Archive for the ‘Blitz Greenwich’ Category

The Church Within a Church

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Another day, another St Alfege Anniversary. I guess there were so many other anniversaries going on in 2011 when it was the anniversary of an incendiary bomb lodging itself in the rafters of the church, setting fire to the roof, which collapsed into the nave, causing the mess in the picture above that it’s understandable they’ve chosen to acknowledge the restoration date instead.

Somewhere in that lot is the organ – which had just been restored – and which still had the original pipes that Thomas Tallis would have known when he was organist. It must have been a fair old shock for the poor Greenwich folk who were underneath the rubble in the photo, though thankfully also under another layer – sheltering in the crypt while the air raid was happening.

The church stayed a burned out shell until the war ended when the War Damage Commission was allocated £8,000 to restore it. If you think that’s low, £5,000 of that money was ring-fenced for the organ…

The work, led by Albert Edward Richardson, a Georgian architecture nut who was to go on to become president of the RA and founder of the Georgian Group. He was an ideal choice at a time when to be into 18th Century Architecture was rare – many historic buildings were merely being torn down and rebuilt in modern style. St Alfege escaped that fate and was restored, as far as possible, to Hawksmoor’s design and using, wherever Richardson could, the original materials, reinstated and blended with the new – again, not something common in the mid 20th Century.

The present congration are probably grateful for the little concession to modernity that Richardson did allow – underfloor heating. The only thing that just couldn’t be replicated in its original intricacy was the pulpit – but then it was by Grinling Gibbons who was a genius and you can’t replicate genius.

All the time that the church was being restored, one aisle under the North Gallery was partitioned off to become a ‘church within a church’. It was used for services, weddings, baptisms, funerals – everything – until the Bishop of Southwark rededicated the church of St Alfege on 18th April 1953. The church was originally dedicated on the 29th September and the current parishioners are using the period in between the two dates to create a collection of memories and memorabilia of the time.

They’re looking for people with memories, anecdotes, photos – anything to do with the Blitz and its aftermath. From anyone who might remember sheltering in the crypt while the bombs whistled overhead, to people who might have been christened, got married or worshipped in the church within a church, whose relatives or friends might have worked on the restoration or even gone to the rededication ceremony.

If you’ve got any info, Jenny Bracey, the church administrator, would love to hear from you. Email her at, telephone at 020 8853 0687 or write to St Alfege Church, Greenwich Church Street, London SE10 9BJ.

While we’re on the subject, I notice that Stephen of Blitzwalkers is running another of his hugely popular walks on Sunday 19th May. The usual rules apply – meet at All Saints Church at 11 a.m., and finish at St Alfege’s Church two and a half hours later. Pre-booking at or you can simply bowl up on the day. The cost is £9 per head.

Memories of War

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

I’ve been chatting with a chap called Raymond Gallagher who at first was telling me about his father who lived in Trinity Hospital when he retired (and was telling me that the reason why the old buildings are still uninhabited is due to Health and Saftey regulations clashing with listed building regulations, a ridiculous state of affairs – these buildings were lived in for centuries, were they really that dangerous?) but as our conversation wore on Raymond revealed that, as a child, he lived through WWII in Christchurch Way.

I don’t have any old pics of Christchurch Way, but he would have known these pictures, that Dave sent me, of Pelton Road – this block was lost in the war.

He told me that he’s included in a website that I didn’t know about – but which fans of Wartime Greenwich /Traf Road/Christchurch Way / general East Greenwich might find as interesting as I did.

It’s a project from the University of Greenwich called Memories of War which, if you put ‘Greenwich’ into the search engine, you’ll get an array of interviews and memories, one page of which includes those of Raymond.

It’s an ongoing project and they’re still welcoming memories. Over Christmas I was talking with my parents about the war, they were both very small but have vivid (and in Dad’s case eyewatering – his older brother was somewhat cavalier in his attitudes to live ammo he’d collected as schrapnel) memories.

I susggested they wrote them down – there is a shrinking number of people who have recollection of the war. Their tales of deckchairs in Anderson shelters, being refused refuge in someone else’s shelter when they were far from home and being forced to crouch behind a motorcycle sidecar as the Messerschmitt flew over so close that Dad could see the expression on the pilot’s face, gathering grisly remains of fallen German (and British) pilots, collecting all the bullets from a fallen machine gun, emptying out the powder into a catering custard tin and throwing matches at it – basically the responses of small children to a concept they didn’t understand – fascinated me.

Their reply was ‘oh, there are so many stories knocking around; everyone’s got one, they’re all similar, why would people be interested in ours?’

Because they aren’t ‘the same.’ Everyone has something to give and if their particular story isn’t told, it is lost to the world. I’m working on my parents – there are people who want to hear these tales and as the years pass it becomes more and more alien to those of us who have no experience of war. Personally, I think there’s room for memories of other times too – the 1950s and 60s are beginning to retreat in the collective mind these days too.

I always love to hear people’s stories and I know that it is of immense use to historians such as Stephen from Blitzwalkers. Don’t automatically assume that we will have heard this stuff already. Do contribute.

Mean Times in Greenwich

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Dan Colman, Dickenson, 1999

I’ve been chuckling all morning at this book. It’s over ten years old now, and long out of print, but you can still find it online for cheap, which is where I picked up a copy, some time ago now, put away, and forgot about. I’ve just rediscovered it and enjoyed it hugely.

At first sight it’s a bunch of comedy poems, accompanied by cartoons. I confess it’s not my favourite form of literature, hence my putting it away in the first place, but once I accustomed myself to the jaunty style, I began to get it. It’s a fabulous, irreverent social history that says as much between the lines about the way Greenwich was – well within living memory – and is no more, than any number of those memoirs that seem to abound on supermarket bookshelves at the moment.*

Dan Cooper was born in Deptford and lived for most of his life in Greenwich. His poems – short, self-deprecating, knowing  and very human are funny, and manage to describe his world in a few verses, mainly consisting of winkingly naif rhyming couplets – an example, from Down in Greenwich Timber Yard, where a teenaged Dan is sheltering from the Luftwaffe with a girl called Vera:

With air raids raging all around

We lay hard pressed upon the ground

With swollen lips and thumping head

In ecstacy, with my arm gone dead

Every poem is Greenwich of the 1930s-50s related and most tell of delightful incidents that though a long way from my own experience in years, make my heart jolt in recognition. The time, for instance, where a dreary school trip to Greenwich Town Hall…

Various officials gave us the griff

Me and my mates were all bored stiff

…turns into fairyland when the boys hide under a table in the banqueting room and discover the party food being stored there for the shindig that evening or the unfortunate incident told in Dog-Dirt Shirt when the same bunch of pals decide to roll down Observatory Hill without checking the terrrain first.

We’re not talking sophistication here (as you’ve probably surmised from the last example…) But we are talking a Greenwich I, for one, don’t remember.

Take Slipping Tips in the Slipper, which tells how, for a small consideration, the attendant at Greenwich Baths would make sure you got hot water for your slipper bath. Rather less joyously, Everybody Smoked recalls how if weren’t careful at the Granada Cinema, the bloke behind you might use your collar for an ash tray  and that  taking off your shoes in the same place  risked your stepping on a lit  fag-end. Wartime tales abound – like the real rocket that falls on Woolworths while he’s in said cinema watching Flash Gordon.

In Houseducks, even Colman admits he doesn’t know why his family used to keep ducks in the front room, though tellingly he does say that when the fowl-family finally moved out, an entire human family moved in, so I’m guessing the ducks were during the war and the family was afterwards when housing was short.

Some things remain the same – dangerous dogs, for example, in Torn Up Feet in Lassell Street, or infidelity in Up in John Penn Street, which tells of his mum’s ‘friendship’ with a burly docker called Harry.

And yet throughout there’s a slight sense of melancholy – remember, this is 1999. Colman has lived through the war, and seen his world change. There are sly references to that change all over the place:

Not surprising Wolfe looks severe

With Canary Wharf so bloody near.

But Colman has changed too. His biography states that he started out as a messenger in a London ad agency, working his way up to owning his own (all very Mad Men…) At time of writing it says:

He now owns a farm in Kent where lorry loads of his boyhood friends and neighbours from sout east London used to spend their summer holidays picking hops.

I can find nothing at all about Dan Colman now, but his book made me smile today. I’m now going to track down his other volume,  I Never Saw My Father Nude


* At a pub quiz recently I found myself sitting next to a commissioning editor from a very large publishing firm (embarrassingly I’ve forgotten which one)  who told me that they are buying historic memoires like crazy just now because it’s what sells in supermarkets – so if you have any tucked away in the  attic…

Charlton Bomb Map

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Chris has just asked where I got the Charlton Bomb Map from. To be brutally honest I can’t remember; it was in my image-folder unmarked (I’m very bad at putting sources for stuff on my notes) but I’ll put money on it having been something the very fine Stephen from Blitzwalkers who knows more about Greenwich’s war history than anyone else I can think of would have sent me.

I’m sure he can tell you some more, but in the meanwhile his last Greenwich Blitz Walk of this year will be 232rd October – more details can be found on his website.


Friday, March 19th, 2010

Sorry – still on historical stuff today – I’ll move onto other things soon, promise! Following on from yesterday’s Stockwell Street post,Steve sent me a couple of pictures of the immediately-surrounding area, in 1944, which shows the kind of bomb damage we were discussing. The originals can both be found at Greenwich Heritage Centre, a very, very interesting place.

The first picture could even be the V2 rocket we were talking about. It fell on 1st July 1944. It looks a bit close to Greenwich Station to be the one on the Stockwell Street drawing – but I find perspective in old pics hard to work out, and though you’d really need another photo taken from the other direction to be sure, it’s entirely possible it’s the same fellow.

Whatever, this is pretty serious stuff. An army of flat-capped workers are trying to clear the rubble, watched by what looks like the men from the ministry – or at least the council. I’m guessing the uniformed chap is the stationmaster.

The second is Burney Street, just across from Stockwell St. If you need to get your bearings, look in the top left hand corner – there’s (what’s left of) the Observatory. Presumably the row of buildings at the back is what’s left of the North side of Gloucester Circus. That bomb had fallen a few days earlier, on 27th June. You can always tell where bombs fell in the war as you walk around Greenwich, as the old houses suddenly stop and modern buildings suddenly begin. In Burney Street’s case, that’s a block of flats and a police station today – perhaps the police station was to replace the one in Park Row…

Steve is a Battlefield Guide – just about to join the Guild and everything (I didn’t even know there was a Guild of Battlefield Guides) and he’s just about to do a series of Blitz-related South East London Walks. The first takes in Blackheath and Greenwich on Good Friday, April 2nd. If you’re interested in touring the bombed-to-buggery sites of Greenwich, meet at All Saints Church, Blackheath, at 11.00am and be prepared to be walking for about two and three quarter hours. The cost is £6 per head.