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Local History

Elthorne Park Peace Garden

Friday 23rd July, 3-5pm

Islington Heritage Service invites you to attend a series of events in the Peace Garden of Elthorne Park to commemorate the unveiling of a WW2 memorial plaque and the re-installation of Upon Reflection, a statue by Kevin Atherton.

The V2 Rocket Memorial

A black and white image of boothby Road after the attack. People are walking through rubble. Many houses are completely destroyed.
Boothby Road in the aftermath of the attack, 1944. Photo credit: Islington Local History Centre

On Sunday November 5th, 1944, a V2 rocket was launched from Hague in the Netherlands. Its target was London. At 5:13pm it exploded at the junction of Boothby, Giesbach, and Grovedale Roads in Archway. Residents from St John’s Way also suffered in the attack.
This was the first long-range V2 to hit Islington. 35 people died in the attack, with another 219 suffering injuries. The oldest person to die in the explosion was 92 years old. The youngest was just five months old. Many houses were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

Philip Noel-Baker

Black and white photograph of the 'Upon Reflection' statue. It is a bronze image of Philip Noel-Baker with his hands in his pockets looking down into a pond. The statue is surrounded by people looking up at it.
Upon Reflection after its initial installation. Photo credit: Islington Local History Centre

Baron Philip Noel-Baker (1889-1982) was a Nobel Peace Prize winning politician. His father was the Liberal MP for East Finsbury when he was young, before Philip started his own career in politics. He was very active as a Member of Parliament, consistently advocating for worker’s rights, the removal of occupying forces from countries in peace-time, and the rights of refugees. During WW2, he was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and denounced the bombing of German cities. In 1979, he co-founded the World Disarmament Campaign with Fenner Brockway.

Events for adults

3pm: Unveiling of V2 memorial plaque
4pm: Unveiling of Upon Reflection
Walking tour celebrating the Peace Garden. Please book your ticket ahead of time.

Events for children

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Streets with a Story: The Book of Islington

Angel, Islington, 1920sFirst published in 1986, Streets with a Story: The Book of Islington, is an A-Z of Islington and Finsbury’s roads, streets, buildings and open spaces – both old and new. (Above: Angel and Islington High Street, 1920s).


Eric A Willats, 1987An invaluable resource for all those discovering and researching the fascinating history of Islington’s past, it was researched and complied by former Islington librarian, the late Eric A Willats (left, 1987).

Set out in alphabetical order under the name of a street, square, place, terrace, block of flats or tenement, followed by the date of first occupancy, if known, Streets with a Story was dated using rate books and other items in the local history collections now found at Islington Local History Centre.

Not only have present day streets been included, but also the courts, alleyways, terraces, and vanished backwaters of the past – some with intriguing names like Frog Lane, The Land of Nod and Cupid’s Alley.Streets with a Story

Architectural features, buildings of interest, and residents worthy of mention in that street also feature, so that an overview of the street is ‘at a glance’. (Right: Streets with a Story, original cover).


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The Clerkenwell King of Clowns: Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837)

Joseph Grimaldi, the Clerkenwell king of clowns and the father of modern clowning, is remembered in an annual memorial service on the first Sunday in February at Holy Trinity Church (and, more recently, All Saints Church) in Hackney. The service, which has been held since 1946, attracts hundreds of clown performers from across the world. They attend the service in full clown costume, all paying their respects to this ‘King of clowns’. We too pay our tribute to Grimaldi, one of Islington’s most famous residents.

1 & 2 Grimaldi panel motif
Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837)

Birth of the circus

In 1768, on land near London’s Waterloo, Philip Astley created a 42-ft diameter circle in the ground and filled it with astounding equestrian feats of entertainment. This spectacle was the world’s very first ‘circus’, a Latin word originating from the ancient Greek-word ‘kirkos’ meaning circular.

Astley went on to develop his shows to include jugglers, acrobats, trapeze artistes, strong men and clowns. A decade later Britain’s first modern and, perhaps, greatest clown was born.

Joseph ‘Joe’ Grimaldi

Actor, pantomimist and clown Joseph ‘Joe’ Grimaldi was born on 18 December 1778 in London, near to present-day Aldwych, into a family of dancers and clowns. His style of clowning had its origins in the Italian ‘commedia dell’arte’ of the 16th Century but, in the popular Harlequinades of the early-19th Century, he emerged as the founding father of modern-day clowns.

Grimaldi portrait lithograph (1800s)
Joseph Grimaldi by H Brown, early-1800s, lithograph. (Islington Local History Centre)

His Italian father, Giuseppe Grimaldi (d.1788), a ballet-master, dancer and pantaloon, first appeared in London at the King’s Theatre (now Her Majesty’s Theatre) in the Haymarket. Grimaldi’s mother, Rebecca Brooker, danced and played bit parts at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and at Sadler’s Wells theatre in Clerkenwell.

Debut at Sadler’s Wells

Joseph Grimaldi’s first appearance, as a child dancer at three-years-old, was in the pantomime Pandora’s Box at Sadler’s Wells with his father on 16 April 1781. Young Joe regularly performed at the Wells; in 1794 he played the dwarf in Valentine and Orson, as well as appearing in various French-revolutionary dramas then drawing large crowds to the theatre.

1 Grimaldi's first performance (1781)
George Cruikshank’s illustration  for Charles Dickens’s Memoirs of Grimaldi (1837). Young Joseph Grimaldi’s first performance aged three years as a ‘flying’ monkey in Pandora’s Box at Sadler’s Wells theatre in 1781. (Islington Local History Centre)

Guzzle the Drinking Clown

Grimaldi’s first performance as a clown took place at Sadler’s Wells in 1800. He played ‘Guzzle the Drinking Clown’ in an innovative pantomime called Peter Wilkins (or Harlequin in the Flying World) written by dramatist and theatre proprietor Charles Dibdin (the younger). Joseph or ‘Joey’ was dressed in an extravagant, multi-coloured costume and his make-up featured a white face, decorated by two red half-moons on each cheek rather than the traditional ruddy complexions of 18th-century clowns. Grimaldi became so popular in the harlequinade that the name ‘Joey’ has passed into the English language to mean clown.

Joseph 'Joey' Grimaldi as 'Clown' by 'Dyer'
Joseph ‘Joey’ Grimaldi as ‘Clown’, early-1800s. Published by Dyer, Finsbury. (Islington Local History Centre)

King of Clowns

Grimaldi rapidly began to be celebrated as the unchallenged king of clowns. In the years that followed he played assorted comic and tragi-comedic parts. These included more performances at Sadler’s Wells, including ‘Friday’ in Robinson Crusoe (1802) and, famously, the ‘Wild Man’ in Charles Dibdin’s aqua-drama The Wild Man (or Water Pageant, 1809), written especially for him.

Sadler's Wells Aquatic-theatre, 1809
Sadler’s Wells Aquatic-theatre, 1809, engraving. The same year, Grimaldi played the ‘Wild Man’ in Charles Dibdin’s aqua-drama The Wild Man. (Islington Local History Centre)

He was to transform the clown from a rustic fool into the star of metropolitan pantomime. To the delight of audiences, his clown possessed no respect for property, propriety or authority. He was high-spirited, mischievous and amoral, satirising contemporary British society and ridiculing the Regency period.

Sadler's Wells aquatic theatre, 1809. (Islington Local History Centre)
Sadler’s Wells aquatic theatre, 1809. (Islington Local History Centre)

Mother Goose

One of Joseph Grimaldi’s greatest successes was his performance in Harlequin and Mother Goose (or The Golden Egg) a Christmas pantomime written by Thomas Dibdin, brother of Charles Dibdin, and performed at the Theatre Royal (later Royal Opera House), Covent Garden, in 1806. The piece became the most successful pantomime ever staged at the theatre. In the years to follow, Grimaldi built on his success with further characterisations at both Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells. Critics often remarked on the almost demonic quality of Grimaldi’s mime and the expressiveness of his face and gestures.

Grimaldi as Mother Goose
Joseph Grimaldi as Clown in the pantomime Mother Goose, published 1846. (Islington Local History Centre)

Exmouth Market

Joseph Grimaldi left Sadler’s Wells in 1816 and went on a very profitable tour of the provinces; he returned to the Wells in 1818 having bought a share in the theatre. The same year Grimaldi moved to nearby 8 Exmouth Street (now 56 Exmouth Market), Clerkenwell, and he lived there for ten years.

Grimaldi's residence at 56 Exmouth Street 2018
The residence of Joseph Grimaldi from 1818 until 1828 at 56 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, 2018. (Islington Local History Centre)

The clown’s health had been declining for some time and by the mid-1820s he had become almost completely disabled. By 1828 Grimaldi had become penniless and benefit performances for him were held at Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden.

Plaque at Grimaldi's House 56 Exmouth Street April 2018
Plaque at Grimaldi’s House 56 Exmouth Street, April 2018. (Islington Local History Centre)

Joseph Grimaldi Park

Grimaldi’s only son, Joseph Samuel William Grimaldi (b.1802), who took over some of his father’s roles and had seemed to be full of promise, had become wild and uncontrollable and drank himself to an early death in December 1832. Grimaldi himself died on 31 May 1837 at 33 Southampton Street (later 22 Calshot Street), Islington, now demolished. He is buried in the nearby graveyard of St James’s Chapel, Pentonville Road.

Grimaldi's grave 2018
The headstone and grave chamber of Joseph Grimaldi, Joseph Grimaldi Park, Collier Street, Islington, 2018. His actual burial site is located several metres away and is unmarked. (Islington Local History Centre)

The burial ground located in Collier Street, in which the clown’s headstone can still be seen, is now called Joseph Grimaldi Park. In 2010 a coffin-shaped musical memorial dedicated to Grimaldi, made of bronze, musical floor tiles, was installed in the park; the tiles are tuned so that when danced upon it is possible to play his famous song Hot Codlins.

The Clowns’ Church, Hackney

Joseph Grimaldi continues to be remembered in an annual memorial service on the first Sunday in February at either Holy Trinity Church (the ‘Clown’s Church’) or All Saints Church in Hackney*. The service, which has been held since the 1940s, attracts hundreds of clown performers from across the world; the vestry of the church is also home to the Clowns Gallery-Museum, which includes the Clown Egg Register. Clowns attend the annual service in full clown costume, all paying their respects to Joseph Grimaldi, the Clerkenwell king of clowns and the father of modern clowning.

*Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, this year’s service (2021) may be subject to special conditions or possible postponement, so please check with the churches for details.

Mark Aston
Islington Local History Centre | Islington Museum 2021


Further reading and online sources

Dennis Arundell The Story of Sadler’s Wells, 1683–1964 (Newton Abbott: David and Charles, 1978)

Julia Atkinson The Golden Age of Pantomime: Joseph Grimaldi to Dan Leno: from ‘The Era’ and other contemporary newspapers (Julia Diane Atkinson, 2019)

Charles Dickens Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi (1837)

Richard Findlater Grimaldi King of Clowns (Magibbon & Kee, 1955)

Andrew McConnell Stott The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian (Canongate Books, 2010)


Arthur Lloyd.co.uk (The Music Hall and Theatre History Site)

Italians in Islington (Islington Life / London Borough of Islington) 

Sadler’s Wells Theatre Archive (Islington Local History Centre)

The Story of circus (Victoria and Albert Museum)


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Archive Blog Post Collections Local History

Pantos, Pageants and Puddings: Islington’s Christmas Past

Image 1 WW1 card
Embroidered card sent by Leonard Mansfield during World War I with the words ‘From Lenn, Wishing you a merry christmas + a prosperous new year’ [Islington Museum: 2003.2]


We’re all witnessing a different kind of Christmas in 2020. One without the usual carol services, Christmas fairs, pantomime outings and no spending ‘real time’ with family and friends. As a diversion, we thought we’d take a brief look at some of the Christmas ‘goings-on’ of Islington past.

Read on with a cup of spiced tea and a mince pie!

Have Yourself an Aggie Little Christmas!

Image 2 Royal Smithfield Show 1908
Cattle for Christmas at the Smithfield Club Show [The Sphere, 12 December 1908]


You can learn all about the Christmas fun fairs filled with pageants, fairground rides, music and wild animals at the Agricultural Hall or ‘Aggie’ in our presentation Meet Me at the Aggie. However, the Smithfield Club Show (first established in 1798) was the most enduring annual event at the Aggie. It took place between 1862 and 1938 and was usually held a week or two before Christmas. The first livestock fair held at the Aggie attracted almost 135,000 visitors. Members of the royal family frequently attended these showcases of Britain as a leading meat-producing nation. The Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) took a particular interest and regularly entered specimens from the royal farms.

There was no better place to see all the finest varieties of cattle, as well as pigs and sheep. In 1864, the Islington Gazette commented that “We would not want to exaggerate the effect of the Smithfield Show but we do regard it as a triumph of principles that has almost infinite outgoings” and observed that livestock shows were a fitting event for the lead-up to Christmas, traditionally a season of abundance. Press coverage also indicates a habit of complaints about the most recent show not being as good as those in previous years!

The Pleasure of Pantomime and Performance

Babes in the Wood at the Grand Theatre, Islington
Babes in the Wood at the Grand Theatre, Islington High Street, 1904


Christmas really isn’t Christmas without theatre, and especially the tradition of pantomime. We can usually expect delightful and hilarious Christmas shows at Sadler’s Wells, the King’s Head, the Rosemary Branch, the Little Angel and others (do check out what’s available to watch online). Islingtonians of the past would have sought festive entertainments filled with uproarious dames, dashing principal boys and lines of dancing girls at venues including Collins Music Hall, the Finsbury Park Empire and the Grand Theatre, Islington High Street.

A notable figure in the world of Islington pantomime was Geoffrey Thorne, who by day was chief registrar of births and deaths (as Charles Townley) and a contributor to the Islington Gazette and other publications. Thorne was best known for his comic song Who Killed Cock Warren? (satirising the resignation of police chief Sir Charles Warren in 1888 when he failed to catch Jack the Ripper). He was also closely associated with pantomimes at the Grand Theatre (located where the Royal Bank of Scotland building now stands, adjacent to Angel Station). The 1904 production of The Babes in the Wood, penned by Thorne, was praised by the London Daily News for its “transformation scene in which no fewer than three tons of glass featured prominently […] a fitting climax to the performance, and praise is due to the management for its efforts in upholding the reputation for good pantomimes so long enjoyed by the ‘Adelphi of the Suburbs’”. Sounds spectacular indeed!

Christmas Day in Cornwallis Road Workhouse

Image 4 Christmas pudding recipe
Recipe for Christmas pudding, Cornwallis Road Workhouse, 1904 [Islington Museum: 2002.12]


The workhouse system was established in 1834 under the New Poor Law in order to centralise poverty relief, which was previously administered on a case-by-case basis by local parishes, in order to deter all but the most destitute from applying. The harrowing conditions featured in many works of Victorian art and fiction, most notably Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1837-9). The campaigning journalist George Robert Sims’ impassioned ballad Christmas Day in the Workhouse was first published in 1877 and became hugely popular and was frequently parodied.

A version of the workhouse system continued into the twentieth century. Cornwallis Road Workhouse, Upper Holloway was established in 1864-5 by the West London Union and by 1882 was taken over by the Board of Guardians of St Mary’s, Islington. The quantities in this recipe for Christmas pudding for the inmates (over 900 of them) of 1904, handwritten by workhouse cook Clara Dyer, certainly are extraordinary. The Islington Gazette depicted the Cornwallis Road Workhouse Christmas as a jolly affair with copious amounts of food and a dining hall decorated with “a fairylike appearance with its embellishment of flowers, greenery, various coloured rosettes and Chinese lanterns”. However, it’s unlikely that the rosy treatment in the press reflected the reality.

A Twixmas* Read

Image 5 The Christmas Egg
The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958). A great Twixmas read!


If you are a fan of vintage crime fiction, it’s almost certain that you’ll enjoy The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958), recently reissued as part of the British Library Crime classics series: Shortly before Christmas, White Russian émigré Princess Olga Karukhina is found dead in suspicious circumstances in her seedy bedsit off Islington High Street and her priceless Fabergé egg has been stolen… will the mystery be solved by Christmas Day? Kelly was an amateur opera singer who knew Islington through her visits to Sadler’s Wells and she bestowed her love of music on her sleuth, the aptly named Inspector Nightingale.

The book contains evocative descriptions of Islington High Street in the aftermath of the Second World War:

“[Nightingale] had only seen it before in daylight; by night it appeared to be even more a survival from the past. Its narrow curving course and pavements sloping to a central runnel recalled the village long engulfed by the city. The high, flat-faced buildings crowded on either side, their ground floors of tiny shops bedizened at this time with dusty Christmas decorations, belonged unmistakably to London; but to the last century.”

Quite different to today but the sense of economic depression strikes a chord.

[* Twixmas is the word given to the ‘relaxed’ days (27-30 December) between Christmas and New Year’s Eve]

Walking Islington

Image 6 Canonbury House
Canonbury House, Canonbury Place, Islington (built 1795)


As well as curling up with a good book, such as The Christmas Egg, one activity that we can still indulge in is a good walk. Admittedly, there hasn’t been much else that we can do outside the home since March but Islington has so much handsome architecture and walking around in wintry sunshine is one of the best ways in which to enjoy it. I especially like Canonbury House (built 1795), which must be full of the ghosts of the most gloriously Dickensian Christmas memories. I wish I could have attended a Christmas party there in days gone by!

What do you enjoy most about Christmas in Islington? Do you have any special traditions and what are you doing differently this year?

All at Islington Museum and Local History Centre wish you a safe and peaceful festive season and a happy (and better) New Year!

Researched and written by Julia Rank
Islington Museum | Islington Local History Centre (December 2020)

Sources

Islington Museum and Islington Local History Centre Collections

British Newspaper Archive

Cornwallis Road Workhouse, Islington in Workhouses.org [acc. December 2020]

Workhouses in Islington in Workhouses.org [acc. December 2020]

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958, reissued by British Library Publishing in 2019, with an introduction by Martin Edwards)

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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).  A plaque commemorating the event can be seen at Giesbach Road Open Space, Giesbach Road, Islington N19 3EH. 


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)


Survivors
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.


Gillian-V2

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 here.

Ray Hardiman

Mr Hardiman recounted his memories of the attack on 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 Giesbach 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 Road. 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.”


V2 plaque image

Islington Memorial Plaque unveiling on 23 July 2021 to commemorate the loss of lives and those injured in the first V2 rocket attack on Islington,
5 November 1944. L-R: Revd Nigel Williams, Islington Mayor Troy Gallagher, John Williams (whose lost his first family in the blast),
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Cllr Janet Burgess.
(Photograph: Copyright Em Fitzgerald Photography)


Mark Aston
Islington Museum | Islington Local History Centre
October 2020, revised July 2021

Related sources and links

V2 Rockets:

Islington and the Second World War:

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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.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

Shelters

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

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

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

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 …

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 …

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.

Blitzed Islington

Categories
Blog Post Local History

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.

Statistics
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)


Fire
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 
Archives]


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.


ww2-image-038colour
HMP Pentonville Prison, Islington post-bombing 11 May 1941. C-Wing was destroyed and later rebuilt.


Casualties
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]

Sources

  1. ‘The Blitz – The Hardest Night’, History of the Battle of Britain Online Exhibition, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk
  2. The Blitz – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blitz#Final_attacks
  3. islington.org.uk
  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 https://www.historicengland.org.uk

Further reading

 

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

Categories
Blog Post Local History

The Blitz Period in Islington (1940-41)

THE “BLITZ” PERIOD – SEPTEMBER TO JULY 1941

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.

Gallantry
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 incident 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, off Carnegie Street/Caledonian Road, on the night of 21/22 September 1940, 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.

[**The awards for gallantry were made after the incident in Bryan Street on the night of 21/22 September 1940 all relating to members of the Heavy Rescue Service: George Turner and Frederick B. McQuillan (British Empire Medals) and C E Hollis (Commendation)]


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]


38
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.

Respect
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

Categories
Blog Post Local History

How Islington Greeted VJ Day 1945

The 75th anniversary of VJ Day (Victory over Japan), marking the end of the Second World War, is being commemorated nationally on Saturday 15 August 2020.

Millions of people across the world celebrated the Allied victory over Japan in August and September 1945, including Londoners and the residents of Islington and Finsbury. It was peace at last!

How Islington greeted VJ Day

The Islington Gazette (17 August 1945) captures the mood of Islington’s citizens in reporting how the borough greeted the event, along side other local news: 

“Islington Town Hall was gaily bedecked with flags of the Allied Nations for VJ Day and after dark the building was flood lit. One of the first effects of the Victory announcements was bigger queues, which began forming outside bakers’ shops before 7am. Crowds also besieged grocers, butchers and food shops generally to get what they could for the holiday.

VJ Day Food Problem: Housewives don’t like V-days

The two-day holiday celebrating the momentous occasion was all singing and dancing but, for a number of housewives, it also signalled a time of stress, as this article taken from the North London Press (Friday 17 August 1945) highlighted: 

“The midnight announcement of peace, on Tuesday, brought a new flock of troubles to the housewife that were fully realised on Wednesday morning. Wherever our reporter went, he met tired housewives who had been queuing for food from the early hours. “We mustn’t be caught out was the remark of one St Pancras woman, and her example was followed by several thousand others.

Bakers, grocers, fruiterers and fish shops were all besieged before opening time by irate housewives in their frantic search for food. One shopkeeper complained to the North London Press of the unnecessary repetition of the VE Day mistake. “I think it’s ridiculous that the Government did not realise the shoppers’ difficulties,” he said. “This is not a happy celebration for them.”

Dancing, music, fireworks and bonfires all played their part in festivities. While no official, local programme of celebrations was announced, the mood in both Islington and Finsbury was jubilant and residents took to the streets to celebrate.

It was, indeed, a joyous occasion for many, as the examples below taken from the North London Press (Friday 17 August 1945) and the Islington Gazette (Friday 24 August 1945) bear witness:

Caledonian Road: Youngsters were given a victory tea and what a spread it was – with cakes, lemonade, jellies, blancmanges and all those goodies dear to the hearts of children. Wynford Road, Halfmoon Crescent, Balmoral Grove and many of the other turnings off Caledonian Road, from Holloway to King’s Cross, also celebrated in grand style.

Chapel Market: There were many celebrations in the side streets, and in the famous market there were scenes of real revelry. People brought their glasses of beer out into the roadway and danced and sang with abandon. In Parkville Street, the return home of two soldier-friends were being celebrated by another large crowd of children and their parents. The lilting sounds of music mingled with the crackling sounds of the bonfire. The soldiers, next-door neighbours, are Privates Thomas Bartram and Thomas Bown – D-Day veterans. At the end of Chapel Market and, into Barnsbury, fires were everywhere, including Penton Street, Culpepper Street and Carnegie Street. In Culpepper Street, flood lighting and loud speakers providing dance music added to the attractions.

Finsbury Town Hall: Finsbury Borough Council minutes, September 1945 records, ‘VJ celebrations – Town Hall banner. “The Town Clerk reported that in accordance with the instructions given at a conference of party leaders with the Mayor, a banner had been prepared and placed across the Town Hall , at a cost of £14. The Borough Engineer, in consultation with the chairman and town clerk, endeavoured to arrange for the banner to be more prominently displayed.”

Liverpool Road: The road’s residents lived up to their reputation for “doing things well.” From nearly every side street, the scenes of merriment were repeated while the glow of the fires merged into one huge vivid red glow which, at times, transformed the night into scintillating brilliance. The night air echoed to a chorus of happy voices, while fireworks added to the din. Kiddies, who had never known a world without war, joined in the revels with awe and wonder.

Thorpedale Road: In Thorpedale Road, scene of one of the worst bombing incidents in the district, a great crowd, in full victory spirit, sang and danced round a bonfire which illuminated the site of the new prefabricated houses. 

Wilmington Square: ‘Thanksgiving for final victory: Open air service in Finsbury’. “In accordance with the King’s expressed wish that Sunday should be observed as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, an open-air thanksgiving service to mark the end of the World War was held in Wilmington Square, Finsbury, on Saturday.”

The Wilmington Square service was conducted by the Rural Dean, the Revd H Brewer, assisted by local clergy and ministers. The Hornsey British Legion led the singing. The Mayor and Mayoress of Finsbury (F.J and Mrs Barrett) and members of the Borough Council walked in procession from Finsbury Town Hall to Wilmington Square. The service witnessed lessons being read, thanksgiving prayers offered and addresses by dignitaries given, involving the themes of liberation and loss and peace and security.

“Victory in itself does not bring peace”

The Islington Gazette’s V J Day edition (17 August 1945) editorial, following the announcement of the Japanese surrender, as well as aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, issued a concerned statement about humanity’s future:

 

Islington on the Home Front during the Second World War

 

Mark Aston
Islington Local History Centre | Islington Museum
Islington Heritage Service
August 2020