Tag Archives: Aldersbrook Estate

Blitz bombs bring yet more tragedy

With the arrival of spring the people of Wanstead and the surrounding region must have thought that the terror of bombs raining down was at an end. Just one raid in February that damaged a few houses was in sharp contrast to the devastation wrought by the Luftwaffe since September.

Synoptic chart for March 19th 1941

But further horror lay in wait in March when four members of the Civil Defence Services, two of them young lads, would lose their lives while heroically carrying out their civic duties.

March continued the theme of the wet, miserable and dull winter. The early part of the month was unsettled with heavy rain at times. On the 6th, over 13mm fell. During the second week it became dry with sunny periods. There were some frosty nights and lingering fog. On the 12th, the maximum temperature was only 5°C. Temperatures slowly rose during the third week.

The morning of the 19th dawned cold and frosty. Patchy fog soon lifted under the warm spring sun – it was the second day running the region was bathed in over five hours of sunshine.

The fog soon returned after dusk but plummeting temperatures were no excuse for the wardens at Post 41 ‘F’ District to undertake their nightly duties from their Aldersbrook Tennis Club headquarters. This area of south Wanstead received a real battering from the early days of the Blitz, earning the nicknames “The Battle Field” or “Hell Fire Corner”.

The following impression of that night is written by one who was at the scene:

“The wail of the siren opposite the Post announced at 8.15pm the arrival of the raiders. The Post personnel saw a startling sight. The Flats were a sea of flame. Thousands of incendiaries were burning on the open space. The guns roared. It was obvious that the enemy was making a concerted and determined attack. Bomb flashes stabbed the blackout. Planes droned overhead. The batteries on the Flats joined those further away in putting up a terrific barrage.

At 8.50pm, three high explosive bombs fell in Lake House Road, damaging a number of houses and partly demolishing Nos 14 and 31. A few casualties resulted, one being a man who was trapped in the doorway of No. 14. Wardens heaved on the obstruction to release him. Gas escaping in the same house caused a fire. This was quickly dealt with and the flames smothered. A nearby barrage balloon had burst into flames, illuminating the scene with glaring brilliance and revealing the widespread damage.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 12.37.33At 9.20pm this first incident appeared closed, and services were awaiting the result of a final search and check-up before being dismissed. Then a parachute mine landed. It exploded a few yards from Aldersbrook corner on the Leytonstone side. A house in Lake House Road, already badly damaged, tottered to destruction. Number 11 caught fire and was destroyed. Loss of life would have been heavy but for the fact that most of the inhabitants had by now taken refuge in the Aldersbrook public shelter, and those who remained were in their dugouts.

The attack died down. Wardens returned to their posts – but the number for 41 was sadly lacking. The two boys’ bicycles stood in their usual place. ‘Busy somewhere’ said the chief. But the absent ones did not return, and a search was made. They were found – in the mortuary, three of them. It was known that two others had been taken to hospital. Warden Barnett was one of these. He died next morning of his injuries.

Just before the mine exploded, the messengers had been giving assistance in one of the less badly-damaged houses. Broome, although officially not on duty, had rushed out to lend a hand. Warden Hutton was endeavouring to turn off the gas at No 14 when the mine fell.

So the four from Post 41 died doing their duty on the Home Front. The two boys, pals in the service, sleep in one grave in Old Wanstead churchyard. The two men lie close by, in Ilford Cemetery.

A few days later their comrades stood silently at attention as the funeral cortege halted outside the Post. A Union Jack covered each of the four coffins.

The four members of the Civil Defence Services who gave their lives were: Thomas Hutton, 44, a warden, of Blake Hall Crescent, Wanstead; William Barnett, 36, a warden, of Belgrave Road, Wanstead; Roy Broome, 17, a messenger, of Lake House Road, Wanstead; and Herbert Stower, 18, a messenger, of Clavering Road, Wanstead.

Winston Churchill’s letter to his constituents

As spring wore on the weather remained mostly miserable though raid incidents lessened and petered out in May. Wanstead and Woodford had its last bombs of the period on May 10th.

In total 129 people lost their lives and 194 were injured during the campaign. This figure would nearly double when the next phase of the bombing, using V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets, would begin three years later in June 1944.

It is hard to imagine how people coped with the constant barrage of bombs during the Blitz. What seems to get lost in articles and historical texts I’ve read is just how grim the weather was at the time – remember this was a time before central heating. Not only were bedrooms freezing cold people must have laid there wondering if they were going to see morning.

It seems to be a human condition that when we are faced with adversity we just find a way of ‘getting on with it’ as best we can.



81 years ago: Wanstead Flats Bonfire Night

Wanstead Flats has put on some spectacular Guy Fawkes’ nights over the years. I didn’t realise quite how many years until I stumbled upon this old British Pathe clip which shows nurses at Wanstead Children’s Home building a huge bonfire for the children in 1934.

The footage shows the nurses struggling to get the Guy atop the bonfire, using numerous ladders, while the children, including 12 sat in an old perambulator, look on. I don’t have the stats for what the day was weatherwise but that November was dryer than average.

'To Go Up in Smoke' is available to buy from British Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/to-go-up-in-smoke/query/Guy
‘To Go Up in Smoke’ is available to buy from British Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/to-go-up-in-smoke/query/Guy

The Aldersbrooke Childrens Home for Waifs & Strays is still there in Brading Crescent on the Aldersbrook Estate, although the five lodges have been converted to flats.

The former Aldersbrook Children's Home is still there in Brading Crescent but has been converted to flats
The former Aldersbrook Children’s Home is still there in Brading Crescent but has been converted to flats

A bit of history…

In 1907, the West Ham Guardians purchased the Aldersbrook site. In 1911, five receiving homes were completed. The homes were called lodges and were: Elizabeth Fry Joseph Lister, Tom Hood, Edward North Buxton and William Morris

In 1913, a workshop, for training of the older boys and girls was opened. Skills learnt were in tailoring, carpentry, laundry work and needlework, under skilled industrial trainers.

In 1930, on the 1st April, the ownership of Aldersbrook homes and the leases of the Scattered Homes, were under the 1929 Local Government Act, and by agreement with the Essex County Council and the West Ham Corporation, vested in the East Ham Corporation who are required to continue to receive destitute children from the Essex County Council and West Ham, formally comprised in the West Ham Union area.

On 27th May 1933, the Aldersbrook Children’s Homes new nursery was opened. The County Borough of East Ham owned it. Alderman T.W.Burden, Chairman of the Public Assistance Committee, opened it. The Mayor of East Ham, Alderman G.H.Manser J.P, proposed a vote of thanks, which was seconded by Alderman C.W.Brading J.P, and supported by Alderman Mrs Taylor (East Ham) and Councillor G.Doherty, of West Ham. After the official opening, the older children (14 to 16 years old) of the homes put on the play “David Garrick”.

The superintendent of the home was W.T.P. Steele, and the matron was E.M.Steele. S.R.N. The building was described as being divided into three sections – ground floor, babies under twelve months and toddlers one to three years, first floor staff. Accommodation is given for ninety infants under three years. Wards are provided for these age groups were newly admitted children will be housed for three weeks before being sent to the general rooms. Two ranges of isolation rooms are also provided where “suspects” can be nursed to reduce the risk of infection. The south end of the building is allotted to the youngest or cot babies and comprising of long dormitory with sun rooms at the end, designed to catch the winter sun.

The programme went on to describe the building as being the most modern of children’s institutions. The building has a veranda at the front. The first floor has 21 separate staff bedrooms. The building had an oil fired heating system and flooring with fire resistant Terazzo material whilst the children’s play room and dormitories are protected by rubber flooring. The lighting and power points are controlled by locking device to prevent the children switching them on and off. The building was built by Messrs Hammond & Barr Ltd Chelsea.

The Nursery is now gone and the Aldersbrook estate covers the area, although the recreation Hall, the lodges (See photo) and the porters lodge are still there.

Bang goes chance of a frosty Guy Fawkes

Is Guy Fawkes’ Night going to turn into a damp squib this year? The forecasts don’t look good – our best hope is for a brief ridge to briefly quieten things down before the next frontal system trundles in from the Atlantic.

What was a very wet week last year led to the cancellation of the public display on Wanstead Flats – with 10.2mm of rain on the Saturday flooding the already sodden land. The forecast for this year doesn’t look much better with 16mm of rain due between Friday and dusk on Sunday.

The cloud cover / rainfall chart for 6pm Tuesday shows that the front may have cleared through by the time the bonfires are lit. At this range, though, it is a big if
The cloud cover / rainfall chart for 6pm Tuesday shows that the front may have cleared through by the time the bonfires are lit. At this range, though, it is a big if

But what about the actual 5th of November? Monday looks very wet for this region with yet another frontal system sweeping across the south. Up to an inch of rain could fall before dusk on Tuesday driven along by a stiff westerly wind. The only positive, if you can call it that, is it will be very mild. Temperatures will only fall to around 14C which is very warm for a night in early November.

It wasn’t always like this – ask most people of a certain age what the weather was like on Bonfire Night in their youth and most will answer ‘calm, cold and frosty’ – the bonfire providing a source of warmth as well as somewhere to roast the chestnuts and toast the marshmallows. But were frosty nights on Guy Fawkes in the 1980s that common? I decided to have a look back through the archives and find out.

The FAX for November 5 shows an occluded front right over our region at 12noon. This may have cleared through by 6pm
The FAX for November 5 shows an occluded front right over our region at 12noon. This may have cleared through by 6pm

Only 4 nights in the Eighties could really be described as approaching frosty – they were 1980, 1981, 1989 and 1988 which was the coldest Guy Fawkes’ of the past 30 odd years with the temperature falling to 0.4C. All the other years had minimums of between 5-10C. One thing that is noticeable is how dry November 5 was in the 1980s – just 2 years had any measurable amounts of rain; 1986 (0.5mm) and 1984 (3mm). Nineties Bonfire Nights were even warmer – nearly 1.5C warmer on average – the coldest years being 1991 and 1998 with 2C.

Noughties Bonfire Nights were a continuation on the Nineties – mild though over half were dry affairs. The overall average over the last 30 years is quite surprising – 12C during the day and only falling to just over 6C at night. Taking the average of the last five years the minimum rises to nearly 8.5C! The odds of it raining heavily on Bonfire Night, meanwhile, average out about 1 in 5. Raining lightly the odds increase to a 40% chance.

And as for that wished-for frosty night? Forget it. It seems memories of perfectly frosty Bonfire Nights are about as elusive as the Dickens-style winter snow images that are still so common on Christmas cards.