In yesterday’s London walks Blitz blog it was explained how the Luftwaffe was unaware of the extent of the destruction they had caused to London and that General Sperrle regarded the raid as a failure.
He believed this to be the case because the second wave did not strike. Aerial reconnaissance was impossible as the low cloud still hung over the target city.
However, the official Luftwaffe report states, ‘Rarely if ever were fires of such number and size perceived during a single attack against the capital.’
Sixteen firemen had been killed and 250 detained in hospital, largely with temporary blindness, but many with severe burns and smoke-damaged lungs. One hundred and sixty-three civilians had been killed (largely living in the residential areas immediately outside the City), and 509 had been seriously injured. St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City had received 123 casualties in the course of the night.
Seven areas that our covered on our Historical London walks had been completely burned out.
Looking at a map of the city, the areas can be traced along the streets. The first ran along Beech Street and Chiswell Street, turning north to take in the Artillery Ground with a northern limit at Bunhill Fields, south along Moorgate to Gresham Street, turning south again at Milk Street down to Cheapside, then south at Bread Street to Queen Victoria Street running along as far as Bracken House, next turning south to the riverside, along the river to Blackfriars, along both sides of New Bridge Street, turning west at Tudor Street, north again to cross Fleet Street running back east to the railway line at Seacoal Lane, north into Old Bailey along Newgate Street, crossing over to Christchurch Newgate Street and the Post Office’s King Edward Building, then turning onto Aldersgate Street running north to complete the area at Beech Street. This was the largest area of devastation.
Another devastated area that is covered on our London walks is that bounded by Chancery Lane on the west, Holborn on the north, Shoe Lane on the east and Fleet Street on the south.
The third area ran along Queen Street on the west, Cannon Street on the north, London Bridge on the east and the river on the south.
The fourth area covered Leadenhall Street at the north, bounded by the Tower and Fenchurch Street to the east and ran south from Leadenhall Street down to Lower Thames Street.
Area five was from Houndsditch on the south to Middlesex Street on the north, with its eastern boundary reaching nearly to Bishopsgate.
The sixth area was the zone mentioned at the beginning of this chapter: centring on the Minories, it encompassed the stretch from Aldgate Bus Station down to the river south and west of the Tower.
The seventh area was across the river in Southwark. The riverfront from Tower Bridge to London Bridge consisted entirely of burned-out warehouses, with the destruction stretching back through London Bridge Railway Station and along Borough High Street as far as St Thomas’s Street.
All mainline railway termini were out of action with the exception of Liverpool Street Station.
Hundreds of banks, offices and warehouses were gutted wrecks.
But it was the destruction of the Wren churches which gripped the minds of the press and public.
The City was never an area distinguished for the beauty of its buildings. The old offices of the City had a certain aggregate charm and character. The Livery Halls of the City’s Guilds were opulent structures, some with splendid interior woodwork and fine collections of gold and silverware, but they tended to express corporate wealth and pomp rather than good taste.
It was London Bridge ’s churches which represented what was most glorious and beautiful in this commercial capital.
Sir Christopher Wren, the architect to the King in the years after the Great Fire of London, 1666, had built fifty churches in the ‘Square Mile’ apart from St Paul’s Cathedral. This may sound a little excessive, but eighty-nine churches had been destroyed by the fire, so Wren had in fact rationalized with his fifty new buildings.
Wren was a Classical architect, moving over to Baroque towards the end of his long career. Each church had a distinct appearance; each tower or steeple some mark of individuality to distinguish it from the surrounding forest of spires; the interiors, richly decorated with plaster were tranquil refuges for contemplation away from the noise and bustle of the City.
Time, and more particularly the Victorians, had dealt harshly with these churches. Between 1870 and 1890 nearly twenty had been demolished to make way for banks.
Tomorrow we’ll describe briefly a London walk around the main area of devastation.