Trinity House and the Blitz

See the damage done to the area around (and including!) Trinity House at Tower Hill > Bomb Sight is Live.

“The Bomb Sight project is mapping the London WW2 bomb census between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941. Previously available only by viewing in the Reading Room at The National Archives, Bomb Sight is making the maps available to citizen researchers, academics and students. They will be able to explore where the bombs fell and to discover memories and photographs from the period.”

Congratulations to everyone involved with this project!

Trinity House lost a great deal during the Blitz: many paintings, historical artefacts, invaluable archives, ancient books and more when an incendiary bomb came down upon the house on the night of 29 December 1940; thankfully no staff members lost their lives.

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage internal

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage internal

THE LOSS OF THE HOUSE

Before the war was declared, arrangements had been made to evacuate not only the staff, but also most of the valuable contents of the house on Tower Hill. The silver plate and the most valuable paintings were safely removed to the vaults beneath the Tower of London’s Jewel Tower, with the remainder of the paintings sent to Bayham Abbey in Kent.

Knowing that the 17th century Trinity House comprised timber-built rooms connected by wooden stairs and passages, the Elder Brethren had, from the very first days of the war, organised themselves and their staff into trained fire-fighting parties who were on duty both day and night.

By late 1940 the paintings stored beneath the Tower were showing signs of damp, and so another house was found for them in Northumberland. They were temporarily brought back to Trinity House on 28 December 1940 for repairs, and were due to travel north on the 30th.

On the night of 29 December, however, Trinity House fell victim to the most severe of the air attacks on London. When incendiary bombs landed on the wooden beams of the house, fire fighters were able put out the first fire caused by the bombs, but the shortage of water prevented their efforts to extinguish subsequent fires.

On the morning of 31 December 1940 the staff found the whole of the Wyatt building and the offices at the back with their walls more or less intact, but the interiors completely gutted; apart from the separate East Wing, the only surviving portion of the building was the basement wine cellar. Many archives, rarities, fine models, hangings and paintings were destroyed, save for the paintings that had been at Bayham Abbey, and some archives and books that had gone to the countryside.

But normal business had to be resumed, and a number of interim offices were leased over the following years, as the various Departments occupied spaces at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Tower House, Hopetown House in Lloyds Avenue, the General Steam Navigation offices in Trinity Church Square, London House in Crutched Friars and Ocean House in Great Tower Street.

THE RESTORATION OF THE HOUSE 

Professor (later Sir) Albert Richardson initially submitted plans for building a new house, but the Brethren were determined to not only reinstate Wyatt’s building as it had been, but also to demolish the old Pilotage Service office building and build in its place a new library, grand enough to host functions and banquets, laid with carpet of the same pattern used in cabins of ships of the line at the end of the 18th century, as well as offices and sleeping quarters elsewhere in the building. In addition, an entirely new seven-storey office block was built at the rear, with laboratories, a research department and recreation rooms.

Wyatt’s building restored at last, the house was reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 21 October 1953 — Trafalgar Day.

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage external

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage external

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