The Borough of Finsbury Bomb Sketches

The modern London Borough of Islington used to consist of three separate boroughs, Islington, Finsbury and Clerkenwell. They each recorded their bomb damage in a different way, so that our modern Islington Local History Archive should hold what remains of three different systems.

The original London Borough of Islington had a separate card for each street, with the dated incidents all together. To find the effect of the bombing on any particular area, one needs to consult the street cards of all the local streets.

Some typical Islington Bombing Incident in neighbouring street cards.

The Borough of Finsbury typed out a daily list of all the incidents in the borough, so that the full damage details of any particular street may be spread over several pages, perhaps years apart. The Borough of Clerkenwell records, if they still exist, are not held in the Islington History Archive.

Bomb Damage in the Borough of Finsbury

The yellowing Finsbury sheets list all the damage suffered in a single 24 hours and some of them are startling. They bring home the intensity of the bombing on a particular day in a way that is frightening.

A parachute mine and high explosive bombs fell on Holford Square and Percy Circus, doing immense damage. The sheets below list each building and the approximate damage.

++Photograph the second sheet

The report page for the 24 hours ending 15th May 1941?  states:-

‘Parachute mine and H.E. bombs fell in Holford Square and Percy Circus causing widespread devastation in immediate vicinity and considerable damage by blast to buildings over a large area of the Borough.’

The sheets shown list each building and the approximate damage caused. The list goes on and on. No doubt the parachute prevented that bomb from penetrating the ground and its blast effect spread sideways, not upwards, causing damage to houses over a wide area. The high explosives increased this damage, so that the total destruction was extreme.

After The Second World War.

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

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Whole Map Larger Area Larger Area Map in New Window

Local Boroughs knew the damage in their own area, 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. By doing it in small patches, the work could be shared out in 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 County Hall 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 and Holford Square

Drawn of tracing paper and with the degrees of damage coloured in.

All these sketch maps are reproduced by courtesy of Islington History Archive.

In 2005 The London County Council BOMB DAMAGE MAPS, 1939-1945’ were printed by the London Topographical Society. This volume is invaluable and some small pieces have been reproduced here by kind permission of London Metropolitan Archive which owns the copyright.  The book is out of print 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.

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The Bomb Damage Map of Percy Circus and Holford Square

The Colour Key to the L.C.C. Bomb Damage Map

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

Percy Circus and Bevin Court on the website.
It will open in a new window.


The History of Percy Circus and Holborn Square in Maps

Percy Circus has 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 it had been built.  Then, on 15th May. 1941, almost all the destruction shown in this map occurred. It must have been a truly terrifying night. The details of the damage have been listed above.

One third of all the houses in Percy Circus was damaged beyond repair and by 1955, had been demolished by. The whole of the Holford Square had been demolished so that the site must have been a large bomb site.

The Planning Decision

Both Percy Circus and Holford Square had been badly damaged but it was decided to restore the former and completely demolish the second. Presumably the Road pattern of Percy Circus was too important to lose, while Holford Square could be skirted with no loss to traffic flow.

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1868 OS Map Show Show
1896 OS Map Show Show
1915 OS Map Show Show
Sketch Map Show Show
Bomb Damage Map Show Show
1955 OS Map Show Show
Full Size Map


Full Size Map Page


As mentioned above one third of all the houses in Percy Circus were damaged beyond repair and every house in Holford Square was damaged. The 1955 map shows by that time the whole of the Holford Square had been demolished. The old square  had become one large bomb site. In 2009 there must still be plenty of people who remember playing on bomb sites and some may have memories of this one. From any  teacher’s point of view the great children’s story of the time  is ‘The Otterbury Incident’, by C.Day Lewis. It tells children more about the history and atmosphere of that period, than a hundred facts cards. London was full of bombsites covered with purple willow herb, which colonised every corner. Children used them as adventure playgrounds, wild, free and exciting. Sadly the book is out of print  but copies an be found on the Internet and an old battered copy is a fine thing to have in one’s bag to enthuse about.


Articles on Percy Square and Bevin Court


Other Sketch Maps

Crossroads of Clerkenwell Road
and Goswell Road

Damage to Brewer Street North


The Damage to Glasshouse Yard

Turnmill Street, Britton Street,
and Clerkenwell Road

Damage to Farringdon Road, 7th Dec 1941

Damage Pentonville Road/St John Street

Damage to Cowper Street and Old Street,
off City Road, London

The sites of the Finsbury bomb damage sketches marked in red on the 1915 map.

Larger version of the map.

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