Friday, 30 May 2008

Friday 30th May - The Blitz

Although it was overcast, today's weather was quite warm for our walk around sites in Holborn which suffered damage during the Blitz.

The Blitz was the bombing of London between 7th September 1940 and 11th May 1941, although there were of course sporadic attacks until the end of the war. In the old borough of Holborn, 650 buildings (that one seventh) were destroyed, 426 people were killed and 621 were seriously injured. This was the highest rate per capita in the whole of the country. A total of 282 high explosive bombs fell on Holborn and, in 19944 V1 and V2 rockets also fell here. There were no specific targets in the area, but because Holborn is very central, close to Kings Cross and Euston with their rail links to the north, and night bombing was not an exact science, Holborn suffered a great deal of damage. Theobalds Road, Red Lion Square, Red Lion Street and High Holborn suffered the worst of the damage, the worst two raids being on 16th and 17th April 1941 and 10th and 11th May 1941.

Bomb damage in Holborn (picture courtesy JAMD)

Buckea's Bakers on the corner of Boswell Street and Theobalds Rd
(by Reg Speller courtesy JAMD)

We met up as usual outside Holborn Tube Station with our guide Aly. Quite a large group today of about 40 people. We set off turning right into High Holborn and stopping outside Clintons Cards and Blackwells Bookshop. It was on this site that the Holborn Empire stood. The theatre was destroyed on the night of 14th and 15th October 1940. It was only because earlier on 14th October a time delayed bomb had fallen on the theatre but had not exploded, that the performance for the evening had been cancelled. If it had not, Vera Lynn who was due to perform there that evening, together with other artists and hundreds of patrons of the theatre would have been killed. Ms Lynn went to the Palladium instead.

We now crossed over to Proctor Street, and up to Red Lion Square. The square as we see it now has changed considerably. The one way system was built in 1962 and the square was more of a rectangle extending over to Drake Street. St. Martins Art School now stands on the site of St. John the Evangelist church. Built in 1878, the church was destroyed on Blitz Wednesday, by a parachute mine on 17th April 1941. Fisher Street was filled with little shops which were also destroyed that night. Over 40 people died in the raid, and in all over 1000 people died in London that night.

St. John the Evangelist Church

St. Martin's School of Art

The raid of 10th and 11th May 1941 devastated many buildings. Although Victoria House on Southampton Row was relatively untouched, the north side of Theobalds Road down to Lamb's Conduit Street was almost completely destroyed. A few houses on the south side of Theobalds Road remain, showing what was lost. Also destroyed that night were two pubs, The Hole in the Wall on the corner of Old Gloucester Street and The White Hart, together with the Bloomsbury Super, a huge cinema. The MediaCom Building now stands on this site.

The MediaCom Building where The Bloomsbury Super once stood

Surviving shops and houses on Theobalds Road (South Side)

During one raid, Marguerite Crowther was driving an ambulance to Great Ormond Street Hospital, carrying a woman in labour, when a bomb fell. Buildings began to collapse sending her ambulance spinning around and a recently deceased policeman was thrown onto her windscreen.

We now walked down Theobalds Road to and turned into Red Lion Street. walking south towards High Holborn. We stopped opposite Beaconsfield House, to look at the shops and flats, painted a delicate shade of pink, adjacent to it. These were all built in the 1950s following severe bomb damage to the houses and shops there following the raid on 10th and 11th May 1941.
Pink House built in the 1950s in Red Lion Street

This raid was the last major raid by the Luftwaffe before the invasion of Russia - one theory was that it was an attempt to remove rumours that an attack on Russia was imminent, another that if they could finally defeat Britain the war would be won.

We then walked back down into High Holborn. An air raid beginning at 8pm on 8th September 1940 and which lasted until 5.30am the next day and became known as 'Black Saturday' caused devastating damage. Where Mid City Place now stands was a lovely Georgian Terrace called Featherstone Buildings. It was hit by a 250kg bomb and completely destroyed. Another 250kg bomb landed close by (where Matsui now stands). Pictures of the area before and after the damage can be seen at Holborn Library. In one of the pictures a union jack can be seen flying defiantly at No 58 High Holborn (now Phones4u). In the same raid a bomb killed 29 people when it hit the building now known as Penderel's Oak pub by Great Turnstile.

Mid City Place stands on the site of Featherstone Buildings

We now moved further down east along High Holborn and stopped outside First Avenue House on the corner of Brownlow Street. Here stood a huge 300 bedroom hotel, the First Avenue Hotel which was destroyed on the night of 8th and 9th September. The same bomb also hit Lincoln House on the other side of the road, killing 7 people.
First Avenue House now stands on the site of the First Avenue Hotel

Continuing east we stopped outside Dorothy Perkins and Thorntons. Matsoni's Restaurant was destroyed on 8th October 1940 killing 21 people. This was the first and last daylight raid on Holborn. The slow German Heinkel 111 twin engined bombers could carry 13,000 kg of bombs and were being more and more easily caught by Spitfires and Hurricanes, so the Germans sent Messerschmitt 109s which were much faster and carried one large bomb to be dropped and then the plane would quickly turn for home.

Dorothy Perkins High Holborn (where Matsoni's once stood)

A Hurricane

A Messerschmitt 109

A Heinkel 111 flies over London during the Blitz

The Blitz came to an end on 11th May 1941. It failed because the Luftwaffe lacked enough bombers to wipe out an entire area. Never before had a country attempted to destroy their enemy entirely by bombing. Britain learnt from this and when the time came to invade France and Germany the Avro Lancaster would drop 40,000kg of bombs destroying many German cities, including Hamburg, Cologne, and Dresden. After May 1941 Hitler concentrated on the Russian front.
Avro Lancaster

Holborn Circus ablaze in 1940
(picture US National Archives)

The Blitz left a lasting legacy on the layout of both buildings and roads in Holborn.

I hope you found this interesting. Until next time when we look at Holborn's Horrible history.

5 comments:

Bones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bones said...

Hi,
Thankyou for your blog. I found it very interesting. My grandfather was born in Holborn and joined the Navy, at age 18 shortly after The Blitz. He met my grandmother in Australia and settled here after the war. I am now tracing his steps and your local walk in his home town is great.
Renee

sinjohn said...

Thanks for info on First Ave. Hotel, Holborn. My father organized a dinner there for his firm in 1936. Caberet artist was Arthur Askey. Fee £5!

gerard said...

What an interesting article. We lived in Fetherstone buildings but were evacuated to northampton with the help of Father Hotine ,who was the vicar at St Johns the evangelist.
Pauline

Jude said...

What a wonderful blog. I am from Australia & have organized a walk around Holborn with relatives from England, primerally to see where our ancestors lived & worked & have been told the area was bombed heavily during WW2 & your site has given us such a wonderful picture & insite into just that. Great job well done.
Jude.