FirefightersIt was 75 years ago this year – on the night of 10th/11th May, 1941 – that the German Luftwaffe launched an unprecedented attacked on London, an event that has since become known as the ‘Longest Night’ (it’s also been referred to as ‘The Hardest Night’).

Air raid sirens echoed across the city as the first bombs fells at about 11pm and by the following morning, some 1,436 Londoners had been killed and more than that number injured while more than 11,000 houses had been destroyed along and landmark buildings including the Palace of Westminster (the Commons Chamber was entirely destroyed and the roof of Westminster Hall was set alight), Waterloo Station, the British Museum and the Old Bailey were, in some cases substantially, damaged.

The Royal Air Force Museum records that some 571 sorties were flown by German air crews over the course of the night and morning, dropping 711 tons of high explosive bombs and more than 86,000 incendiaries. The planes were helped in their mission – ordered in retaliation for RAF bombings of German cities – by the full moon reflecting off the river below.

The London Fire Brigade recorded more than 2,100 fires in the city and together these caused more than 700 acres of the urban environment, more than double that of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the costs of the destruction were also estimated at more than double that of the Great Fire – some £20 million).

Fighter Command sent some 326 aircraft into the fight that night, not all of them over London, and, according to the RAF Museum, the Luftwaffe officially lost 12 aircraft (although others put the figure at more than 30).

By the time the all-clear siren sounded just before 6am on 11th May, it was clear the raid – which turned out to be the last major raid of The Blitz – had been the most damaging ever undertaken upon the city.

Along with the landmarks mentioned above, other prominent buildings which suffered in the attack include Westminster Abbey, St Clement Danes (the official chapel of the Royal Air Force, it was rebuilt but still bears the scars of the attack), and the Queen’s Hall.

Pictured above is a statue of firefighters in action in London during the Blitz, taken from the National Firefighters Memorial near St Paul’s Cathedral – for more on that, see our earlier post here.

For more on The Longest Night, see Gavin Mortimer’s The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz: The Worst Night of the London Blitz.

London-TubeThe London Underground appears in many films (more of that in a moment) but there’s only a few where the story really hinges on it, one of which is the Gwyneth Paltrow rom-com, Sliding Doors.

In the movie, PR flack Helen (played by Paltrow) is fired from her job and heads to Embankment Station where her one life suddenly becomes two possibilities.

Without giving too much away (and yes, we know it dates to 1998, but still), in one version she makes her way through the “sliding doors” an catches the train and her life seems to fall into place; in the other she fails to and her life goes somewhat belly-up. It’s a tale of two futures; the life that might have been – and it all hinges on that Tube ride.

UndergroundFun fact: scenes for the film were actually shot at Waterloo Station on the Waterloo and City Line and at Fulham Broadway Station on the District Line.

As mentioned above, Sliding Doors – which also features numerous other London locations and co-stars John Hannah –  is far from the only film in which the Tube features – in fact, last year it was reported that the London Underground Film Office handles more than 200 requests a month.

While the first film featuring the Tube apparently dates as far back as 1928 (Anthony Asquith’s silent film Underground), other more recent films which have featured the London Underground include everything from Skyfall to The Bourne Ultimatum, and Thor: The Dark World (not forgetting the previously mentioned film V for Vendetta).

They haven’t always been the real thing – the chase scene featuring the Tube in 2012’s Skyfall, for example, was apparently filmed on a set at Pinewood Studios (another Bond film, Die Another Day, even features an imaginary station – Vauxhall Cross – which is used by MI6 as a secret base.)

And when movies are shot featuring the real Underground, the now closed – or ‘ghost’ – station of Aldwych (formerly on a spur branch of the Piccadilly Line) is a popular choice: as well as Atonement and V for Vendetta, it was used in the TV series’ such as Mr Selfridge and Sherlock.

For more on London film locations, see the London Film Location Guide.

Waterloo-Bridge

Given the recent commemorations surrounding the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo (including a re-enactment of the arrival of news of Wellington’s victory in London where it was delivered to the Prince Regent), we thought it only fitting to take a look at the use of the name in London.

The name Waterloo, which now refers to a district in Lambeth centred on Waterloo Station, was first used to designate the bridge which crosses the Thames here.

Opened in 1817 as a toll bridge, the John Rennie-designed structure was known as Strand Bridge during its construction but renamed Waterloo at its opening two years after the battle. (Rennie’s bridge was later demolished and rebuilt in the 20th century – the current bridge is pictured above).

The name was also used to designate Waterloo Road and in the early 1820s was given to the church St John’s Waterloo (now St John’s and St Andrew’s at Waterloo) located on the road.

In 1848, Waterloo Station opened and it was after this that the surrounding district, known in past ages for its swampiness (hence streets like Lower Marsh), generally became known as Waterloo.

Landmarks in the Waterloo district include the historic Old Vic Theatre, which opened in 1818, and the Young Vic Theatre as well as the Lower Marsh Market.

On 3rd July, Waterloo will host the Waterloo Carnival with a picnic on Waterloo Millennium Green and a procession (for more on that, see www.waterlooquarter.org/news/come-and-support-this-years-waterloo-carnival) while the month-long Waterloo Food Festival kicks on on 1st July. For more on events in Waterloo commemorating bicentenary, see www.wearewaterloo.co.uk/waterloo200/.

Waterloo-MemorialUnveiled earlier this month at Waterloo Station to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, the memorial features a supersized solid bronze replica of the obverse side of the Waterloo Campaign medal depicting Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.

The memorial, which was installed on a balcony above the main concourse by The London Mint Office on behalf of Waterloo200 – the organisation overseeing bicentenary commemorations, is dedicated to the 4,700 members of the allied armies who were killed in the battle on 18th June, 1815 (which also left 14,600 wounded and 4,700 missing).

The upsized medal, which has a diameter of 65 centimetres, is a replica of one which was the first to be commissioned for every soldier who fought in the battle, regardless of their rank.

Designed by London-based artist Jason Brooks, the memorial also features a famous quote from the Duke of Wellington on granite: “My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.”

It was unveiled on 10th June by the 9th Duke of Wellington (pictured with the memorial) in a ceremony attended by some of the descendants of those who fought and died in the battle.

Waterloo Station was itself, of course, named in commemoration of the battle (well, indirectly – it, like the surrounding district itself, took its name from nearby Waterloo Bridge which was in fact named after the battle).

St-Paul'sThe world recently paused to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of former British PM, Sir Winston Churchill (see our earlier post here), so we’re launching a new series looking at 10 sites associated with Churchill in London.

Given the recent anniversary, we’re starting at a site close to the end of his story, at St Paul’s Cathedral, where his state funeral was held on 30th January, 1965.

Code-named ‘Operation Hope Not’, the funeral had been thoroughly planned in the years leading up to the former PM’s death and took place just six days after he passed. Having lain in state in Westminster Hall for three days (during which time it’s estimated 320,000 filed past his flag draped body), his coffin, carried on a gun carriage pulled by 120 members of the Royal Navy, was escorted by more than 2,300 personnel from the military as it made its way through city streets lined with thousands of people to St Paul’s for the service.

During the service, the catafalque containing Churchill’s body stood on a raised platform beneath the central dome surrounded by six candlesticks. Among the official pallbearers – who marched before it down the aisle – were another former PM, Clement Attlee, along with military figures like Field Marshal Lord Slim and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma.

A plethora of world leaders representing 112 nations attended the funeral service including six sovereigns, six presidents and 16 prime ministers. Among them – in an unprecedented move for a state funeral – was Queen Elizabeth II (sovereigns do not normally attend non-family funerals) along with Prince Philip and Prince Charles.

It’s estimated that as some 350 million people around the globe tuned in to watch the funeral on TV.

After the service, Churchill’s body was taken to Tower Pier (near the Tower of London) where, to the sound of a 19-gun salute fired by the Royal Artillery, he was loaded on the MV Havengore. Sixteen RAF Lightning aircraft then did a flypast as he was transported upriver to Festival Pier with dockers dipping their cranes in salute as the boat passed (this journey was recreated last week using the original barge in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death).

On its arrival at Festival Pier, the body was then taken to Waterloo Station from where it went via train in a specially prepared carriage (the refurbished funeral train has been brought back together at the National Railway Museum at York) to be buried in St Martin’s churchyard in Bladon, Oxfordshire – a site not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace.

A bronze memorial plaque commemorating where Churchill’s catafalque stood in St Paul’s is set before the Quire steps while in 2004, the Winston Churchill Memorial Screen was unveiled in the crypt where it stands in line with the final resting places of both Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

For more on the state funeral, St Paul’s has a great page of detail which you can find here, including downloadable copies of the Order of Service and other documents. 

One of many memorials located in London’s railway stations, the  Great Western Railway War Memorial is located on platform one of Paddington Station.

The memorial features a bronze figure of a soldier sculpted by Charles Sargeant Jagger standing against a granite and marble backdrop designed by Thomas S Tait. The soldier, who is dressed in battle gear with a helmet on his head and a great coat thrown about his shoulders, is depicted apparently reading a letter from home.

GWR-Memorial-smallTo either side of the soldier are reliefs depicting the emblems of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy while inscribed on the plinth beneath him is an inscription dedicated the memorial to employees of the railway who died in World War I. Inside the plinth was placed a sealed casket containing a vellum roll on which is written the names of all 2,524 men who died.

The memorial, known as the ‘GWR Memorial’, was unveiled on Armistice Day by Viscount Churchill, chairman of the Great Western Railway, in 1922 before a crowd estimated at around 6,000 people. It was later updated after World War II.

Restored in 2001, the memorial recently featured in the World War I commemorative project – “Letter to an Unknown Soldier” – in which members of the public were invited to write a letter to the soldier. The statue is also among more than 20 in London which have been brought to life as part of Sing London’s Talking Statues initiative (it has the voice of Patrick Stewart!).

Among our favourite railway memorials, others include the magnificent “Victory Arch” at Waterloo Station.

PICTURE: Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia

With former PM Margaret Thatcher’s funeral held in London today, we take a look at five prominent funerals in the city’s past…

Queen Eleanor of Castile: King Edward I was lavish in his funeral for Queen Eleanor (perhaps in an effort to restore her reputation given suggestions she had been unpopular among the common people although it may well have simply been because of the king’s level of grief) and when she died at Harby, a village near Lincoln, on 28th November, 1290, he ordered her body to be transported from Lincoln Cathedral to Westminster Abbey where the funeral was held, with a series of elaborate memorial crosses to be built close to where-ever her body rested for the night. Twelve of these were built including at Westcheap in the City of London and Charing (hence Charing Cross, see our earlier post here), the latter thanks to her body “resting” overnight at the Dominican Friary at Blackfriars. Her funeral took place on 17th December, 1290, with her body placed in a grave near the high altar until her marble tomb was ready. The tomb (one of three built for the queen – the others were located at Lincoln – for her viscera – and Blackfriars – for her heart) still survives in the abbey.

St-Paul's-CathedralVice Admiral Lord Nelson: Heroic in life and perhaps seen as even more so after his death, Nelson’s demise at the Battle of Trafalgar was a national tragedy. His body, preserved in brandy, was taken off the HMS Victory and transported to Greenwich where he lay in state for three days in the Painted Hall. Thousands visited before the body was again moved, taken in a barge upriver to the Admiralty where it lay for a night before the state funeral on 9th January, 1806, more than two months after his death. An escort said to comprise 10,000 soldiers, more than 100 sea captains and 32 admirals accompanied the body through the streets of the city along with seamen from the Victory to St Paul’s Cathedral (pictured)  where he was interred in a marble sarcophagus originally made for Cardinal Wolsey located directly beneath the dome. The tomb can still be seen in the crypt of St Paul’s.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington: Given the last heraldic state funeral ever held in Britain, the Iron Duke’s funeral was held on 18th November, 1852, following his death on 14th September. His body, which had been brought to London from Walmer where it had laid in state by rail, lay in state a second time at Chelsea Hospital. On the morning of the funeral, the cortege set out from Horse Guards, travelling via Constitution Hill to St Paul’s. The body was conveyed in the same funeral car used to convey Nelson’s and accompanied by a guard of honour which included soldiers from every regiment in the army. Masses – reportedly more than a million-and-a-half people – lined the streets to watch funeral procession pass through the city before a service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral under the great dome and he was interred in a monumental sarcophagus alongside that Vice Admiral Lord Nelson. Like Nelson’s, it can still be seen there today.

Sir Winston Churchill: Widely regarded as one of the great wartime leaders of the 20th century, the former British Prime Minister died in his London home on 24th January, 1965, having suffered a stroke nine days earlier. His funeral (plans for which had apparently been code-named ‘Hope-Not’), was the largest state funeral in the world at the time of his death with representatives of 112 nations attending and watched on television by 25 million people in Britain alone. His body lay in state for three days (during which more than 320,000 people came to pay their respects) before on 30th January, it was taken from Westminster Hall and through the streets of London to a funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral. After the service, a 19 gun salute was fired and the RAF staged a flyby of 16 fighter planes as the body was taken to Tower Hill and then by barge to Waterloo Station. From there it was taken by a special funeral train (named Winston Churchill) to Bladon near Churchill’s home at Blenheim Palace.

Diana, Princess of Wales: Having died in a car crash in Paris on 31st August, 1997, her body was flown back to London and taken to St James’s Palace where it remained for five days before being transported to her former home of Kensington Palace. More than a million people crowded London’s streets on 6th September, 1997, to watch the funeral procession as it made its way from the palace to Westminster Abbey. Among those present at the funeral (which was not a state funeral) were members of the royal family as well as then Prime Minister Tony Blair, former PMs including Margaret Thatcher and foreign dignitaries and celebrities, the latter including Elton John who sang a rewritten version of Candle in the Wind. After the service, Diana’s body was taken to her family’s estate of Althorp in Northamptonshire where the “People’s Princess” was laid to rest.

Our new series will be launched next week due to this week’s events…