The Second Great Fire of London

The Second Great Fire of London (image: Herbert Mason)

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. 

Painting by Leonard Rosoman of a house collapsing on two firemen on Shoe Lane (image: Imperial War Museum)
Memorial to Sidney Alfred Holder

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.

“Bomb Damage Map” of the area around St Paul’s. Magenta shading indicates seriously damaged buildings; violet, those damaged beyond repair.

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.

The surviving tower of Christ Church Newgate Street (now a private residence)
Christ Church Newgate Street – or Christ Church Greyfriars – plaque
The tower of St Alban Wood Street (also now a private residence)
A broken Gothic arch on the tower of St Alban Wood Street

Of these, Christ Church Newgate Street and St Alban Wood Street were substantially destroyed, with only their towers  remaining intact.

Site of St Mary Aldermanbury
St Stephen Coleman Street plaque

And St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street were essentially completely destroyed.

The reconstructed St Mary Aldermanbury

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).

Brewers’ Hall plaque
Coopers’ Hall plaque

A number of historic Livery Company Halls were also destroyed, including those of the Brewers and the Coopers (barrel makers).

The shell of the Banqueting Hall at the Guildhall (image: London Fire Brigade). Somewhere among the wreckage lie the statues of Gog and Magog, the mythical guardians of London.

And the Medieval Guildhall, which had survived the Great Fire of 1666, was seriously damaged, although mercifully not irreparably so.

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