Category Archives: London Blitz

The “London Stone”

The London Stone at 111 Cannon Street

The “London Stone” goes on temporary exhibit at the Museum of London today, while the site on which it formerly stood, at 111 Cannon Street, undergoes redevelopment.

The London Stone at St Swithin's

Previously, from the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it had  been  incorporated into the south wall of the church of St Swithin London Stone, and was preserved when the church was demolished after having been damaged in the Second World War, according to a stipulation in the conditions for the redevelopment of that site.

Previous to that, throughout the Medieval and post-Medieval periods, it had stood in the middle of the street, as indicated on the map of 1520, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements, being evidently richly endowed with  symbolic significance.   During the failed rebellion of 1450 that ended with the “Harvest of the Heads” of the leaders, one of the same, Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  struck the stone with his sword, and declared himself to be “Lord of this City”.  In 1189, the first Mayor of London was one Henry Fitz-Ailwyn de Londonestone, who evidently  lived nearby.

Indeed, the  recorded history of the stone extends back even beyond the Medieval period and into the Saxon: it is referred to in a document of Athelstan, the first  Saxon King of All England (924-39).

And it is possible, although not proven, that before that, it  was associated in some way with the Roman “Governor’s Palace” complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station (it has  been postulated, plausibly, that it served as a milliarium, or centre-stone, from which Roman roads radiated and distances were measured).

According to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one which Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”.

As Leo Hollis put it, in his book “The Stones of London”: “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.

The London Blitz, and the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps

The London Blitz

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the German bombing of London, colloquially known as the Blitz.  What may be thought of as the first phase, involving attacks by night-bombers dropping high explosive and incendiary devices,  lasted more-or-less non-stop from September, 1940 until May, 1941.  Following this was something of a lull in the intensity of bombing that lasted for around three years.  The second phase of intense bombing, involving attacks by V1 pilotless aircraft or flying bombs (“doodlebugs”) and supersonic V2 rockets, lasted from June, 1944, just after D-Day, until March, 1945, just before the end of the war.  (The V1 attacks lasted from June, 1944 until August, 1944, when Allied troops captured the fixed launch sites in the Low Countries; and the V2 attacks from September, 1944 until March, 1945, when they finally forced the mobile launchers out of range of London).

Readers interested in finding out more about this dark but fascinating chapter of London’s history could do a deal worse than book themselves onto  one of the many excellent Blitz-themed walks organised by our friends at Blitzwalkers (http://www.blitzwalkers.co.uk).

The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps

By the end of the war in Europe in May, 1945, nearly 30000 Londoners had been killed in air raids, 50000 sufficiently seriously injured as to require hospitalisation, and 90000 less seriously  injured.  And 120000 buildings in the capital had been destroyed or damaged beyond repair (ten times as many as during the Great Fire of 1666), 290000 seriously damaged but reparable, and 1400000 less seriously damaged.

In the aftermath, the London County Council undertook a detailed survey of the bomb damage in the capital, essentially to assist in the planning of the post-war reconstruction.

bomb-damage-mapThe result was a series of maps showing buildings colour-coded according to the severity of the bomb damage they had sustained, from yellow, orange and red for damaged but reparable, through magenta for damaged beyond repair, to  black for totally destroyed.  The maps are as poignant as they are beautiful, none more so than that of the area around St Paul’s, which provides a stark illustration of just how many buildings were lost there (mercifully, the cathedral itself was saved essentially intact: some would say due to divine intervention; others, due to the heroism of the St Paul’s Watch).

The original maps are housed in the London Metropolitan Archives.

51sb65VRbLL._SX361_BO1,204,203,200_Now, one of the Principal Archivists there, Laurence Ward, had written a book featuring high-quality reproductions of the bomb damage maps, contextualised by equally high-quality contemporary photographs and an admirably  clear and readable introductory text.  He has done a great service.  His book is an essential although at times heart-breaking read, and should be on the shelves of every lover of London and its long and chequered history.

 

St Swithin London Stone

St SwithinThe last in the series on churches built by Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 that have been lost  since …

St Swithin London Stone was originally built sometime before 1291.  It was burnt down  in the Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt by Wren in 1677-86, using materials from St Mary Bothaw, only to be  severely damaged by bombing in 1941, and subsequently demolished in 1957. John Dryden was married to Lady Elizabeth Howard in the church in 1663.  

St Swithin London Stone parish boundary marker

St Swithin London Stone parish boundary marker

Essentially only the so-called “London Stone” that was built into the south wall of the church in 1798 still survives at the site, as stipulated in the conditions for its redevelopment.  There are parish boundary markers on Cannon Street and in Oxford Court (and another just off  Walbrook).  

St Swithin’s Church Garden also survives,  between Salters Hall Court and Oxford Court (and near where Henry Fitz-Ailwyn or FitzAlywn de Londonestone, the first Lord Mayor of London between 1189-1213, once lived).   The pulpit of 1682 salvaged from the church is now in All Hallows Barking.  Swithin was Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century.

St Swithun's church garden

St Swithun’s church garden

The London Stone 

London Stone (in there somewhere)

London Stone (in there somewhere)

In the Medieval period, “The London Stone” stood in the middle of the street, as indicated on the map of 1520, and on the “Agas” one of 1561-70, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements, being evidently richly endowed with  symbolic significance.   Its recorded history extends as far back as the twelfth century, when the first Lord Mayor of London, from 1189-1213, was one Henry Fitz-Ailwyn or FitzAlywn de Londonestone; and it  is possible, although not proven, that before that, it  was associated in some way with  the Roman Governor’s Palace complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station.  Indeed, according to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one from which King Arthur drew the Sword Excalibur, and possessed magic powers; and according to another, it was the one Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”.  As Hollis put it, “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.

London Stone

London Stone

 

St Stephen Coleman Street

St Stephen Coleman StreetThe last but one of the series on churches built by Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 that have been lost  since …

St Stephen Coleman Street was originally built around 1214. It was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt by Wren in 1674-81, only to be  destroyed by incendiary bombing on 29th December, 1940.  Photographs of the church as it was before the War still survive, and a replica of the carved panel depicting the Last Judgement, clearly seen above the entrance gate in one of the photographs, also survives,  in the Museum of London.   

Entrance gate with Last Judgement panel

Entrance gate with Last Judgement panel

St Stephen Coleman Street parish boundary marker

Nothing  of the church remains at its original site, other than some parish  boundary markers bearing the insignia of the encircled cockerel.

St Stephen Coleman Street plaque

A Corporation “Blue Plaque” marks the site.  Apparently Anthony Munday, who continued John Stow’s “Survay”, was buried in the church  in 1633, alongside members of the Coleman family who gave it its name.

St Mildred Bread Street

Lost Wren ChurchesAnother in the occasional series on churches built by Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 that have been lost  since …

St Mildred Bread Street was originally built around 1252.  It was badly damaged  in the Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt, using some of the surviving structure, by Wren in 1681-7, only to be  substantially destroyed during an air raid, and subsequently demolished, in 1941 (a photograph of the bombed church taken in 1942  still survives).

The bombed church of St  Mildred Bread Street

The bombed church of St Mildred Bread Street

Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft were married in the church in 1816.  Only a parish boundary marker survives at its former site  (actually, on Cannon Street).  Many of the interior fitting  salvaged from the church still survive, in the church of St Anne and St Agnes.

St Mildred Bread Street parish boundary marker

St Mildred Bread Street parish boundary marker

Blitz Requiem

26th September 2013 – I’ve just got back from the premiere of David Goode’s Blitz Requiem, performed by the  Bach Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under David Hill, in St Paul’s (it’s interior lit by a thousand candles).
A moving evocation of those darkest of days, when the building itself was a beacon of hope.