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Docklands and the Blitz

The Blitz: Why did it start?
The first night: Black Saturday
The bombing escalates
Hitler's final push: The 'Little Blitz'
Aftermath of destruction
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Aftermath of destruction

Basic necessities

Mobile laundry service in East Surrey Grove.
View full size imageMobile laundry service in East Surrey Grove. © NMM

As well as repairing damaged houses, the authorities had to provide various services for bombed-out families who found themselves without the basic necessities to live.

This photograph shows a mobile laundry service at East Surrey Grove in Southwark.

King George VI visiting the Surrey Docks.
View full size imageKing George VI at the Surrey Docks in 1940. © NMM

The press and government launched a propaganda campaign that portrayed the tough resistance of Londoners.

But as the bombing continued there were signs that in dockside areas the population was showing visible signs of psychological trauma. In order to raise morale, members of the government and Royal family visited the devastated areas.

Celebrity visitors

Spa Road.
View full size imageThornton Wilder inspecting bomb damage in Spa Road, 1941. © NMM
Celebrities also travelled to the East End to show their support. This image shows the American playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder visiting Spa Road in Bermondsey in early 1941. 

Second World War bomb damage on Cundy Road.
View full size imageBomb damage on Cundy Road near Custom House, September 1944. © NMM

Many who survived the horror of the bombing and the upset of evacuation were faced with the tragedy of homelessness. The German bombers had reduced whole streets to smouldering ruins.

Between September 1940 and May 1941, 1.4 million Londoners were bombed out of their homes. That meant that one in every six people in the capital had no place to live.

East End worst hit

Bombed out houses in East London.
View full size imageBombed out houses in East London. © NMM
Those who lived in poor areas such as the East End suffered particularly badly. Houses in these areas were already in a bad state of repair and were more easily destroyed by bombs.

By 11 November 1940, 40% of houses in Stepney had been damaged. In the borough of West Ham over 27% of the houses had been destroyed.

In the south of the borough, near the docks, the figure was 85% of houses destroyed. During the entire Blitz 3.5 million homes were damaged in London.


Repairing Second World War bomb damage on Beckton Road.
View full size imageRepairing war damage on Beckton Road, September 1940. © NMM
The government had not expected the level of homelessness that would be caused by the Blitz. At first, provisions were inadequate. The majority of people depended on relatives or friends for shelter when their homes were bombed.

The borough rest centres could not at first cope with the numbers, although the situation did gradually improve. There were few people available to do repairs, so workers were drafted in from the services and other regions.

By August 1941 over 1.1 million houses had been made weather proof and just about habitable again. This photograph shows a repair party at work in Beckton Road in September 1940.

Rebuilding the community

Pre-fabricated housing on Oareboro Road in Deptford.
View full size imagePre-fabricated housing at Oareboro Road in Deptford. © NMM
The destruction of some of the East End's worst slum areas offered an opportunity to build better houses once the war was over. The process, however, was a long one.

During the months immediately after May 1945 many people were living in temporary huts in areas where the old run-down houses had been destroyed.

Others were moved to prefabricated houses known as EFMBs (Emergency Factory Made Bungalows). People were still living in prefabs in Deptford in the 1970s.

The Keir Hardie Estate

Appleby Road, Keir Hardie Estate
View full size imageAppleby Road, Keir Hardie Estate, Canning Town. © NMM
Eventually, better housing was provided for the people of the East End such as the Keir Hardie Estate in Canning Town.

The Keir Hardie planners were inspired by the ideal of the 'Garden Suburb' in which low-density housing and wide, tree-lined roads helped to create pleasant living conditions for everyone.

Between 1945 and 1965 the council built around 8000 new homes in the Borough of Newham alone. This image shows new housing being built in 1947 at Appleby Road.

The great survivor

Discharging paper from Canada Docks into a lighter in the Royal Docks, 1941.
View full size imageDischarging paper from Canada into a lighter in the Royal Docks, 1941. © NMM

Despite the repeated raids, the docks continued to cope with the flow of imports and exports that kept London and its economy going.

After two months of intense attack, in November 1940, damage to the docks was reported to be 'serious, but not crippling'.

German expectations that the commercial and industrial life of London could be ruined by air raids proved to be over-optimistic.

A side view of landing craft TLC340 under construction.
View full size imageShipbuilding at Badcock's Marine Yard, Cubitt Town, c. 1941. © NMM
The docks continued to operate and the yards and factories along the river still manufactured the ships and products that were vital to the British war effort.

Blackwall Dock damaged by enemy action.
View full size imageBlackwall Dock in 1945. © NMM


The work of repairing wartime damage to the docks did, however, take years. Materials were in short supply and every part of the dock system had suffered.

Parts of St Katharine Docks were so badly damaged that no-one tried to rebuild them. The East India Export Dock was beyond repair and was filled in. On the whole, however, the dock system was reconstructed and by the mid-1950s it was 'business as usual'.

Useful links


The Blitz: Why did it start?
The first night: Black Saturday
The bombing escalates
Hitler's final push: The 'Little Blitz'
Aftermath of destruction
Send this story to a friend Send this story to a friend
Printer-friendly version Printer-friendly version
View this story in pictures View this story in pictures

Related Resources
Related Images 2 Images
Find out more
StoriesDefending the East End
Dealing with the Blitz
StoriesThe 20th-century port
The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
GalleriesGrowing up in the Blitz
Children in London during the second world war.
Port profileWinston Churchill
Wartime Prime Minister
Export dock

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