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This book of maps shows the damage of WWII bombs on London

Chris Waywell

London Metropolitan Archives / City of London Police

To mark 75 years since the first bombs fell on London in WWII, Thames & Hudson is publishing (as a book) the bomb damage maps which detailed what and where was destroyed. As the bombs dropped – and the houses, shops, offices and factories tottered, collapsed, burned or simply disappeared, along with thousands of their inhabitants – the authorities filed reports cataloguing the destruction. Later, these were painstakingly inked on to large-scale Ordinance Survey maps by the Architect’s Department of the London County Council, to record the damage to individual streets and buildings. They used seven colours, from green (clearance areas) to black (total destruction). 

The result is an amazing visual record of what happened to London in the war, like a bullet-pocked wall on a huge scale. While some areas, especially in the west and north of the city, escaped largely unscathed, in some parts the devastation was appalling, and appallingly localised. So my street in Deptford shows no destruction from bombing at all (postwar developers saw to that), but five minutes’ walk away, the loss of homes and warehouses is enormous. When you see the purple (‘damaged beyond repair’) encroaching around St Paul’s Cathedral, it seems more amazing than ever that it should have been spared. The docks look like the year-planner of some megalomaniac CEO.

This maybe isn’t a Christmas-present book (though I’d be delighted to find it under the tree), but if you have any interest in why London looks and feels like it does, it’s fascinating.

London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945’ is published by Thames & Hudson, £48.

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