An urban view — 11 December 2015

One of my earliest memories of starting work in London during the early 1960s was the sight of devastation as we approached a supplier’s premises in Aldersgate Street.

My companion informed me that this vast area laid waste on 29th December 1940 by German bombs was once Cripplegate and one of the only building left standing was the fire station where is father had been stationed during the war.

At that time the old fire station awaited demolition, having been replaced by a shiny new building and perversely for an area which, at that time was virtually unpopulated – a mortuary.

Post-war London was drab, dirty and broken, centuries of pollution had turned white Portland Stone grey, and the capital was littered with bomb sites. The nascent NCP car park company started making use of these sites, their first foray had been Red Lion Square, bought for £200 in 1948, and fortuitously for them by September 1960 London was assailed by its first traffic wardens.

Slowly non-descript glass and steel edifices replaced what remained among the rubble of numerous bomb craters, the extent of the Blitz can be found on the Bomb Damage Maps drawn up by the London County Council. Now much of those prosaic post-war constructions are themselves being replaced by buildings more suited to the digital age. In an excellent Guardian article by Peter Watts he has discovered that many buildings have only had decades of use before being demolished.

Great Sutton Street, EC1VWith London now a forest of cranes redeveloping the redeveloped it is astonishing to find little pockets of war damage still visible 75 years after the Germans wrought such devastation. Driving around London I’ve seen these snapshots from a lost age: Hackney Road, Shoreditch; adjacent to the Hat and Feathers, Clerkenwell Road; or one deliberately left for posterity: Grade I listed St. Dunstans-in-the-East, near the Tower of London.

Now a new book Missing Buildings by siblings Thom and Beth Atkinson have identified many of these empty plots or rough and ready insertions into what was an elegant terrace. Curiously for many as in the Hat and Feathers there is no record of a bomb having actually landed on that spot, so could it be that the building was undermined by the explosion or do we always assume that every empty plot is the result of war damage?

Hackney Road, E2 #1

Hackney Road, Shoreditch

Hat-and-Feathers

Hat and Feathers, Clerkenwell Road

With its beautiful photographs Missing Buildings shows how post-war London looked – buildings propped up, imprints of lost rooms, fireplaces long gone cold and chimney breasts snaking up the surviving adjacent building. With property prices moving remorselessly up soon none of these wonderful images will be left for us to reminisce about – the London we once knew. Missing Buildings is available from Hwæt Books.

All photographs ©Thom and Beth Atkinson reproduced by kind permission.

 

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