A virtual tour from www.uktoursonline.com where I look at some of the capital’s most significant and most poignant war memorials from the First World War, including the Cenotaph, the memorials to the Machine Gun Corps and the Fusiliers, the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.
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).
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.
Some snaps from the phone from walking around this month. Click on any image to see the whole galley
Today I was going to go round Banqueting House, the last properly surviving bit of the old Palace of Whitehall, but when I got there it was closed for an event, so I went off and photographed some war memorials instead.
Of all the memorials in London, the most striking is the Royal Artillery Memorial located on (essentially) the traffic island at Hyde Park Corner. You can see it as you sit on the bus as it heads north, but it’s well worth taking the time to get up close.
Designed by Charles Jagger and Lionel Pearson, the Memorial is a stunning piece of realist sculpture and one of the finest examples of statuary anywhere in London.
|The Tower Hill Memorial – picture CWGC|
Directly across the road by the Tower of London, hard by the tube station is the Tower Hill Memorial to sailors of the merchant navy and fishing fleets who were killed in the two World Wars and who have ‘no grave but the sea’. (See Google maps.)
There are over 35,000 names inscribed in the Memorial’s two sections; just under 12,000 from the First World War and around 24,000 from the Second. Although overall British casualties in WW2 were substantially lower than in the Great War, the losses of the merchant marine show the dependence of Britain on imported goods and materiel during the conflict, as well as the ferocity of the German U-boat and naval assault on British shipping. Both sides knew that Britain could be defeated if starved of food and resources.
Despite its location, the memorial is not visited much by tourists; walk through the metal gates and you will be in a peaceful enclosed space that seems insulated from much of the traffic and city noise. The original memorial, opened in 1928 by Queen Mary, is quite dark and enclosed, taking the form of a vaulted corridor with 12 bronze plaques on which are listed the names of the dead. Continue reading