Monday, March 17, 2008

London Marches On

'London Marches On' by Harrold P. Clunn was published in 1947 with the aim of providing "a record of the changes which have taken place in the Metropolis of the British Empire between the two World Wars and much that is scheduled for reconstruction".

It serves as a reminder of a period of post-WW2 optimism, with the author declaring: "The new London which will grow up, let us hope, within the next twenty years or less, will be a shining monument to the courage, fortitude and enterprise of the citizens of this glorious metropolis of the British Empire. It promises to become the most magnificent city in the whole world". It also reminds us of the fact that much of the building boom in this period had actually been planned between the wars and postponed because of the conflict - albeit in some cases to be later accelerated by the Luftwaffe's wholesale demolition of parts of the city.

'A second Piccadilly Circus for South London'

In the early 21st century, with new plans for the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle, it is salutary to recall the plans for its earlier redevelopment - for it is precisely the outcome of these plans that is now deemed as the planning disaster that must be demolished to make way for the next urban utopia:

"A long row of buildings which stood on the east side of Newington Butts, at its junction with the New Kent Road, was destroyed in the air raids of 1940 and has since been razed to the ground. This included the large tailoring estab­lishment of Messrs. Isaac Walton & Company, formerly the dry goods store of Messrs. Tarn & Company, which, in the eighties and nineties of the last century, was a centre of fashion. Well-to-do residents of the South London suburbs used then to drive in their carriages and pairs to shop at Messrs. Tarns', but about 1910 this store closed down. Spurgeon's Tabernacle, erected in 1861, has also been destroyed, together with numerous houses and shops which fronted the west side of Walworth Road, at its junction with the Elephant and Castle crossroads. Here a traffic roundabout and circus, to be larger and better than that at Piccadilly Circus, has been planned for South London, under the new London County Council scheme. Eight- and ten-storeyed buildings are to be erected round the new Elephant Circus, which is designed to become one of London's greatest centres. It will include a new Underground Station with wide platforms and fast escalators, a traffic roundabout and a new system of pedestrian subway crossings. Three housing estates, to accommodate 7,000 families, are to be built in this quarter. More than 6,000 houses, damaged beyond repair in the air raids, are to be demolished to make room for the new estates".


"Whole quarters in both Southwark and Bermondsey were destroyed in the great blitz of 1940 and to-day present a scene of great desolation. Many buildings were destroyed in South­wark Street, and between Southwark Bridge Road and Blackfriars Road large sites have been cleared for rebuilding on both sides of the street. Similar destruction has taken place on both sides of Borough High Street, where the London County Council plans to create a new roundabout at the junc­tion of Southwark Street and Borough High Street. The east wing of Guy's Hospital has also been destroyed and plans have been prepared for the rebuilding of the entire hospital on sumptuous and modern lines. The neighbouring streets flanking the Southern Railway, which vanished after the great blitz, as well as the large office building at London Bridge Station, formerly the Bridge House Hotel, have been cleared of their ruins, and large bombed sites are now awaiting redevelopment. Many new blocks of workers' flats have been erected in Abbey Street, Bermondsey, in connection with local slum clearance carried out before 1939 and also in Druid Street and on the adjoining Arnold Estate. All the houses in Rotherhithe Street and in the immediate vicinity of the Surrey Commercial Docks were destroyed in the air raids of 1940, and only the cleared sites are now to be seen in this once crowded quarter, together with a few surviving newly erected blocks of flats. Some new blocks at the Lower Road entrance to Southwark Park are of very attractive appearance, with all the advantages of plenty of fresh air and open space. Others have been built near the southern approach to the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

In Camberwell many fine new blocks of workers' flats have been erected on both sides of Peckham Road. These stand well back from the roadway in gardens. Many streets and houses were destroyed in the air raids in the quarter situated between Peckham Road and Old Kent Road, and here, on the cleared sites, a number of prefabricated temporary houses have been erected
. Long rows of houses have also been destroyed along the Old Kent Road. Here, on the east side not far from Great Dover Street, there are several large new blocks of workers' flats. Further down on the same side is a large new Astoria Cinema.

Special features of Camberwell include the splendid new building of the Booth Memorial Training College, on Champion Hill near the corner of Grove Lane, which overlooks Denmark Hill Station and is crowned in the centre by a tall square tower. It was erected about 1929. On the south side of Grove Vale, near East Dulwich Station, is another very pleasantly situated colony of workers' flats erected on the southern slope of the hill by the London County Council. These extend from Albrighton Road as far as Quorn Road and also have long frontages to both these roads. Many houses have been destroyed in Rye Lane and its tributary streets and also on the east side of Peckham Rye Common and in East Dulwich Road in successive air raids. No other part of London, except Croydon, has suffered more severely from the ravages of Hitler's flying and rocket bombs. Occupying a choice situation on the east side of Peckham Rye Common is another fine colony of London County Council flats extending from Waveney Road to Rye Hill Park. These have escaped serious damage amidst the surrounding destruction of old houses".

New Cross

"One Saturday morning in November, 1944, the second worst bomb disaster of the war occurred when a V.2 bomb fell in New Cross Road, killing 168 people and seriously wounding 108 others. There were queues of people outside several of the larger shops waiting to buy their week-end food and other household goods, when, at ten minutes past twelve, without a second of warning, this busy High Street was converted by Hitler's death bomb into a shambles. Between seventy and eighty bodies were recovered from the large Woolworth store alone and so great was the force of the explosion that the entire store with all the people in it were hurled into the basement together with hundreds of tons of masonry. Many other nearby buildings in the High Street were also destroyed by the bomb".

Smart Brixton and Continental Streatham

"A century ago London ended at North Brixton and once you had passed the Old White Horse Hotel the houses became fewer and fields and open country were close at hand. The Old White Horse Hotel, which has since been rebuilt, was a famous omnibus terminus in the days of the slow horse­drawn public conveyances, and little more than sixty years ago the conductors used to call out "Any more for London? " To-day Brixton Road has become the Oxford Street of South London and its fine shops include the two large drapery stores of Messrs. Quin and Axten Ltd. and the Bon Marche, both of which are now owned by the John Lewis Partnership, Ltd. Unfortunately, the Quin and Axten store was completely destroyed in the earlier air raids of 1940 and only its ruined walls now remain. Its business is transferred for the time being to the neighbouring Bon Marche store. The shopping section of Brixton Road commences near Stockwell Road and extends southwards for about half a mile to Acre Lane. That portion which lies between Atlantic Road and Coldharbour Lane formerly included a wide open space which was used as a street market, but this was abolished in 1935. A portion of this ground was utilised in 1936 to widen the roadway at a cost of £13,000 and the remainder was allotted for building to the owners of the frontages to Brixton Road. This has resulted in the erection of several handsome new buildings on the site of the former shabby houses which lined the east side of the road. Brixton Road bears a smart appear­ance which is totally lacking in similar neighbourhoods"

"Of the more attractive suburbs of South London first place should, perhaps, be awarded to Streatham, which affords all the amenities of a large and handsome town. It comprises Streatham proper and the ultra-modern district of 'Streatham Hill which lies to the north. Streatham High Road extends for a distance of two miles from the top of Brixton Hill to Norbury. It is exceptionally wide at the northern end and is bordered for almost its entire length with smart shops, cinemas, theatres, and ultra-modern blocks of flats which give Streatham the most Continental appearance of any of the larger London suburbs".


nickbris said...

My Uncle Gordon Bevan and Aunt Kathleen and two children were killed by bombing in December 1940 would anybody have any information.

My grandfather said it was a parachute mine

Obachan5 said...

My father spoke about this event a few times. He said He was in new cross when he heard the sound of a flying bombi. It was a very busy shopping day and there was news that Woolworths had a new supply of pots and pans. He said that flying bombs were dangerous when their engines stopped. At this point he took shelter under a lorry. He said that after the explosion, he looked up and the lorry had been blown over. He saw a woman carrying a dead baby.
He felt very lucky to have survived that day.

M said...

I have been quoting Clunn for years - its a sort of reverse mode for everything in London. There is a section somewhere about Islington where he says what a dreary area all that terraced housing is and how we ought to have 'continental' workers flats with balconies.

Mike Beecroft said...

Obachan5 I think maybe mistaken. What he describes is the impact of a V1 flying bomb. These were smaller and the engine noise was as described, but while deadly did not have the power of the V2 Rocket which is what hit Woolworths in New Cross. They we silent until impact and those poor souls who were killed would not have heard what killed them.

Unknown said...

In over hill Road a bomb logged itself in the chimney breast and was unexploded also my dad told me about the v2 home and incedery bombs.......I'm a Peckham lad....alby hobby is my name.

Unknown said...

My dad told me about this event and about the incedery bombs......alby hobby from Peckham.

Anonymous said...

I was bomb out in Tafourd road Peckham October 1940

Susan said...

My mother (83 years old today) remembers a bomb hitting a water pipe and the whole of Peckham High Street being flooded. Her father worked for British Relay Wireless Peckham, and she remembers her father carrying her on his shoulders as the water was so deep. Does anyone have any information or photos on this bomb hit or on British Relay Wireless? Very many thanks. Susan