of houses from Ampton Place to Cubitt Street has been destroyed.

This area on both sides of Gray’s Inn Road suffered considerable bomb damage during the war.

The LCC Bomb Damage Maps showing the houses on the cleared space as “total destruction”.  The houses on the left of the street are colour coded purple “damaged beyond repair” and red “seriously damaged”. This also applied to many of the buildings in the street directly opposite Ampton Street on Gray’s Inn Road and there are new buildings now covering these areas.

A V1 flying bomb also landed just south of Ampton Street on the area just behind what is now  the Eastman Dental Hospital (the old Royal Free Hospital).

I love the detail in these photos, in this one there are a couple of children playing in the street:

Ampton Street

This is the same view today:

Ampton Street

I took the photo a bit to the left of where my father was standing in order to get a slight view up Amton Street.

The bomb site is now covered by the brick buildings on the right of the photo and the open space on the left is also covered by new buildings.

Ampton Street is now closed off to through traffic with only a pedestrian walkway and cycle lane running through into Cubitt Street. Looking through the gap between trees and buildings it is just possible to see the porticos on the houses on the left, far more clearly shown in my father’s photo as in 1947 there was a clear view along the street.

These are the buildings on the cleared bomb site:

Ampton Street

In my father’s photo, a couple of the buildings have a portico over the entrance. These are still visible today and a couple of buildings have also had porticos added since 1947.

Ampton Street

The LMA Collage archive includes a 1972 photo of the same terrace of houses as shown in my photo above.  A number of the houses look to be in a rather derelict state, with broken windows and boarded up ground floor windows. Rather amazing considering the prices these houses would sell for today.

Ampton Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_333_72_716

This is the view leading into Ampton Place. The house on the left is the one seen at the end of the cleared bomb site in the 1947 photo.

Ampton Street

This is the view looking down Ampton Street towards Cubitt Street. The housing on the left occupies the 1947 bomb site:

Ampton Street

This is the photo I took a couple of weeks ago, looking across Gray’s Inn Road towards Ampton Street, thinking at the time it was the right place.

Ampton Street

In my defence it was a hot day, I had already walked for miles, and I was looking at the original photo as a small printout. I had assumed that the park area on the right of Ampton Street was the old bomb site, however it should have been very obvious that the houses on the left are different to the original photo and the house just visible on the right is too close to Gray’s Inn Road to be the house in the original photo.

Ampton Street was built between 1821 and 1827 by Thomas Cubitt. The land between Gray’s Inn Road and the Fleet River was owned by Lord Calthorpe and in 1814 he applied for an Act of Parliament to approve the paving of streets on his land.

Some of this land was leased to Thomas Cubitt who built Ampton Street, Frederick Street, and the street now named after the builder, Cubitt Street (however at the time it was called Arthur Street.)

The houses that remain in Ampton Street are perfect examples of Cubitt’s early 19th century designs. This is the terrace running from the Gray’s Inn Road to Ampton Place along the northern side of Ampton Street. On the far right of the photo can be seen the new builds on the old bomb site. This original terrace probably shows what the destroyed terrace looked like.

Ampton Street

A rather nice street name plaque:

Ampton Street

It is unusual to walk these early 19th century streets and not find a street without a plaque recording a previous resident and Ampton Street continues this rule with an LCC plaque recording that Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish writer, historian, and key founder of the London Library lived here from 1831 to 1834. It was his first London residence after moving from Craigenputtock, a very rural location in south west Scotland where Carlyle lived with his wife.

Ampton Street

Carlyle wrote about his stay in Ampton Street that they spent “an interesting, cheery, and in spite of poor arrangements, really pleasant winter. We lodged in Ampton Street, Gray’s Inn Lane, clean and decent pair of rooms, and quiet decent people. Visitors in plenty, John Mill one of the most frequent, Jeffrey, Lord Advocate, often came on an afternoon.”

Thomas Carlyle’s house in the centre of the photo:

Ampton Street

The area around Ampton Street, covering Lord Calthorpe’s original land still has many of the original early 19th century buildings and shows the development of the city as formal streets and housing spread north. There is a Calthorpe Street, named after the original owner of the estate, running from Gray’s Inn Road to King’s Cross Road to the south of Ampton Street.

It was a pleasure to make a return visit, however also a lesson that I need to more carefully check the original scene.

When my father’s photos include children, I always wonder if they are still alive. The two playing in the middle of the street in 1947 would I suspect now be in their late 70s – and if they came back to Ampton Street, I suspect they would be very surprised by how good the street looks today.


25 thoughts on “A Bomb Site In Ampton Street, Gray’s Inn Road

  1. Nicola

    As always, a fascinating read. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to research and write such interesting articles.

  2. Jo W

    Another post full of interest,Admin. I admire the way you returned to retake the photo,especially with the extremely hot weather we’ve had. Not very pleasant to be trudging through the London streets in these temperatures. I hope you found a suitable wet reward somewhere?

  3. paul canty

    In the early 1970s practically all the properties in Ampton St, Ampton Place, Frederick St, Calthorpe St were bought by a housing association and I think most are still in their ownership.

  4. Annie Green

    I love this part of London and often walk through it when travelling from Kings Cross to London Bridge – if the bag isn’t too heavy and the weather is clement, it is a good 45 minute stride after two plus hours sitting on a train. And yes, there is always something very interesting around a corner. I am very interested in the lay of the land too because of all the subterranean waterways making their ways down to the Thames. Amazing that so much of the building survived the last war.

  5. Joy

    My Great Aunts used to live at Thomas Carlyle’s house, 33 Ampton St in the 1930s, on the top floor. Rented, as they were not well off. My Mum used to visit them.

  6. David Barnard

    Thank you
    When I was a pupil (trainee barrister) I lived in one of the houses you have pictured
    The landlady (Mrs Chance) let the rooms to students and members of Gray’s Inn.
    We were only allowed to bring women into the house under her strict supervision!
    And that was in the Sixties!

  7. Rochelle

    I hope you visit the area of Cartwright Gardens that I think is in the vicinity of your last blog. We stay there when ever we visit London. The hotel is on a crescent

  8. Georgena Urquhart

    Thank you for the photo, it bought back memories for me, I used to live 276a Grays Inn Road, which is the top right house in Ampton St, over what used to be a fruit and veg shop, from 1946 until about 1963, all of my friends lived in the houses in your photo x

    1. Philip Dance

      Brings back memories. We lived at 19 frederick st and I played with all the other kids in ampton st and ampton place, it was like a little separate community. In 1961 I knew a girl called Molly who lived in ampton st and with whom I fell very much in love but we were just kids and it never progressed. Ah well, such is life’s rich pattern !

  9. Sally (grand daughter of "New Baby"!)

    My grand mother was born in 1867 in 1 Ampton Place, and we have just found a very touching letter written by her father just an hour after she was born! “My dearest Grandmamma, whatever will you think at having a letter from your first grand child? Oh, but I have such delightful news to tell you. But I daresay, you have guessed already ! Yes, I have just been born! Don’t I like this world, and dear Mamma and dear Papa, and Nursey, and good Mrs Bower too.”……………. 1/4 to 1am, 28th September 1867. (all in beautiful hand writing – and we are going to look at this site on 17th Feb. 2019)

  10. Sophie

    Wow, this is amazing!
    I live in the house in the photograph, on the corner of Ampton Street and Ampton Place.
    It’s quite emotional to see the house and the street like this, especially as older generations of the family would’ve been living here at the time.
    I’m keen to get in touch with you, please let me know if this would be possible.
    Thank you

    1. Georgie Urquhart

      my friend Peri lived 20 Ampton Street, later moved round the corner to 18 Ampton Place, it must be the house you live in .

      1. Philip Dance

        Would that be Peri Marouksy (sorry for the misspelling) On summer evenings we all used to sit on her doorstep listening to radio Luxembourg.

      2. Derek Saunders (Jones)

        Your sister was a friend of my sister, Jean (Jones). I remember you, you had red curly hair. I also remember Maureen and Michael Harrington on our side of the street and Jack Sage across the road. His parents had a television in 1952. We often watched it through his window.

  11. Sarah Schad (Sally)

    Thanks so much for contacting me.
    Yes, my husband and I visited the place where my granny was born in 1867, Ampton Place No.1.
    It was very special to see the site as I had no Idea that she was born in London.
    One never asks the right questions when one is young. After my mum died in 1947, I lived with Gran in Ingatestone , Essex, until she died in 1957.
    At times we go to the British Library and could come past you and show you the letter mentioned above.

  12. john m grant

    ….your photo and comments were a ( loving) hand reaching from my past; I was born 10 years after the photo taken in 1947 of the bomb damage around Ampton street. The LCC later ( mid sixties) turned it into one of the first adventure playgrounds. It was opened by the mayor and Spike Milligan ( whom I believe was a patient of my dad!) Spike handed me a Milky Bar and a Sheriff’s badge. It took my breath away to see the space before the re-imagining as a play park for kids. Health and safety was rather absent in those days – my sister broke her arm, I trod on a six inch nail and was the recipient of at least one half brick to the head in our gang fights ( Somers Town? Cumberland market?) What days…thank you.

    1. Philip Dance

      Yes, as kids we all used to play on that bombsite. Frederick st, ampton place and ampton st were like one little village. My family moved from south Wales to frederick st in 1950 when my father got a job on the railway. We lived on the top floor of a house at number 19. Around 1960 a doctor bought the house we lived in and we became his tenants. Him and his wife Elizabeth had two young children, yourself and your slightly older sister Eleanor. I must say that it was very convenient having our GP (Donold Grant) living two floors below us). It’s a small world isn’t it !

  13. Kathleen

    I remember bomb site ampton street I lived oppersit my family doctor was Dr Grant lovely man I wonder if he is your dad

  14. john m grant

    Kathleen –

    yes! That’s my dad! Doctor Donald Grant – first at the Caversham Centre then at the Kentish Town Health centre. What else do you recall from those days?

  15. Roy Saunders (originally Jones)

    A fascinating story. This blog was brought to my attention by my younger brother. We, along with my older sister, lived on the first upper floor of 17 Ampton St. (the house immediately before the white one in the image) until the summer of 1952. I was born at the Royal Free Hospital in September, 1944 and so would have been around 3 years old at the time of the image. However, I don’t think that I am one of the children shown outside my house.

    My siblings and I used to play in the road at the junction of Ampton St. and Ampton Place almost every day and also on the bomb site before it was cleaned up to make a formal recreational area (and subsequently residences). We also had “neighbourhood” bonfires and fireworks each 5th November on the site in “celebration” of the foiled “Gunpowder Plot” of Guy Fawkes.

    I was aware that many bombs had fallen in the area, but had been under the impression that the one between my house and the RFH was a standard “gravity” bomb and that the site in the image, across the road from my house, was created by the aforementioned V-1 “Doodlebug”, since it destroyed the entire block (or terrace) of houses. Can anyone clarify this? (I recall hiding under a dining table in my house shortly after the war whenever we heard heavy aircraft overhead … though they almost certainly were RAF by that time!)

    Despite that, the post-war devastation and the relative poverty of the post-war years, many of the memories invoked by these images and anecdotes are happier ones. Thank you for your work on this subject and area of London.


  16. Lee James

    Does anyone have any information on the sale of the Calthorpe Estate in 1899? I understand that it was sold then by the Gough-Calthorpe family but cannot find any info on it.

  17. David Kingston

    If you google search Spike Milligan Ampton street you will find photos of him opening the adventure playground that was built on the bomb site.


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