The Second World War

A few days before the Second World War was declared,
Queen's Head Street School was evacuated to the country

Pupils were taken by train to an unknown destination and that night each pupil sent a post-card home giving their address in Peterborough. Perhaps some of these evacuees have recorded their memories. Some may still be living near in Islington, or be related to children now in the school, while others may have settled in the Peterborough area. Their memories, like those of other schools, may have been recorded

While there, some of them were photographed helping the farmers with the harvest and fishing nearby at Eye.


Boys from Queen's Head Street School, Islington,
spend a day fishing at Eye, near Peterborough.

It looks as if some of the fishing rods were improvised for the benefit of the camera.



Queen’s Head pupils helping with the harvest

 

Local Islington Bombing During the Second World War

During the Second World War the streets round Queen's Head Street School were heavily bombed, not once but many times. The pictures of Packington Street and Prebend Street show the gravity of the attacks. The curved piece of corrugated iron, thrown aside by the blast like an empty sweet wrapper, was an Anderson Shelter. Dug a few feet into the ground and covered with earth, they seemed to offer protection. Let us hope that it was not full of people taking refuge from the planes, but if it was, it proved a paltry defence.


The rear of Prebend Street houses showing the houses cut open
and an Anderson Shelter of curved corrugated iron,
blown aside like a piece of paper.


The almost completely obliterated Windsor Street/Britannia Row block of houses.



The corner of Packington St and Prebend St with Nos 126-129 and Nos 41-45
demolished. The resulting gap can be seen on the 1953 Ordnance Survey map.

Recording the Damage

The local Air Raid Wardens kept a record of each incident, noting the date, the type of bomb and its location. Each Borough recorded its findings in its own way:-

  • Haringey used a large grey ledger
  • Islington a series of street cards
  • Finsbury typed out a sheet every day reporting all the incidents that had happened in the previous 24 hours
  • Westminster saved the individual pieces of paper sent by the Air Raid Wardens reporting each incident and asking for specific responses – (send an ambulance – send barriers – gas leak, etc.) so that reading them, one is in the raid minute by minute.
  • The remains from the Borough of Finsbury are sparse, but do reveal a detail about the making the bombing map, as we shall see.

The bombing records can be consulted in most Borough Archives, but not in Camden. There, in a piece of mindless stupidity, the records were destroyed as a gesture against War. People who had been killed had the indignity of being obliterated from the record in a piece of futile gesture politics.

A few of the Islington Incident Cards have been reproduced here. Each street had a separate card which was added to as incidents occurred over the length of the War. To analyze what happened in a particular raid, one has to collect the cards for several adjoining street and combine them.

A Few of the Islington Incident Street Cards


Some typical Islington Street Incident Cards near Islington Green School

Queen’s Head Street, for example, had six recorded incidents on its card, one in the School Yard itself. They were all H.E. (high explosive). Other roads record I.B.s (incendiary bombs), land mines and later, V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets. The whole led, over years of bombing, to derelict bomb sites full of weeds, to be left in some cases for years, before the sites could be rebuilt.

This map shows large swathes of cleared land where the bombed houses have been demolished, leveled and the ground made safe. These bombsites became huge activity play-sites, covered in purple willow herb and adventurous children.



The great children’s story about this post-war period, from a teacher’s point of view, is ‘The Otterbury Incident’, by C. Day Lewis. Sadly it is out of print but copies can be found on the internet, and an old battered copy is a fine thing to have in one’s bag to enthuse about. It tells children more about the history and atmosphere of that period of shortages and spivs than a hundred facts cards.

 

As mentioned before, the Finsbury records are sparse but they explain how the Bomb Damage maps were compiled.

The Creation of the 1939-45 War Damage Maps,
so that the Rebuilding of London could be planned properly.

In 1945, immediately after the Second World War, The country turned to the problem pf rebuilding. A young  L.C.C. surveyor, de-mobbed from the Army, was told to get on his bike and record local damage for the compiling of a huge Bombing Map which was to become the basis of the Abercrombie Plan for the Rebuilding of London. He was part of a huge task.

Local Boroughs knew the damage in their own areas, but a full picture was needed so that repair, demolition and rebuilding could be organised. People were desperate for homes. Town Halls were full of people demanding accommodation, so planning and the best allocation of scare building materials were urgent and the pressure to work quickly was intense.

By a lucky chance Finsbury has left us a few sketches which show how the final Bomb Damage Maps were compiled. Each borough must have been asked by the London County Council to make detailed sketches of their own damage. Architects and assistants traced small areas of the Ordnance Survey maps in Indian ink, coloured them in to show the degrees of the damage to each property, and sent them in to County Hall. By doing it in small patches, the work could be shared out in all the local offices and the task completed quickly. This was decades before coloured photocopiers, so the small pieces of map, with the damage marked with coloured pencil, were sent off to be built up into the Bombing Maps we have today. The final maps became the basis for the Abercrombie Plan for the Re-planning of London. No doubt most of the local sketches were then thrown away but by chance, about half a dozen Finsbury ones have survived.


The War Damage to Percy Circus (built in 1842) and Holford Square, in Finsbury.
It was drawn of tracing paper and with the degrees of damage coloured in.

Reproduced by courtesy of Islington History Archive.

This Circus had been set out on a sloping hillside, so that there is a steep climb from South to North. The area had hardly changed at all since it had been built. Then, on 15th May. 1941, almost all the destruction shown in this map occurred. The details of the damage are listed below. It must have been a truly terrifying night.

The 24 hour Report for 19th May, 1941

++Find picture of second page

The Bombing Maps

 

The Black and White Bombing Maps

After the Second World War the LCC architects made the Bombing maps so that London could be rebuilt. The Abercrombie Plan for the rebuilding of London was later based on these maps. About 1960 the architects kindly gave ne black and white copies of these maps and I published small pieces of them in various books for years. They were very helpful but did not tell the whole story, because the originals were coloured to show the degree of the damage to each property. The Black and White copies showed all the damage in black. Compete Destruction and light Blast Damage were all printed in black.

Years agoan architect who had come across one of my books rang me from South London to check on my maps, He had been called in to find out why a post-war house was collapsing. They were fifteen feet down and still bringing up complete window frames. Clearly an old bomb crater had been filled with bomb debris, leveled and forgotten. Later someone had given permission for houses to be built on the site and he wanted evidence for the coming court case.

 
My earlier black and white photocopy of the L.C.C. Bomb Damage Map of the
Islington Green School area, made about 1960.

The bomb damage appears in Black in this copy and shows that the area immediately north of the School site was particularly heavily bombed.

The Coloured Bomb Damage Maps

The original maps were coloured, but in 1960 photocopiers could produce only black and white copies, so I was happy with them. I used and published pieces of the maps for years but they did not tell the full story.

The original maps were coloured on a descending scale, with individual properties marked from BLACK – TOTAL DESTRUCTION, to PALE STRAW – BLASTDAMAGE. Black and white copies of the colours could not reveal these differences.

When the London County Council was disbanded, the bombing maps were passed to the London Metropolitan Archive, near Sadler’s Wells.

In 2005 the London Topographical Society published a magnificent volume showing the maps in colour, so we can now see the full story. At the same time computers have become everyday household tools and we can reproduce maps in colour.

In 40 years things have changed dramatically. The story is much clearer as I can now print the colour maps and the colour key and show them on computer screens. Now we can see the bombing story more clearly. The colours show the centres of the attack, printed in dark colours (Black and Purple), with rings of lesser damage in lighter colours around them.

The book is out of print at present but a number of people have put down their names for copies if and when it is reprinted. Try the Internet but expect to pay a good price. It is a rare book.


The Bomb Damage Map of the area around Islington Green School, 1939-45

The Bombing Key

Colour Key References
Black -Total destruction
Purple - Damaged beyond repair
Dark Red - Doubtful if repairable
Light Red - Seriously damaged, but repairable at cost
Orange - General blast damage, not structural
Yellow - Blast damage, minor in nature
O V1 flying bomb large circle
o V2 long range rocket. small circle

There will be slight variations in the colours because the original maps
are old and the colour balance on computer monitors will vary

Uses of the Bombing Map on this website


 

The Expansion of Queen's Head Street School in the 1950s

The 1953 Ordnance Survey map showing the immediate effect of the bombing. The School was able to expand into the old Builder's yard and open the Chanrty Street entrance.

++find pictures

The Bombing map had been completed by about 1946 and shows large areas of damage north of the school. The 1953 Ordnance Survey has not bothered to change the earlier map, except to blank out the demolished corner of Packington Street. No doubt the plans for the new, enlarged school were already blocked in. Some of the. patched houses were still occupied, but there was no point' in the surveyors re-measuring houses which were soon to be demolished.

Notice that the school site had been enlarged to take over the Builder's Yard and a new entrance cut through into Chantry Street.

 

End of Part 3


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