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23 Queen Victoria Street, collapsing in flames, 11 May 1941.

​23 Queen Victoria Street, collapsing in flames, 11 May 1941

Archive Treasures: Charting the Blitz

The archive collections at London Metropolitan Archives include a great wealth of material chronicling life and conditions in London during the Second World War. There are Civil Defence records from both the London County Council and Middlesex County Council, which also dealt with the evacuation of children from the London area. Records of the London Ambulance Service and the London Fire Brigade include air raid fire reports. Photographs and artworks from the period together with official circulars, policy papers, posters and flyers help to illustrate life in wartime London.  Michael Melia takes a look at two collections.

The photograph shown here is part of a collection of 370 images taken between 1940 and 1944 by two City of London Police Constables, Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs, who were tasked with recording bomb damage in the Square Mile. In this particularly dramatic shot, the façade of 23 Queen Victoria Street collapses as firemen try to save it. The night of the 10-11 May 1941 saw the last but heaviest raid of the London Blitz, that had begun the previous September. Huge fires were started in the London docks, Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster were badly damaged, and Poplar Hospital had to be evacuated. Almost three thousand people were killed and injured across London.

City of London bomb damage map, c.1940

​LCC Bomb damage map, showing the western side of the Square Mile, c.1940/45

​The map is part of a set compiled by the London County Council War Damage Survey Section, showing the accumulated effects of bomb damage in London during the course of the Second World War. The section shown covers the western half of the Square Mile. The maps are based on the 1:2500 scale Ordnance Survey maps of 1916, updated by the LCC around 1940, showing London as it was on the eve of the Blitz.  110 sheets were made, covering 117 square miles, including the City of London and the 28 metropolitan boroughs then in existence. Similar maps were compiled for other British cities, but the LCC set developed the most comprehensive colour coding system for recording damage to buildings and property. Black indicates an area of Total Destruction, while purple means Damaged Beyond Repair (which, in the map here, includes most of the buildings around St Paul’s Cathedral, and huge swathes of the City east and north of there). Progressively lighter colours indicate lesser degrees of damage. The position of V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets which landed in 1944-45 is also represented by circular symbols (part of a circle is visible at the bottom right).

As well as the damage to London’s homes and buildings, the bombing during and after the Blitz of 1940-41, coupled with later V1 and V2 attacks, resulted in over 85,000 Londoners being killed and injured. The bomb damage maps offer a comprehensive visual record of the extent of wartime damage to the fabric of inner London and highlight the huge problems that post-war planning and rebuilding programmes had to cope with.

The LCC Second World War Bomb Damage maps were added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register in 2012.

A complete set of the maps has been published by Thames and Hudson in collaboration with LMA in 2015.

20 October 2015
Last Modified:
30 August 2018