1939–45: Middlesex County Council Bomb Damage Map. 25 inches to one mile
London was heavily hit by German bombing during the Second World War, especially during the Blitz years of 1940–41. At one point in September 1940 London was bombed for 56 out of 57 consecutive nights. The aim was to damage morale by creating terror, and to hit sites of economic importance. Quick Road in Chiswick, for instance, was hit on 10 September 1940; Duke Road and Reckitt Road on the night of 8 October 1940. The results are still obvious sometimes in today’s architecture; 1960s infill, newer brickwork on an old house. An anomalous white turreted house on the corner of Chesterfield Road and Chatsworth Road in Grove Park, for instance, marks the spot where a bomb made a space amongst the other Edwardian houses.
Brentford and Chiswick saw around 150-199 bombs per acre, far fewer than London’s worst hit area, Stepney, with over 600 per acre. + Many children were evacuated from Chiswick to try and escape the dangers. For instance, double-decker buses arrived at William Hogarth school and took most of the pupils off to Tring in Hertfordshire; the grammar school pupils went off to Amersham.**
Many people prepared small-scale air-raid shelters in their gardens, some of which still survive. There were overground shelters for those who might get caught out while shopping, surrounded by sandbags: there was one near the War Memorial on Turnham Green, one in Barley Mow Passage, one on Thames Road near the Rec and most school playgrounds had at least one.
In June 1944 the Germans deployed their V-1 flying bombs, so they could attack London with 1,870-pound warheads without endangering their aircraft. More than 2,000 landed in the London region, killing 2,329 people. On 8 September, a V-2 rocket, the world’s first ballistic missile, hit Staveley Road in Chiswick, killing three people and injuring 24. A small memorial marks the spot. It took about 5 minutes for a V2, carrying 1,000kg of explosive, to travel from its launch site in Holland to London. Travelling at three times the speed of sound, there was no warning until it landed, “like a clap of thunder.” By the end of the month six rockets a day were arriving in London; by the end of the war the V2s had killed 2,511 people.
Once the rescue services had saved everyone who could be saved (over 22,000 people were pulled out from bombed buildings in London during the war), then surveyors and rescue workers would decide how to classify the damage. The Engineer and Surveyor’s Department of the Middlesex County Council was responsible for assessing each building and grading the damage. The results were hand painted in different colours onto a 1916 (updated to 1940) Ordnance Survey map, at a scale of 25 inches to one mile:
Red – Category 1: Total damage.
Orange – Category 2: Some repairs, possibly could become category 1.
Yellow – Category 3: Borderline areas, uncertain whether repairs possible, might have to be demolished.
These maps were kept secret during the war, as they contained information very useful for the enemy.+ After 1945 they were retained in the Architect’s Department and were used for post-war redevelopment. In the 1950s when they were handed over to the London County Council Archives at County Hall a great buzz went around the staff when they realised what had arrived. In 2013 the series was added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register, underlining their special cultural significance.
It is sobering to consider the impact the War had on the people of Chiswick.
Acknowledgement: ©Crown Copyright 1940. From the collections at London Metropolitan Archives, City of London.
* The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-45, ed. Ann Saunders, London Topographical Society & London Metropolitan Archives, 2005;
+ Bomb Damage Maps 1939–1945 by Laurence Ward, Thames & Hudson, 2015, p.13; www.bombsite.org for interactive map of Blitz 1940–1941.