Several years ago, we featured some striking maps from a small exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archive. Each map was a detailed plan of a small part of London, the basemap being from 1916, with individual houses clearly shown. Many houses were just shown in white, but a number were coloured in various colours – showing which houses had been hit by bombs during the London Blitz in the Second World War, and the level of damage. Additionally, circles show the impact locations of V1 and V2 rockets. The maps were annotated with the damage/impact information by the London County Council, the city’s public authority at the time, shortly after the war finished, as a visual record of the extend and severity of the damage. The concept of colour coding individual houses based on an observed attribute is reminiscent of the famous Booth poverty maps, completed 70 years before, although of course recording a very different attribute. The yellow/orange/red/purple/black colour ramping used is clear and vivid.
Previously, you needed to visit the archive yourself and make an appointment to see the maps, but now, Laurence Ward, Principle Archivist of the London Metropolitan Archive, has taken these maps, professionally photo-reproduced them and included all 110 in this beautifully presented, large-format hardback book “The London County Council: Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945“, which is published by Thames & Hudson this week, to mark the 75th anniversary of the first German air raids in London in September 1940.
The first thing that strikes you on opening the book is its size. It’s a weighty tome, containing the maps scanned at high resolution and reproduced in full colour, most across two pages and so presented approximately in A3 – large enough to see the individual house classifications clearly. It also has a large and detailed introduction including thirty pages of photographs, tables of statistics and background text – indeed the maps start not until Section 8. The book finishes with another 50 pages of well-reproduced black-and-white photographs of the bomb damage and recovery efforts. The author and publisher have taken time to make this a high quality piece, with an attractive font used both for the title and the accompanying text. The inside cover jacket includes a key to the damage colours used in the maps, detachable as a bookmark.
It is striking to see the level of damage that occurred in the City of London in particular – a huge swathe of land is coloured purple: “damaged beyond repair”. The map, and photographs, of what is now the Barbican area, show the near complete destruction which resulted in this whole district being redesigned – not even the old road network survived. The image here at the top is an extract of one of the pages of the book, showing the map for the Stamford Hill/Clapton area. The circle shows a direct V1 flying bomb strike, and the damage to the surrounding houses is indicated in the colours in/near the circle. The area’s street network is similar today.
The book is immaculately presented and is an essential part of any London-phile’s coffee-table book collection. It available to order from all good booksellers, including from Amazon UK.
Thanks to Thames & Hudson for the review copy.