Category Archives: books

The Bomb Damage maps

st-pauls

During the war the London County Council surveyors chronicled the devastation caused by enemy bombing on the capital. Hand colouring street level OS maps, they plotted the buildings damaged; generally speaking, the darker the colour, the more the devastation – black was “total destruction”, purple “damaged beyond repair”, right through to yellow “blast damage: minor in nature”.

Take a look at the example above, the area around St Paul’s cathedral showing the destruction caused by ‘the second great fire of London’ on the night of 29/30 December 1940, when huge swathes of the City burned and the firefighters struggled to contain the conflagration.

Generally speaking, the further east one goes the more the damage, the docks being a strategic target for the Luftwaffe, but there is hardly a district that didn’t have some bombs falling, regardless of whether they were close to ‘legitimate targets’ or simply the rows of residential terraces. (The ‘Bomb Sight’ project maps these.) As well as the damage caused by the main Blitz of 1940/41, the LCC also recorded the impacts of the V1s and V2s in 1944 and 1945, these terror weapons falling genuinely randomly across the capital.

The maps have been available in book form for some time, and each visit I make to the Cabinet War Rooms I leaf through a copy and wonder how to justify the thick end of fifty quid. However, today those lovely people at Layers of London made the map available online, but it’s even better than that.

Because the whole concept of Layers of London is that one can superimpose historic maps on those of the present, or merge two multiple old maps together, making the historic relatable to the present or to another period. So one can look at the bomb damage on a modern map, the maps of the 1960s, or even (should you wish to try it – and I have) in relation to 18thC maps of the city. Below is a screen grab of my street, with the bomb damage superimposed on the modern map (there is infill housing in both places).

screen-shot-2019-03-20-at-18-07-14

This is a stupendous and wonderfully generous piece of work, and I for one will be wasting several hours on the map over the next few days.

You can find Layers of London here.

img_1473

London Buses

 

img_1473I’ve done a book review for the London Society on a new collection of writing about London buses and the bus network called ‘Bus Fare’.

It’s a great read – about 100 different articles, letters, diary entries, journalism, biography, even fiction – about the history of ‘the buses’ and, more importantly, the cultural associations and the place they inhabit in the soul of Londoners.

We probably all have our favourite or most-used routes, the ones that we have travelled on so often that we can make the journey in our mind’s eye.

For me that is currently the 87, from Battersea Arts Centre to Whitehall, the long haul down the Wandsworth Road giving views right across to North London as the land falls away toward the river, the megalopolis that is growing up around Nine Elms and the forest of cranes at the Power Station; Vauxhall, which has gone from being the site of the Big Issue and a Sally Army hostel to being yet another hipster nexus; then across the bridge past MI6, MI5, Tate Britain, the Abbey and Parliament.

And when I lived in Stoke Newington it was the 73, cutting its way down the Essex Road and swinging past the (hugely seedy) Kings Cross. Back then – obviously when most of London was still fields, with cattle drovers, satanic mills and men in stovepipe hats – not only could you smoke on the top deck, the 73 ran all the way to Hammersmith (which I found out after getting on one very drunk one evening. It was a long ride home from there.)

I hope you enjoy the review, and if you can grab a read of the book itself, it’s well worth the time.

 

 

Curiocity – a very different type of guidebook

curicoityI’ve just done a review of Curiocity for the London Society (which you can read here).

If you’ve not seen the book, go and do so, because it’s a fantastic piece of work – page after page of stories, trivia, maps and itineraries that take in a huge amount of London’s history, sites, legends and literature. Like the city itself, it’s a place you can be happily lost in for hours, discovering new things and experiences.

The authors describe it as the ‘reimagining of London in 26 ways’. “While some people attempt to hold London still to map it and document it, everyone else is changing the city simply by being part of it.”