On the night of 29th/30th December, 1940, during the Second World War, an air raid by the German Luftwaffe resulted in the so-called “Second Great Fire of London”. Tens of thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped, and the small individual fires that they set off soon coalesced into a great conflagration that threatened the entire city centre.
Around two hundred civilians were killed across London that night – and perhaps as many as thirty thousand over the entire course of the war. Among them was Auxiliary Fireman Sidney Alfred Holder, who was crushed by a collapsing building on Shoe Lane.
Damage to property was on a then unprecedented scale. The area around St Paul’s was essentially razed to the ground, although the cathedral itself miraculously survived essentially intact, thanks to the heroic actions of the firefighters of the St Paul’s Watch, who put out no fewer than twenty-eight individual incendiary-bomb fires inside the building.
Ten other Wren churches were struck by bombs, namely, Christ Church Newgate Street, St Alban Wood Street, St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, St Anne & St Agnes, St Augustine-by-St-Paul’s, St Lawrence Jewry, St Mary Aldermanbury, St Mary-le-Bow, St Stephen Coleman Street and St Vedast-alias-Foster.
Of these, Christ Church Newgate Street and St Alban Wood Street were substantially destroyed, with only their towers remaining intact.
And St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street were essentially completely destroyed.
Remarkably, St Mary Aldermanbury was rebuilt, out of salvaged material, and according to Wren’s original design, in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1966 (as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech there in 1946).
A number of historic Livery Company Halls were also destroyed, including those of the Brewers and the Coopers (barrel makers).
And the Medieval Guildhall, which had survived the Great Fire of 1666, was seriously damaged, although mercifully not irreparably so.