London Books Review: Bomb Damage Maps

You need to be pretty intrepid to take on this tome, measuring nearly 15″ x 11″, its 290 pages of heavy glossy paper weighing in at 5½lbs. What it lacks in convince is more than made up with the minutiae of detail within its covers.

Apparently, the book is a scaled down reproduction that is now out of print, selling for hundreds of pounds on eBay.

[U]NFORTUNATELY, this edition of Bomb Damage Maps only covers the old LCC area and not the area we know today as Greater London. The wealth of detail here was the result of the dangerous and distressing surveys undertaken by ‘ruin recorders’ in the aftermath of German bombing raids.

Fraught with danger from returning aerial assaults, unexploded bombs and dangerous structures, many about to collapse. These men would assess the properties and grade them from ‘Blast Damage – Minor in Nature’ to ‘Damaged Beyond Repair’.

Andrew Butler, an architect recounts:

They asked me to start on a large block of flats – expensive ones in a nice neighbourhood – this is going to be quite a gymnastic effort too. For the block I have started on – eight floors high with two flats on each floor – has had its whole face ripped off . . . I found it possible to stand on part of the roof. So, clutching a broken chimney, I surveyed the damage there. My notebook became very messy. What with the dust and soot, wet filth and the perspiration of fluster on my hands, it was difficult to read what I wrote.

To give some sort of context about the job of ‘ruin recorders’, on the night of 29th December 1940 a bombing raid destroyed one-sixth of the City of London. The result of the herculean task of recording this is faithfully reproduced in this large book.

Naturally, I turned to the page recording my late father’s house. He lived with his four sisters in a small terrace at the bottom of the now so fashionable Highbury Hill. Today it overlooks the Emirates Stadium.

Father’s old house bottom left, Emirates Statium built on site top rightBomb Damage Maps faithfully records their house in orange denoting general bomb blast damage – not structural. In fact, only a handful of houses in the entire length of this long road seem to have escaped unscathed.

The map also records how the area looked before Arsenal built their stadia, so not only can the book be used for historical war research, it is an invaluable tool for anyone interested in post-war London. Just don’t try to leave it on a rickety bookshelf.

The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 by Laurence Ward. First published in hardcover 31st August 2015.

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