World War II and The Blitz

The Blitz in London began on 7 September, 1940. By the end of that day 430 men women and children had died and 1600 were seriously injured. For the first month, the main weight of the bombings fell on the East End and in Southwark, Lambeth, Holborn and the City. Factories, railway stations, docks, churches, schools and homes were bombed. During the Blitz more than one million London homes were destroyed and 40,000 Londoners killed.

Fire fighting in Southwark Street. From the book
Fire fighting in Southwark Street. From the book “Front Line 1940-1941”

This part of the borough – close to the River and the City suffered many hits during the worst months of the Blitz. On 25th October 1940 a huge bomb landed on the corner of Blackfriars Road/the Cut destroying some trams which sheltering under the railway bridge. There were 50 casualties. A resident of Nelson Square recalled his brother telling him:

‘Going to his office one morning, Horace reached a railway bridge crossing Blackfriars Road. There had been an air raid and the tram cars which had been travelling …had taken shelter under the bridge… A bomb had fallen on to the railway bridge and so on to the trams beneath it. Horace, like many other passers by, boarded the one of the trams to help the people trapped inside…’ On the other corner with Union Street, a building The Ring (formerly Surrey Chapel) was badly damaged. It was later damaged by a further bomb and had to be demolished. The power of the bombs can be seen in extensive shrapnel damage under the railway bridge. (Quoted in A Wander Through Wartime London: Five Walks Revisiting the Blitz By Clive Harris, Neil Bright)

From the book
From the book “Front Line 1940-41”

A huge raid took place on 16/17 April 1941, the worst day up to then (890 tons of high explosive and 151,000 incendiaries dropped with 1,000 killed). Blackfriars Road area suffered hits and Christ Church was destroyed.

Walklings Plaque

In a terrible tragedy that same day, Walklings Bakery on the corner of the Cut/ Greet Street (where the Young Vic stands today) suffered a direct hit. People had taken shelter in the cellars and 54 of them were killed. (A commemorative plaque is on the Greet Street side of the Young Vic and the names of the victims can be seen in a corner on the ground floor inside the Young Vic.)

Ring destroyed
The Ring, former Surrey Chapel, destroyed by enemy bombs. From http://heritageexplorer.historicengland.org.uk/

In a later phase of bombing using V1 rockets, the area was again damaged. On 19th June 1944, a V1 rocket hit Union Street around the Guildford Street Junction area. 48 people were killed in the explosion. The V1 hit offices and workshops. Apart from severe damage to the buildings there was also flooding in the area due to a 36″ Water main being fractured. On 25 June 1944 V1 rocket struck junction of Union St and Blackfriars Road. A three storey building collapsed and about 200 houses and other buildings were damaged in Blackfriars and neighbouring roads.

Nelson Square suffered damage to its terraced housing sufficient for it to have to be demolished, aside from the Georgian terrace that was then Blackfriars Settlement and now houses the Institute of Psychotherapists.

Click to read a forum post describing the bombings as remembered by a resident of Nelson Square. There reportedly was a shelter in the middle of Nelson Square Gardens, where the narrator’s family escaped. It also mentions that the compensation paid for those, who lost their homes, was “derisory”

See where the bombs landed in London by clicking on the interactive Bomb Sight Website!

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