Black History at Union Chapel

Photo credit: Islington Local History Centre

Union Chapel is a working church, events venue and a space for community projects in Islington. During the coronavirus pandemic, like many other religious spaces and event venues, the Union Chapel has suspended its face to face events until further notice. However they have continued to provide support for the community through their Community Emergency Response initiative, find out more about their work on their website. They have also continued to hold events and performances online.

Black History Month Special Service

On Sunday 18th October Union Chapel held a special Black History Month service with performances from black musicians, take a look at some of the performances below:

“I can’t hear nobody pray” – CLAUDINA EDWARDS & OGO AJALA
“Blackbird” – OGO AJALA

Head over to the Union Chapel YouTube channel for more videos.

The Whole Truth Channel 4

Channel 4 recently filmed a programme to mark World Mental Health Day 2020. Hosted by Jordan Stephens, founder of the mental health movement #IAMWHOLE, the programme featured UK artists Che Lingo, Arlo Parks and Kojey Radical, and was filmed inside the Union Chapel. Take a look at some of the photos taken during filming of the programme:

Watch The Whole Truth on the Channel 4 website here.

Union Chapel Website:

All images and videos on this post have been provided by Union Chapel unless stated otherwise.

Trade – often copied, never equalled

Thirty years ago, in October 1990, an idea was born that changed the face of night clubbing forever!

03. Trade night club, early 2000s WP
          Trade night club, early 2000s

The 1980s’ London gay-club scene was already thriving, playing disco, alternative electronic and early house music in venues such as Heaven, the gay ‘superclub’ in Charing Cross. Then the arrival of dance music and a new drug, ecstasy, in the late 1980s changed the face of clubbing forever. Trade, the capital’s first legal after-hours dance club, was to take it to yet another level.

All-night bender
Advertised as ‘the original all-night bender’, Trade was launched in Islington by Irish-born Laurence Malice on 29 October 1990 at Turnmills, 63b Clerkenwell Road, EC1, near Farringdon Station. Laurence’s aim was to create a safe haven where people could be themselves and to help stop the risks gay men faced after clubs closed, such as ‘queer-bashing’ or arrest from cruising. Above all, he wanted it to be a place where clubbers could escape the fear and homophobic backlash that the AIDS crisis brought during the 1980s. Trade also had the unusual opening times of 3am and 5am (until 1pm) on Sunday mornings! This set it apart from other clubs and it soon became ‘the’ place to be. Its exclusivity further fuelled the desire to be a part of what Trade had to offer.

01. The first flyer for Trade nightclub, EC1, 29 October 1990

First flyer for Trade nightclub, EC1, 29 October 1990

Spiritual home
Clerkenwell itself was to become a spiritual home for the followers of Trade. For centuries the area had a history of being a sanctuary for those not wishing to conform to conventional living. Initially, the area seemed an unlikely place to go weekend clubbing; city workers frequented the district during the week, while the weekends were quiet with little passing business. The arrival, however, of Trade dramatically altered the situation.

Trade changed club culture through the people that it brought together. While the club night was perceived to cater for the LGBTQ+ community, as long as an individual had the right attitude they were welcome at Trade. The freedom to self-express through art, music and fashion saw this unique after-hours experience become a haven for creativity.

02. Entrance to Trade nightclub at Turnmills, 63b Clerkenwell Road, early 1990s WP
Entrance to Trade nightclub at Turnmills,
63b Clerkenwell Road, early 1990s

The host location, Turnmills, quickly became one of the UK’s most renowned and state-of-the-art night clubs presenting other famous events such as The Gallery, Heavenly Social (featuring The Chemical Brothers) and Smartie Party. On special events, such as Trade ‘birthdays’, the rear-located gym and other rooms were opened to cope with demand; club capacity could reach over 1000 people. It was Trade, however, that was most admired and the club’s motto quickly became “often copied, never equalled.”

Trade would regularly employ go-go dancers and drag queens and, on special occasions, such as its birthdays and themed nights, extra performers and singers were hired to intensify the production. Staff also enjoyed running other special Trade events. These included Pride, London’s annual LGBTQ+ march and festival, and Christmas Day when 10pm was the opening time and the atmosphere totally different; it felt even more decadent to be partying that particular night!

04. Poster for Trade’s 12th Birthday, 26 October 2002 WP
‘Trans Europe Excess!’ Poster for Trade’s 12th Birthday, 26 October 2002

Journey through sound
The music at Trade was innovative. It was first to offer club goers the concept of a journey through sound. Hard-edged Techno music intensified the whole experience. Due to the creativity of Trade’s DJs, who included Malcolm Duffy, Tony De Vit, Ian M and Pete Wardman, it became the birthplace of Hard House. As a result, albums were released and tours outside London were undertaken, boldly taking Trade’s distinctive sound to a mainstream audience. Gender at Trade was never an issue either. Among the sought-after female DJs brought in by Laurence were Smokin’Jo, Sister Bliss, Queen Maxine, Vicki Red, EJ Doubell and Rachel Auburn.

Trade went on to have a hugely influential and profound effect on the British and international club scene, as well as to all those who stepped onto its dance floors. The club didn’t restrict itself to just Clerkenwell. It often toured with its resident DJs, taking Trade music and the experience to new clubbers. From its base in EC1, Trade visited most of the UK’s major cities and it enjoyed its own arena at Creamfields dance music festival.

Trade across the world
Trade was also a brand whose name and music reputation was to spread across the world, with events in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, Miami, Rio, Sydney, Tel Aviv and many more international locations. Trade enjoyed residencies in Ibiza, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and even Moscow. It made appearances on TV, most notably in 1998 with the Channel 4 documentary Trade: The All-Night Bender.

Last dance
Sadly, due to the closure of Turnmills as a clubbing venue,  Trade’s final club night in EC1 was Sunday 16 March 2008. The club opened its doors at 05:00, finishing over 12 hours later! During the event, Laurence Malice thanked clubbers and associates for their support and requested that everyone “really go for it!” Trade DJs past and present, including Malcolm Duffy, Ian M, Steve Thomas, Daz Saund and Pete Wardman, all performed to a sell-out crowd, and it fell to Wardman to play the last set – the final record being Schöneberg by Marmion.

05. Turnmill, 63 Clerkenwell Road, EC1, August 2020 WP
Turnmill, 63 Clerkenwell Road, EC1, August 2020. This six-storey
office building replaced the former club venue in 2015.

Glorious celebration
Trade continued having one-off events in venues around London before settling at Egg on York Way, Islington, and then only celebrating its birthday each year. It was decided that Trade’s 25th birthday event at Egg in October 2015 would be its last, ending in a glorious celebration of Trade history. The sheer drive and creativity of Trade saw it become the first gay super-club night, an innovator in music and fashion and a unique brand, promoting for many, a unique way of life. And, it all began 30 years ago in EC1!

Mark Aston
Islington Museum | Islington Local History Centre, 2020

Article first appeared in the EC1 Echo, No. 6, October/November 2020. Reproduced with thanks.

Images reproduced courtesy of Islington’s Pride Archive (at Islington Local History Centre), collecting and celebrating Islington’s LGBTQ+ Heritage.

Visit Islington Museum’s 2015 exhibition celebrating the 25th anniversary of Trade: Trade – often copied, never equalled

Islington Organisations: black owned and providing support for black people

Islington is host to a number of organisations run by black people and providing support for black people. Here are a just a few of the organisations in the borough that have contributed to our online display for Black History Month, see the gallery of images here. If you would like to contribute to the display please get in touch by emailing or for more information go here.

Avril’s Walks and Talks

Avril Nanton set up Avril’s Walks and Talks in 2016, focusing her walking tours in particular on the African Caribbean histories and communities across London. In 1965 she moved to Britain from Dominica and grew up in Canonbury, Islington. She is now one of the few black female professional guides in London and a member of various institutions including the British Library and the London Metropolitan Archives.

Avril’s tours include historical sites across London such as Trafalgar Square and Cleopatra’s Needle in Westminster. In Islington, Avril’s Walks and Talks will take you on a journey through some of the prominent black histories in the borough from the British headquarters of the African National Congress (ANC) to the Eritrean Embassy in London.

Avril’s Walks and Talks website:

Every Voice

Every voice is an organisation, established in the borough of Islington in 2009, that works on anti-racist practices and co-creating spaces for healing and liberation. With three main steams of work they focus on: Research, Advocacy and Reflection, Healing and Liberation, and Critical Histories and Futures.

Every Voice’s campaign work aims to address persistent social inequalities affecting black and brown communities. The Islington Race Equality Forum is a network, bringing together community organisations, residents and activists, with quarterly meetings to discuss and reflect on issues of social inequality. Every Voice also collaborates with other organisations to provide events and activities for the community including Black History events. Find out more about the various work streams and projects that Every Voice is involved in on their website.

Every Voice website:


REWRITE is an organisation set up to support and champion black women and women of colour writers by providing the tools, space and confidence they need to achieve their writing goals. REWRITE is run entirely by women. Founded in 2018 by Christina Fonthes, a Congolese-British writer, after her own search for a supportive writing community focused on black women and women of colour, and noticing there was a need to create support in this area.

REWITE offers courses, masterclasses and workshops for women to explore their creativity and develop their skills. Their first courses took place at New Beacon Books, the UK’s first black publisher and specialist bookshop. They also review books of all genres and produce their own literary magazine titled REWITE READS which features work by black women and women of colour. Find out more on their website.

REWRITE website: /

Say It Loud Club

In 2010 the Say It Loud Club, a support group for LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers, was established in London by Aloysius Ssali. Aloysius set up the first Say It Loud Club in Uganda in 1994, where homosexuality is a crime. He was forced to flee from Uganda when the club was reported to the authorities and managed to gain asylum in Britain on the grounds of sexuality.

The Club provides community, understanding and improves wellbeing; in particular, caring for the mental health and reducing loneliness in the LGBTQ+ refugee and asylum seeker community. People using the service are often from countries in which homosexuality is criminalised and scorned. They are able to share their experiences through the club to give them the confidence to live openly with their sexuality.

Say It Loud website:

Talk for Health

Talk for Health is a programme developed by psychotherapists to teach people a method for therapeutic talking to improve health and wellbeing. The organisation was started in 2008 by Nicky Forsythe. In response to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign, a member of the Talk for Health community set of a monthly Black Lives Matter chair and share group. The group is going strong. Anyone wishing to join can get in contact by emailing

Talk for Health website:

Head over to the image gallery to explore more black culture and history in Islington


Hitler’s Guy Fawkes Day Surprise: The Archway V2 Rocket Attack 1944

Where three residential roads in Archway, Islington, north London, meet is the site of a tragic loss of civilian life during the Second World War (1939-45). 

Scene at Holloway after a German V2 rocket fell in the evening destroying 18 houses and causing several deaths during the Second World War. ;Rescue workers search for surviviors amongst the rubble ;November 1944

The aftermath of the V2 Rocket attack in Archway, Islington,
5 November 1944. (Image: Mirrorpix)

Wartime strike
A little after 5pm on Sunday 5 November 1944, a V2 rocket was launched from its site in the Hague, Netherlands – its target was London. Just  minutes later, at 5.13pm, it exploded at the junction of Boothby, Giesbach and Grovedale Roads; nearby St John’s Way was also caught in the strike. This was the first enemy long-range V2 rocket to hit Islington.

Over 250 people were casualties of this wartime attack, which included 35 deaths and 219 suffering from injuries. The oldest person to die as a result of the explosion was aged 92 years, who passed away four months later, and the youngest was just five months old. Many houses were also destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

Vergeltungswaffe 2
The V2 (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2 or ‘Retribution Weapon 2’) was a long-range single stage missile or rocket, which used advanced technology to cause destruction and devastation. Standing at 14 metres on end, with a 1-ton warhead of high explosive, it travelled at 3,500 mph and could reach an altitude of 50-60 miles before arcing in a 120-mile trajectory. The V2 had a flying time of 10-30 minutes before crashing, exploding and usually causing a large crater. There was no indication or noise of its approach, as it could travel at supersonic speed at over six times the speed of sound.

The first V2 Rocket to hit London , causing three deaths, occurred on Friday 8 September 1944, falling on Staveley Road, Chiswick. This was the first of over 500 V2 rockets to strike the capital between September 1944 and March 1945.

V2 Rocket in the Peenemünde Museum, Germany 2005 LR

V2 Rocket in the Peenemünde Museum, Germany, 2005.
(Image: Creative Commons)

Diabolical weapon
In his unique and fascinating account of Islington during the Second World War, Civil Defence in Islington 1938 – 1945: an account of passive defence and certain aspects of the war as it affected the borough (1946), Islington Town Clerk and ARP Controller W. Eric Adams recalls the attack:

The enemy had in preparation an even more fearsome weapon in the shape of the long-range rocket. The first two of these heard in Islington was on the 8th September 1944. Although they fell at Chiswick and North Weald respectively, they sounded quite near. They were kept very hush hush and were facetiously referred to as “exploding gas mains”. The explosions were never acknowledged throughout the attack, as to do so would have given valuable information to the enemy for use at the launching sites in Holland. In sharp contrast to normal high explosive and [V1] Flying Bombs no warning at all was possible with rockets, in consequence of which the difficulties of the Rescue Service were greatly increased.

The first rocket to fall in Islington was at Boothby Road on a Sunday afternoon in November 1944. It was a ‘diabolical weapon’. At the moment of impact it was travelling at possibly 3000 miles an hour, which is much faster than the speed of sound; consequently, the first intimation of its arrival was the impact explosion. This was followed sometime after by the characteristic rumbling noise of its passage through the earth’s atmosphere. In some cases the effect was of a double explosion. The rocket, like the fly bomb, carried the high explosive in the nose, the remainder of its 40 ft. length being occupied by means of its propulsion.

Mr Adams continues:

Heavy rain
The Boothby Road incident occurred on a Sunday and the heavy rain which fell rendered the widespread clay, resulting from the explosion, very greasy and difficult to negotiate with casualties and heavy equipment. The work of the services was, however, eased to some extent by the employment for the first time in the Borough of an Army searchlight which proved invaluable. Although this incident which had occurred at 5.30 pm on the 5th, the last casualty was actually recovered on the morning of the 6th, the remaining time being spent in searching for persons whose whereabouts had not until that time been established. During this period the specially trained dogs made available to the Civil Defence Services were used in order to try to locate the persons believed missing.

Scene at Holloway after a German V2 rocket fell in the evening destroying 18 houses and causing several deaths during the Second World War. ;Rescue workers search for surviviors amongst the rubble ;November 1944

The aftermath of the V2 Rocket attack in Archway, Islington, 5 November 1944. This photograph was taken the following morning and shows rescue workers searching for survivors buried in the rubble. Nearby Archway Central Hall was used as a temporary mortuary. (Image: Mirrorpix)

W. Eric Adam’s account has, more recently, been supplemented by a number of eyewitness or secondary accounts from those who experienced the attack or who had members of their immediate family recount the incident:

Gillian Joel (née Stephens)

Mrs Joel’s account was published in the Islington Gazette in February 2020. She was six when her mother Sybil and brother James were killed after the rocket hit their home at 32 Grovedale Road, Upper Holloway, in 1944.


Mrs Joel in Grovedale Road, c.2019. (Image: Islington Gazette)

Her father, John Stephens, thinking Gillian dead, had gone so far as ordering her a coffin. However, she was in hospital after being saved from the rubble by Islington-based rescuers:

I remember going to the underground when the sirens started, it must have been Archway Underground. There was a green case at the door that dad would pick up. It had an eiderdown blanket in it and I would sleep with another blanket over me. It was our emergency pack, and I remember dad would carry me to the station. I don’t really remember anything from the bomb, except I was playing downstairs with my brother, James. I still have shrapnel and glass in me and only a few years ago a bit of glass came out of my head.

Read the full Islington Gazette interview with Mrs Joel’s here.

Ray Hardiman

Mr Hardiman recounted his memories of the attack to the excellent Archway Revisited Facebook Group:

I am somewhat familiar with this episode since I lived in one of the houses destroyed by that V2. I was just approaching my ninth birthday (December 44) at the time.

The V2 hit at about 5.30 pm on a Sunday in November 1944 … I do remember my mother saying something about “Hitler’s Guy Fawkes Day surprise” … I was in the Electric cinema at the Archway with my elder brother (aged 10) at the instant the rocket hit. In those days the first film showings on a Sunday was after 4.00pm (mustn’t clash with church going I suppose!). The film was Dive Bomber with Errol Flynn starring; Sundays films were always repeats of earlier releases; this one was first shown in 1942.

… Suddenly there was an almighty thump and dust drifted down from the ceiling. That was close, everybody thought  – the cinema is actually about a half-mile from the impact – and carried on watching the film. A little while later we became aware that the usherette was flashing her torch down the row where we were sitting. “There they are” somebody said, and we were beckoned to come out of our seats … When we got to the foyer we discovered that one of my elder sisters and her boyfriend had come to fetch us. I was amazed to see that they were covered in dust and dirt from head to toe! We were told that our home had been hit by a bomb/rocket and we were then to be taken to the boyfriends (parents) home somewhere not too far away.

At that time we had no idea whether any of the rest of our family were alive or dead … Eventually we discovered that all the family had survived although my parents had been cut about by flying glass. My baby sister was asleep in her pram in the front room of the house, and a tiny splinter of glass landed in the middle of one of her cheeks! Thankfully it never affected her eye but left her with a small scar . Not so fortunate was one of my playmates and his younger sister and parents. They lived in the house whose rear garden was the point of impact of the rocket.

V2 Archway image (ILHC) 02
The corner of Giesbach Road and Boothby Road, Archway, after the V2 rocket attack. The corner and destroyed houses are now covered by Giesbach Road Open Space. (Image: Islington Local History Centre)

We lived in number 38 Giesbach Rd, which is the second house from the end on the south side [now gone, replaced with Giesback Road Open Space]. The family who died (whose name unfortunately I have forgotten) lived in the corner house on the north side of Grovedale Rd. I am fairly certain that the rocket impacted in the rear garden of their house. Thus this house took the brunt of the blast as well as the back of the house in St John’s Way and the sides of the end houses on both sides of Giesbach Rd. All adjacent house were also heavily damaged of course. Our house being the second from the corner was a little protected, and also the blast must have dissipated to some extent up the middle of Giesbach Rd and across the front of our house rather than directly at it.

We obviously never went back to the house which was pulled down along with many of the other houses round about. Eventually new blocks of flats were built over the site of the bomb damage and also the top half of Boothby Rd so that it no longer intersects with St Johns Way. I never got to see the conclusion of the film Dive Bomber until about thirty years later when it turned up on television!

Read the full Archway Revisited posting with Ray Hardiman here.

Islington V2 rocket attacks
There was a lull of 11 days before the second V2 landed in Islington at 2.46am on Thursday 16 November at Mayville Road, killing seven and injuring 53 people.  During this second stage of the Third Reich’s V-rocket campaign, nine V2 rockets exploded in the borough killing 288 and injuring over 1000 people. The worst of these attacks were Mackenzie Road (26 December 1944) and Smithfield Market (8 March 1945) which, combined, witnessed 183 deaths.

The devastation to buildings in Islington (not including Finsbury) due to the V2 rocket explosions was immense. Serious damage, sometimes beyond repair, was caused to 18,000 houses, 72 public houses, 55 factories, 28 churches and 10 schools.

Islington remembers
Islington remembers all those who suffered in the tragic Archway incident, as well as everyone who died and were injured in countless other V rocket attacks and enemy air raids across Islington and beyond during the Second World War.  They will not be forgotten.

V2 Plaque roll of honour

Islington Civilian War Dead Memorial Islington & Camden Cemetery East Finchley (24 Jan 2018) (3)

Memorial to the civilian dead of Islington (1939-1945), Islington and Camden Cemetery, East Finchley, 2018: “This memorial has been erected to perpetuate the memory of those citizens who lost their lives as a result of enemy action during the Second World War, and whose remains lie buried in this cemetery.”

Mark Aston
Islington Museum and Islington Local History Centre

Related sources and links

V2 Rockets:

Islington and the Second World War:

Get Involved with Black History Month 2020

Black Lives Matter protest Newington Green June 2020

Islington Heritage Service has created a physical and digital display for Black History Month in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign and to celebrate black lives that are part of the Islington community. This involves:

  • A collaged feature wall in the Islington Local History Centre made up of images from the public, the council and our archives representing the black community in Islington and the Black Lives Matter campaign.
  • A digital display to be made available online of the images featured on the physical display.

In order to add to this display we need your help as important members of the Islington community who live and work here to help us gather the items for the display and to enhance the representation of black history in the Islington Local History Centre.

Newington Green Festival (1976) 01
Newington Green Festival 1976

We are looking to gather:

  • Images of Islington residents/staff in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign e.g. any photos at protests, holding signs, in solidarity.
  • Material associated with Black Lives Matter e.g. posters, flyers, etc.
  • Images of black people who are part of the Islington community e.g. images of residents, images of people who work in Islington, etc.
  • Items representing black history in Islington e.g. posters, flyers, leaflets, etc. of events, activities, campaigns, organisations etc.
  • Anecdotes/stories from black members of the Islington community (living and/or working) about their experiences in Islington

All contributions to the archive will be reviewed before display and will be retained in the Islington Local History Centre archive collection.

Please send your contributions for the display for BHM and donations to the archive to

Along with any images sent please let us know where appropriate; the date the photo was taken, who/what is in the photo, where the photo was taken and any other relevant information.

Black Lives Matter Display Image Gallery

Take a look through the gallery by expanding the thumbnails of images that have been included in the collage wall of the Islington Local History Centre. Featuring photos of local people, archives from the Islington Local History Centre, images from Islington Council and of course photos that show Islington supporting Black Lives Matter. The images celebrate the black history in Islington and the people of Islington. A huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to the display, this would not have been possible without your help.

We are still accepting contributions to the display and will continue to add to the online gallery throughout October.

Want to get your photo in the gallery and on the wall? Have photos you’d like to add to the display? Find out how here.

See what the collage looks like in the Islington Local History Centre here.

If your photo has been included in the display and you would like it taken down please get in touch by email:

Black Lives Matter Wall Display

The Islington Heritage installation of collaged images for Black History Month was created in support of Black Lives Matter and to celebrate the black community in Islington. The images have been collected from the archives of the Islington Local History Centre, Islington Council and the amazing contributions from the people of Islington. The display showcases Islington’s solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign and feature residents, staff, students and organisations in the Borough of Islington. The people on this wall are our neighbours, friends and role models. They are our community.

The installation is currently on display at the Islington Local History Centre at 245 St John Street, and is visible through the glass wall from the Finsbury Library.

Due to the current situation regarding social distancing we are encouraging interested people not to visit the Centre and instead to take a look at our online gallery of the images included in the display here.

If you would like to view the installation please contact the Centre by email:

We are still accepting contributions to the display and will continue to add to the online gallery throughout October. Want to get your photo in the gallery and on the wall? Have photos you’d like to add to the display? Find out how here.

Blitzed Islington: Islington and the London Blitz (1940-41)

The 80th anniversary of the start of the London Blitz (7 September 1940 – 10/11 May 1941), during the Second World War, is being remembered nationally from Monday 7 September 2020.

Dornier IWM C5424
Two German Dornier DO 217 bombers fly over south-east London on the first day of the Blitz, 7 September 1940. [Image: IWM C 5424]

The London Blitz

On ‘Black Saturday’ 7 September 1940, at around 4pm, and lasting for two hours, nearly 1000 German bombers and fighter escorts of Hitler’s Luftwaffe were seen attacking from the skies over London. Two hours later, guided by the fires set by the first assault, a second group of raiders commenced another attack that lasted until 4:30 the following morning. On this first day, 430 were killed and 1,600 injured in the capital. This was the start of what became known as the ‘Blitz’ (‘Lightning’ in German), a term was first used by the British press. The enemy’s intense bombing campaign of London and other cities continued until the following May and, for the next consecutive 57 days, the capital was bombed each day or night.

Daily Express 17 Sept. 1940
‘Night raiders bomb West End’, reports the Daily Express, 17 September 1940. The same night witnessed enemy bombers attack Islington, with residents of Cross Street and Hemingford Road killed in the raid.

London was bombed significantly at night, but daytime attacks were frequent too. In October 1940, Islington’s rescue service attended 131 incidents, the most in one night being 32. Records show that 206 people were recovered alive, with 83 deceased. Rescue operations to retrieve casualties could take several hours or even days to complete and were sometimes performed whilst raids were still in progress.

Battle of Britain
During the previous two months, the Battle of Britain had taken place in a fight for daylight air superiority between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force (RAF) over the United Kingdom. The Luftwaffe had attempted to destroy RAF airfields and radar stations in preparation for German invasion. This campaign had failed and, instead, Hitler turned his attention to destroying London in an attempt to demoralise and destabilise the population and force the British to come to terms.

42 crop
Finsbury Town Hall, Garnault Place, after 15 August 1940. A ‘downed’ German Messerschmitt BF110 on display outside Finsbury Town Hall, as part of a ‘victory tour’ during the Battle of Britain.

While Londoners, including the residents of Islington and Finsbury, had experienced German aerial bombardment during the First World World, nothing had prepared them for the sheer devastation that was to come. Fires from incendiary bombs consumed many portions of the city. Residents and workers sought shelter in many places, including their own back-garden ‘Andersen’ shelters, communal shelters, underground stations, school basements and church crypts.

Under seige
Nearly 30,000 London civilians were killed in the Blitz and later raids during the Second World War; nearly two-thirds of this figure during the London Blitz.  From 7 September 1940 onwards, businesses, churches, public houses, schools, housing estates and residences were reduced to rubble. The blackout cast well-lit streets into darkness, and local anti-aircraft guns and searchlights brought the war firmly home to the capital’s citizens. As the Luftwaffe’s Blitz raids of 1940 spread to other cities, including Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool and Southampton, the civilian population of Britain found itself under siege as never before. In just nine months they, along with Londoners, witnessed the landscape and the character of their cities change beyond all recognition. 

The Blitz in Islington

A few weeks before the official start of the Blitz, Islington had, in fact, witnessed a random air attack when bombs fell on Canonbury Park North and vicinity during the late evening of Saturday 24 August 1940. Fortunately, only one casualty was reported, a Warden who was wounded by bomb fragments in the left shoulder. Another bomb fell at the rear of the house at the corner of Willowbridge Road but without much effect. In opposition, the first raid by the RAF on Berlin took place the following night. However, from September onwards, the Blitz was to turn the Islington and Finsbury Home Front into a battlefield. 


         Hugh Myddelton School Basement Shelter, Finsbury, 4 September 1940.  The school’s pupils reading comics and playing cards during an air-raid drill.

Preparations for likely air bombardment began prior to the Second World War, with the British government providing air-raid shelters to families for free or for a small fee, depending on their income. Over the course of the war, shelters would take a number of forms and provide security for the citizens of Islington and Finsbury. Read more …

Bomb damage and destruction

Remains of St Mary’s Church, Upper Street, Islington, after an attack during the Blitz on 9 September 1940.

The Second World War turned the home front into a battlefront. On 7 September 1940, Dornier and Heinkel bombers, escorted by Messerschmidt fighter planes, began bombarding London. Islington and Finsbury would come under fire … Read more

Islington and Finsbury swing into action

Auxiliary Fire Service personnel, Finsbury, 1940. The Auxiliary Fire Service was first formed in 1938. This photograph was kindly donated by Mr T Murphy (front row, third from right).

As part of war preparations, volunteers were trained in civil defence duties to warn or respond to attacks. Many Islington and Finsbury civilians became members of the Heavy Rescue Service, Air Raid Wardens, Home Guard members, firefighters, first-aiders and ambulance drivers, who would provide invaluable assistance to their community once war began. Read more

Learn about Islington’s rescue and air-raid services during the Blitz in a first-hand account by the borough’s Islington Town Clerk and ARP Controller W. Eric Adams.

Finsbury Under Attack (1939-45)

Like many parts of inner London, Finsbury suffered badly from bombings during the Blitz (1940-41) and, again later, as part of the V1 and V2 rocket attacks on the capital from the summer of 1944 onwards. Given its proximity to the City of London, Finsbury’s residents lived with the threat of bombing and untimely death. However, in spite of fatalities, an uncertain future and much hardship, Finsburyites kept calm and carried on. The constant bombings were designed to break morale but conversely brought people together. Read more …

The German destroyer in Finsbury

The Messerschmitt Bf 110 (or ME 110) is a twin-engine ‘Zerstörer’ (Destroyer, heavy fighter) and fighter-bomber. [Image: Creative Commons / Bundesarchiv / Jacobsen]

Just weeks after the start of the Blitz, a captured Messerschmitt Bf 110, shot down by a RAF Hurricane fighter during the Battle of Britain, was displayed outside Finsbury Town Hall, Garnault Place, in October 1940. It became the most photographed Luftwaffe plane of WW2. Read more …

Also, find out about the Islington Spitfire, bought with funds raised by Islington citizens and businesses. Read more …

Islington and the last night of the Blitz

HMP Pentonville Prison, Caledonian Road, Islington, post-bombing 11 May 1941. C-Wing was destroyed and later rebuilt.

While London was regularly attacked, the ferocity of some raids far exceeded others. On the night of 10/11 May 1941, London was hit by the most devastating and largest raid on London during the Blitz. In total, 711 tons of high explosive, along with 2,393 incendiary bombs, were dropped on the city, with 1,436 civilians losing their lives in that one raid alone.

The night found the rescue services once again fully extended, with Islington’s rescue services operating at nine major incidents including one at Pentonville Prison, where a string of high-explosive bombs scored a direct hit on the prison’s C-Wing. The attack on the prison killed 13 people, as well as many more across across Islington and Finsbury. Read more …

Blitzed Islington

WW2 Bomb Damage Map (Clerkenwell)
Section from London County Council Bomb Damage Map, 1946, showing damage to the north-west Finsbury area. The map is coloured coded – the darker the colour, the worse the damage. [Image: London Metropolitan Archives]

During the Blitz, London suffered from heavy casualties and severe damage,  with the worst affected areas being the East End and London Docks. In Islington and Finsbury, between 7 September 1940 and 11 May 1941, nearly 800 civilians were killed due to enemy aircraft attacks. A further 660-plus died in ad-hoc raids and V-rocket attacks between 1941 and 1945, totalling 1464 casualties for the two former boroughs. Here are a few other statistics: 

  • The first person to die from enemy air attack in Islington on the very first day of the London Blitz (7 September 1940) was Frederick Rose (45) of 71 Wray Crescent. He was caught in a raid on Axminster Road and died later in the Royal Northern Hospital, Holloway.

  • The youngest person to be killed in a raid was six-week-old John Price who, with his mother Mabel (35), died on 17 April 1941 in Great Percy Street, Finsbury.

  • The oldest person to be killed in a raid was 96-year-old Emma Henesey (born 1842) of 42 College Cross. Emily died in the College Cross attack on 9 October 1940 and was also Islington’s oldest war casualty on the Home Front during the Second World War.

  • The worst incident during the Blitz on Islington and Finsbury occurred on 15 October 1940. It was reported that over 100 men, women and children died after being trapped in the basement shelter of the Dame Alice Owen School, Goswell Road, near Angel. Many families perished in the attack, with up to five from the same household dying in the horrific incident.

Islington Civilian War Dead Memorial Islington & Camden Cemetery East Finchley (24 Jan 2018) (3)
Memorial to the civilian dead of Islington (1939-1945), Islington and Camden Cemetery, East Finchley, 2018: “This memorial has been erected to perpetuate the memory of those citizens who lost their lives as a result of enemy action during the Second World War, and whose remains lie buried in this cemetery.”

To find out more about people who died during the Blitz, and later raids on Islington and Finsbury, visit the Islington Online Book of Remembrance. You may also leave a personal tribute to all individuals associated with Islington who fell as a result of conflict (1899-1950).

[All images Islington Local History Centre, except where stated]

Further reading


Compiled by Mark Aston
Islington Local History Centre | Islington Museum
Islington Heritage Service
September 2020

Islington and the Last Night of The Blitz (10/11 May 1941)

On 11 May 1941, after eight months and five days of constant threat and terror, the nationwide Blitz came to an end.

Up to this point, approximately 41,000 tons of bombs had been dropped in total, with 18,291 tons falling on London alone. Around 41,000 people had been killed, 21,500 of whom were Londoners. 139,000 people had been injured and around two million homes destroyed, 60% of which were in London.

SF Chronicle 12 May 1941
News of the ‘Hardest Night’ spread across the Atlantic, as can be seen in the front-page headline in the San Francisco Chronicle, 12 May 1941. [Image: Public Domain]

The Hardest Night
The night of 10/11 May became known as the ‘Hardest Night’ and was to be the last major raid on London for over a year; a major raid was defined as one where over 100 tons of bombs were dropped. It was to be one of the most ferocious and devastating of the entire nine-month German bombing campaign The raid on the city, carried out between 11.02pm and 5.57am, came a night illuminated by a full or ‘bombers’ moon, when the River Thames was at low-ebb tide. The low water level played havoc with the ability of firefighters to use water from the Thames to counter fires from incendiaries.

During the seven-hour raid, more than 700 tonnes of high-explosive and 100,000 incendiary bombs were dropped by around 550 German aircraft. These undertook 571 sorties with some crews flying two and three missions in order to maintain numbers required to sustain the attack. Luftwaffe numbers were, by this time, depleted as many had been lost over Britain during the Blitz and other units had been moved east in preparation for the assault on Russia.

Last night of the Blitz EC4
Firefighters tackling a blaze in the City of London on the last night of the Blitz, 10/11 May 1941. (Image: IWM HU 1129)

Of the high explosive dropped, 167 tons were recorded as unexploded the following day, along with 86,173 incendiaries. The London Fire Brigade reported 2,136 fires. Of these, nine were conflagration level, eight ‘major’ outbreaks (requiring 30-plus pumps), 43 serious outbreaks (up to 30 pumps), 280 medium (up to 10 pumps) and at least 1,796 small outbreaks. 1,436 Londoners were killed, with around 1,800 seriously injured. 700 acres of the city was destroyed – double the area lost in The Great Fire of 1666 – causing damage valued at £20 million in 1941.

Anti-aircraft guns fired 4,510 rounds with two bombers claimed destroyed. RAF Fighter Command dispatched a total of 325 aircraft and claimed 28 enemy aircraft in return, although one Hurricane and one Beaufighter were badly damaged. Surprisingly, the Luftwaffe lost only twelve aircraft that night:  ten Heinkel He111s, one Junkers Ju88 and one Messerschmitt Bf110*.

*[This single aircraft crashed at Floors Farm, Bonnyton Moor, Glasgow at 11.05pm. It was flown from Augsburg by Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess on an mis-guided peace mission. Find out more about another Messerschmitt Bf110 that was displayed in Islington during the Blitz: The German Destroyer in Finsbury].

Islington and the Last Day of The Blitz
While enemy bombers concentrated on attacking the docks and East End, many other parts of the capital were to receive the full force of the Luftwaffe, including Islington and Finsbury. In Islington, the night found the rescue services once again fully extended, with the boroughs’ rescue services operating at several major incidents. Islington was hit by 38 high-explosive bombs, of which three did not explode, and 16 incendiary devices.

WW2 Bomb Damage Map (Barnsbury)
Section from London County Council Bomb Damage Map, 1946, showing damage to the Pentonville Prison area.  The map is coloured coded – the darker the colour, the worse the damage. The houses to the east of the prison were later swept away as part of  Islington’s post-war redevelopment. [Image: courtesy London Metropolitan 

On Saturday 10 May, 24 people were killed when bombs hit Corsica Street, Elia Street, Liverpool Road, Errol Street and Roman Way. An 18-month-old boy, Ronald Kenkerdine, was one of the six people killed at Liverpool Road, and three teenage sisters from the Smith family were among ten killed in Roman Way.

Sunday 11 May brought 62 further deaths. The victims came from Barbara Street, Charlotte Terrace, Essex Road, Gerrard Road, Halton Mansions, HMP Pentonville, Hanley Road, Holford Square, Old Street, Percy Circus and Whitecross Street. Ernest and Robert Westbrook, 11-year-old twin brothers, were two of the 18 people killed at Holford Square in King’s Cross and, nearby, three-month-old baby girl Mary Coyne was one of eight victims at Percy Circus.

Halton Mansions, 66-79.tif
66-79 Halton Mansions, Islington, following the raid on 10/11 May 1941. Nine residents, aged between 15 and 63 years, were killed in the attack, with many from the same families.

Pentonville Prison
Of the nine major incidents covered that night by Islington’s rescue services, the bombing of HMP Pentonville Prison in Caledonian Road was one of the largest. C-Wing of the prison was hit by a string of high-explosive bombs that reduced the four-storey building to rubble, killing 13 people. It was closed after the bombing and didn’t reopen until 1946; the wing was eventually rebuilt to three storeys in 1958 becoming the prison’s education block.

HMP Pentonville Prison, Islington post-bombing 11 May 1941. C-Wing was destroyed and later rebuilt.

Total London casualties for the raid on 10/11 May were the highest for any night of the Blitz: 1,436 people died and 1792 were seriously injured. More than 5,000 houses were destroyed, making approximately 12,000 people homeless. Many famous and public buildings suffered damage, including the Houses of Parliament and the British Museum where 250,000 books were ruined.

Blitz Spirit
The capital, including Islington and Finsbury, would continue to suffer sporadic bombing raids and through the use of the V-weapons. Other cities and regions of England would also continue to suffer. The smaller ‘Baedeker Blitz’, which targeted historic/tourist locations, Exeter, Bath and Norwich and the Steinbock or ‘Baby Blitz’ affected southern England from January through to May 1944.

However, Hitler and the German Third Reich’s initial, great strategic bombing campaign to crush the British war industries and civilian morale was ultimately a failure. A combination of the Luftwaffe’s inability to agree on tactics, the British ‘Blitz Spirit’ reaction and the need for Hitler to divert resources for Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union brought the Blitz to a close.

Article written by Johnny Baird, Islington Museum volunteer

[All images Islington Local History Centre, except where stated]


  1. ‘The Blitz – The Hardest Night’, History of the Battle of Britain Online Exhibition,
  2. The Blitz – Wikipedia,
  4. WW2 Civil Defence (1938-1945) Draft Transcript v1
  5. Islington & Finsbury WW2 incidents 10-11 May 1941
  6. Pentonville Prison, A, B, C and D Wings and Chapel Wing

Further reading


Islington Local History Centre | Islington Museum
Islington Heritage Service
September 2020

The Blitz Period in Islington (1940-41)


By W. Eric Adams (Islington Town Clerk and ARP Controller)

The 80th anniversary of the start of the London Blitz (7 September 1940 – 10/11 May 1941), during the Second World War, is being remembered nationally from Monday 7 September 2020.

This contemporary account of the Blitz period in Islington was taken from:

Adams. W. Eric. Civil Defence in Islington 1938 – 1945: an account of passive defence and certain aspects of the war as it affected the borough. October 1946

ARP W Eric Adams (from Collins pamphlet box)
W. Eric Adams, Islington Town Clerk and ARP Controller

The Blitz Period

When the attack started on Islington it was very intensive, in fact the first two months were never again equalled in the number of incidents to which the [Air Raid Precaution / Heavy Rescue] Service was called. Fortunately, however, some of the bombs were of small calibre and operations were often concluded after only a few hours work.

The movement of parties was directed from the Report and Control Centre by the Controller or his representative on duty. The number of parties likely to be required to deal with an incident was estimated from details give on the air raid damage report received from the Warden and these were dispatched by telephone message to the depot most conveniently situated in relation to the incident. Reinforcements, if required, were obtained by the Party Leader of Clerk of Works by message to control through the nearest Wardens’ Post. On the completion of work the Party Leader reported the fact to Control when he would be either directed back to his depot or to another incident.

Annette Crescent
Of the more serious incidents the first to fully extend the Service was a direct hit on a trench shelter in Annette Crescent, and it is no reflection upon the men that although the operation was successfully accomplished, the unpleasant task to which they were so far unaccustomed affected them considerably for some few days after. With raiding every night, however, and the necessary shoring work next day, the parties soon got into their stride and continued to successfully answer all calls made upon them, including at times moving as reinforcements to other Boroughs. Their task was a strenuous one and so far as work permitted parties were rested for short periods during daylight hours in readiness for the inevitable stand-to when darkness fell – in fact, it was 24 hours service in the full sense of the term.

Typical of the work during these early days were rescue operations at Petherton Road and Bryan Street, at both of which Rescue personnel received awards for gallantry. At Petherton Road, where a large calibre bomb had demolished a five-storey building, a tunnel 5 feet horizontally was cut into the debris to release two casualties. The whole operation took seven hours to complete and was performed whilst the raid was still in progress, in the presence of coal gas and in wreckage which was in imminent danger of collapse. The Party Leader in charge of the work was awarded the George Medal and three of his colleagues were commended.

[The awards for gallantry were made after the incidents in Petherton Road on the night of 15/16 September 1940 all relating to members of the Heavy Rescue Service: Frederick A. Bashom (George Medal), J. Williams, C.D. Southam, A.H. Thomas (all three received commendations)]

Petherton Road 12 Nov 1940
Petherton Road, Islington, following an attack on 16 September 1940. Heavy Rescue party leader Fred Bashom was awarded the George Medal for his part in the rescue of two casualties.

At Bryan Street two boys were trapped in the basement of a demolished house and a tunnel 12 feet long was required to reach them. It was formed about 2 feet square by men working in succession lying prone, throwing back the debris and fixing struts and bearers (converted from the debris) as they advanced – a risky operation cleverly performed. After 3 hours the boys were safely released uninjured over men lying flat in the tunnel and passing the boys hand over hand. For this operation two members of the personnel were awarded the British Empire Medal and a third commended.

Bryan Street 22 Sept 1940
Bryan Street, Islington, after a raid on 22 September 1940. Clara Savage (57) of 5 Bryan Street was killed in the attack.

Night raids
To fully appreciate the fine work the Service was doing during this period it must be remembered that raiding invariably continued throughout the night which necessitated the men working with the minimum of light. The operation, therefore, of entering badly damaged buildings and tunnelling into masses of debris was necessarily coupled with an even greater element of risk than would otherwise have existed.

Mid-September heralded the advent of a very serious complication in the shape of parachute mines. The first in Islington – dropped at Poole’s Park – fortunately failed to explode and was successfully defused, by a Naval Officer. To allow of its removal, the Rescue Service was called upon to demolish certain garden walls and to erect a covering of corrugated iron to protect it from incendiary bombs pending removal. The local ‘Spitfire Fund’* collectors, however, saw in this a heaven-sent opportunity to raise their total, so promptly remove the covering and charged a penny a time to view the unusual exhibit. When at night this was discovered, the Rescue Service was called out once more to replace the covering.

* [Learn more about Islington’s Spitfire Fund]

A few days later, two other mines fell which failed to explode on landing, one in Wright Road, the other in Leigh Road. Both exploded while being worked upon by the naval Party. The first unfortunately killed the naval Officer, who was attempting to defuse it. This was the only casualty as the area had been evacuated.

On the night of September 26/27th however, there were two further mines, one at Camden Road and the other at Cornwallis Road and in both cases they exploded on impact with the result that the Service was fully extended. During the month the Service attended at some 130 incidents and was responsible for rescuing 100 persons alive and recovering 81 dead.

College Cross
At an incident at College Cross in October*, the Service did good work and showed great devotion to duty. The night was very dark and it was raining heavily; in addition there was a delayed action bomb of unknown calibre only 70 feet away. Parties worked through the night until exhausted but returned after a short break and insisted on working until 11 a.m., two hours after the change of shift. After consideration it was deemed inadvisable to expose parties to the danger of the adjacent delayed action bomb and volunteers were called from whom 12 were selected. Unfortunately the trapped persons were dead when recovered.

*[One of those who died in the College Cross attack, on 9 October 1940, was 96-year-old Emma Henesey of 42 College Cross. Emily was Islington’s oldest casualty on the Home Front during the Second World War]

WW2 Bomb Damage Map Essex Road
Section from London County Council Bomb Damage Map, 1946, showing damage to the Essex Road and Upper Street area. The map is coloured coded – the darker the colour, the worse the damage. The  circles represent later V-Rocket attacks of 1944/45. [Image: courtesy London Metropolitan Archives]

Isledon Road and Market Road Gardens
At Isledon Road, rescue work was proceeding at an incident which had occurred on the previous night when a second high explosive bomb fell in the near vicinity killing one Rescue man and injuring four. In spite of the physical and mental shock to the men, work continued with very little interruption.

An incident which might have proved disastrous but for prompt and gallant action occurred on 15 October. Two high explosive bombs fell adjacent to trench shelters in Market Road Gardens blocking both the normal exits. The Leaders of the two parties called to the incident entered the shelter by means of the emergency escape hatches and found that an overpowering atmosphere – which was later found to be the result of carbon monoxide due to the explosion – had rendered most of the occupants practically helpless. All escape hatches were immediately opened and the work of raising the shelterers from the floor some feet below through the escape hatches by means of rope with “chair” knots was commenced. Several of the Rescue men were overcome and had themselves to be rescued before they continued after treatment. When the last visible shelterer had been removed, in all approximately 100, it was found that two were still missing. These were eventually recovered after two days buried under debris from the bomb explosion. To add to this excitement on the night of this incident, a parachute mine exploded in Caledonian Market 150 yards away.

War Debris Clearance Scheme
Two other mines fell on the same night at Queen Margaret’s Grove and Britannia Row. During the month, the Service attended at 131 incidents, the most in one night being 32. 206 persons were recovered alive and 83 dead. By this time the Borough was showing marked signs of its ordeal and it was in October that the War Debris Clearance Scheme under the direction of Sir Warren Fisher was instituted, and work commenced in Islington on several of the most badly damaged areas. The Rescue Service was called upon to attend fewer incidents in November but amongst these were Radford House (London County Council housing estate) and 26 Highbury Grove an R.A.F. billet, both of which were of a serious character.

Queen Margaret's Grove.tif
Queen Margaret’s Grove, Islington, following an enemy air raid on 15 October 1940. Damage was caused by a parachute mine. Alice Philcox (44 ) of 26 Queen Margaret’s Grove lost her life in the attack.

Under the influence
Another incident in November occurred in Huntingdon Street where four members of the Rescue personnel earned British Empire Medals for gallantry. A heavy high explosive bomb had demolished three 4-storey buildings and to reach the trapped persons a tunnel had to be formed through the debris, 20 feet long, which filled with a heavy concentration of escaping coal gas. The four men, working in pairs, took turns in the tunnel but all were at some stage of the work overcome and had themselves to be assisted out. The operation was successfully accomplished but three of the Rescue men had to be taken to Hospital for treatment. The effect of the gas they had inhaled badly affected their gait with the ironic result that a report was received suggesting that the men had been under the influence of drink. Remote breathing apparatus was devised later to cope with such cases as this.

Huntingdon Street
Huntingdon Street, Islington, following an attack on 16 November 1940. 21 people were killed in this incident and many more saved. Dr John McCarthy was awarded the O.B.E for gallantry for treating the injured at the site. Six others were also recognised with awards for their bravery in the incident.

“There’ll always be an England”
Whilst generally the rescue workers were directed to trapped persons by their cries of help, or in bad cases from information of their possible location given by Wardens and neighbours, it is worthy of note that on one occasion in Petherton Road a definite clue to the position of a trapped man was provided by his lusty rendering of “There’ll always be an England”. Such spirit typified the defiance of the public at that time as did the Union Jacks which were invariably planted on the highest point of the ruins. The Rescue men unofficially adopted the Union Jack as their standard and there were few lorries which did not prominently display a good specimen of the National flag.

December 1940 and January 1941 were quieter months, the Rescue Service being called upon to attend at only 14 incidents, whilst in February their services were not required at all for rescue work. It was during this period that the enemy changed to incendiary raids.

The Thatched House
In March, 12 incidents were attended, including the serious parachute mine incident in Kelvin Road where in the course of four days the Service rescued 15 persons alive and recovered 19 dead. The amount of debris created at parachute mine incidents necessitated revised technique and it was here that the principle of removing debris completely away from the scene was first introduced. A fleet of lorries was acquired and members of the Pioneer Corps worked in conjunction with the Rescue Service in removing the debris to a temporary dump in Petherton Road.

Other serious incidents during the month were direct hits on the “Thatched House” Public House in Essex and the Police Station in Hornsey Road. At the “Thatched House” where the bomb penetrated the building to explode in the bar, the Service rescued six persons alive and recovered 17 dead, whilst at Hornsey Road Police Station two were rescued alive and 10 recovered dead.

Essex Road - Thatched House.tif
Aftermath of the enemy air raid on the Thatched House pub on Essex Road on 8 March 1941. Three members of the Flood family were killed in the incident.

Serious incidents
Islington enjoyed a comparative lull in the early part of April, but on the night of 16th/17th was badly hit once more, including parachute mines in Pembroke Street and Carnegie Street. At Pembroke Street lorries were again utilised to clear away the debris and although the majority of the casualties were accounted for in two days it was not until 29th that the Rescue Service was able to finally leave the incident. Other serious incidents in the same night were at Stroud Green Road and Foxham Road whilst later in the month a large calibre bomb fell in Poets Road where the Service was responsible for rescuing 3 persons alive and recovering 15 dead.

The night of May 10th 1941 found the Service once again fully extended with what proved to be the last bad night of the “blitz” for Islington. The Rescue Service operated at 9 major incidents including that at Pentonville Prison where one of a string of bombs scored a direct hit on a wing of the prison.

[Read more about Islington and the last night of the Blitz]

Pentonville Prison, Caledonian Road, Islington, after an attack on the night of 10/11 October 1941. The attack on the prison killed 13 people. It was the final night of the Blitz and one of the most devastating. In total that night, over 1400 people were killed in the capital and 1800 seriously injured.

The final incidents of this phase of the attack occurred in July when Mildmay Park was hit by several high explosive bombs, resulting in 5 persons being rescued alive and 6 recovered dead.

Over the whole period, September 1940 to July 1941, the Rescue Service attended at 404 incidents and were responsible for rescuing 479 persons alive and recovering 411 dead. In addition to the rescue work no less than 575 individuals jobs of removal of danger and salvage of furniture were carried out during the same period.

By this time the Rescue Service had by its work at numerous incidents earned the respect and confidence of the general public. By its very nature, however, much of its work remained unobserved and received little publicity. Few realised that the Rescue man often worked alone for hours tunnelling his solitary way through shifting debris and suffocating dust, risking dangerous walls above, the collapse of which might bury him and the trapped casualties he was seeking, and able to hear little but the creak of sagging timber or trickle of slipping debris.

All who were privileged to witness this work at close quarters, however, were struck by the amazing skill, gentleness, and sympathetic considerations displayed to casualties during the rescue operations which seemed to be unexpected from men normally employed in the building industry.

Testimonials: gentle and humane 
The following extracts from letters received by the Service bear eloquent testimony to their work:

From a man rescued from the Arsenal Shelter, November 1940

“Two drainpipes being joined together over my head keeping the concrete from crushing me, and the way you men worked to get me out without disturbing those pipes (and saving my life) I shall never forget. May all your efforts be as successful as mine were”.

Camden Road, September 1940

“Not only for the hard work but their sympathy and encouragement”

Brecknock Road, December 1940

“Will you please convey my thanks to the demolition squad who came to the above address…and excavated my dog and buried him in my garden. It was the most gentle and humane piece of work my mother has witnessed…”

Post-raid work
Nor by any means did work end with the recovery of the last casualty, in fact, there was often much hazardous work to perform even at incidents where no trapped casualties had been involved. Buildings seldom collapsed completely and where dangerous walls remained these had to be demolished or shored without the the aid of scaffolding, etc. The work was of a very urgent nature by reason of the fact that the resumption of normal traffic often depended upon its completion to finish quickly to be in readiness to deal with new incidents.

On the lighter side of the Rescue man’s work mention might be made of one case where a lady in night attire who, although reached, at first refused to be removed by him, and of another lady for whom the Service was searching apparently considered that the celebration of her escape was more important than reporting herself to the authorities and who eventually returned to the incident in an advanced state of inebriation.

W. Eric Adams, October 1946

[Original transcript held at Islington Local History Centre. All images Islington Local History Centre, except where stated]


To find out more about people who died during the Blitz, and later raids on Islington and Finsbury, visit the Islington Online Book of Remembrance. You may also leave a personal tribute to all individuals associated with Islington who fell as a result of conflict (1899-1950).

Further reading


Compiled by Mark Aston
Islington Local History Centre | Islington Museum
Islington Heritage Service
September 2020

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