Make Do And Mend
Top of the list of jobs to do is to build housing for all the people displaced by the Blitz. Thing is, the stuff you have in your warehouses isn’t always quite right for the job…
For example – you’re really short on railings to go round these new homes for heroes. All you’ve got in the stores are thousands of old stretchers hurriedly fashioned from tubular metal and wire mesh as standard issue for ARP wardens. They’d always been bloody uncomfortable if you had the misfortune to have to lie on one, but they did the job – and it seems a shame to throw them away. Waste not, want not…
I first read about Wartime Stretcher Railings in Peter Ashley’s fascinating More London Peculiars (English Heritage, 2007) but he was only talking about them as being around one block of flats – just outside Oval cricket ground. I actually made a pilgrimage to see them – and they are fab.
You honestly wouldn’t know they weren’t actually built as railings if it weren’t for the four little kinks – one in each corner – bent into the supporter bars to keep the stretcher off the ambulance floor, and the weld-marks every six feet or so where the handles have been bonded together.
Thing is – the picture above isn’t from the Oval.
I actually took this picture in Watergate Street in Deptford. I hadn’t noticed the railings – I was too busy looking at the ancient piece of wood embedded in the giant dock wall opposite and they had to be pointed out to me – but there’s no doubt about it – these are wartime stretcher railings.
Which begs the question – how many more are there? I was under the impression that the ones at Oval were unique – it would seem not. South and East London copped most of the bombs – so presumably they also had most stretchers. I’m beginning to think there must be more of these recycled pieces of Home Guardery – anyone know any?
Next time you happen to be walking down Watergate Street (if nothing else, to see the watergate itself, slid in between that poor old Borthwick warehouse that only has its facade left and doesn’t appear to have been touched for years, and the giant dock wall, down a nasty scaffolding passage) take a moment to look at those railings and allow yourself to be transported to the Blitz.
To the rubble and smoke, fires and blood – and the poor sods who were carried to hospital on a set of garden railings…