Phoenix Place – the last undeveloped WW2 bomb site?

by Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)

Opposite the BPMA’s entrance in Phoenix Place is a rundown area of open space currently used as a car park for employees of the Mount Pleasant sorting office. This is how it looks on Google Street View.

There is some speculation, including on Flickr, about the car park’s significance as one of the last undeveloped World War II bomb sites in central London. Since we have lots of plans, maps and photographs in our collections relating to Post Office and Royal Mail property in London, I wanted to see if I could find any evidence that the rumour is actually true.

Immediately I discovered it isn’t. You can see from the photograph below that pre-war buildings were still standing in Phoenix Place in the 1960s.

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

Photograph of Phoenix Place, looking south towards what is now the BPMA on the left, c.1960

The area shown is almost opposite what is now the BPMA (our Archive Search Room and Main Office are located where the tower is in the photograph). The remains of a building are also visible, and this may have been the ‘bombed site’ at No. 4 Mount Pleasant referred to in a meeting held in 1956 to discuss the possible extension of the sorting office into Phoenix Place. Google Street View shows how that area looks now.

The size, location and function of Mount Pleasant sorting office made it a likely target for German bombers, and it was struck numerous times. On 16 September 1940 Mount Pleasant was hit for the first time by incendiary bombs. The Parcel Office received further direct raids from incendiaries and high explosives in October and November 1940, and again in January and April 1941.

Surrounding areas, including Eyre Street Hill, Farringdon Road, the Daily Sketch garage at the corner of Mount Pleasant and Gough Street, and Bideford Mansions in Mount Pleasant, were bombed, causing damage to the sorting office.

Several houses in what is now the car park suffered serious damage, including those owned by the Post Office at 34-40 Gough Street. Numbers 12-26 Mount Pleasant were also bombed and subsequently cleared.

Before the war, there were two additional pubs to the current generous supply of watering holes in the Mount Pleasant area. The Two Blue Posts at 79 Mount Pleasant, and the buildings running to Laystall Street on its left, suffered extensive bomb-damage. They were replaced by the block of flats we see now.

The Two Brewers at 32 Gough Street also suffered considerable damage during the war, but was still standing in 1947 as it received a special licence for the Royal Wedding. You can see from the photograph below that the bomb-damaged neighbouring building had been cleared.

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

Gough Street, looking south towards Mount Pleasant, c.1960

References on Flickr suggesting the car park area was home to the Parcel Office during the war are incorrect. The Parcel Office was actually located on the current Mount Pleasant site, and was moved to the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington after a direct hit on 18 June 1943. This created a ‘raging inferno’ that left the building a ‘shapeless mass of twisted girders and smouldering ruins’ (see photograph below) and resulted in two fatalities.

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

Photograph of the bomb damaged Parcel Office at Mount Pleasant, 1943 (POST 118 -1448)

After the war, discussions were held about the possible rebuilding and extension of the Parcel Office on the site now occupied by the car park. The area still contained a number of properties, despite being damaged during the war. The map below, from 1952, shows the layout of buildings in the area bordered by Mount Pleasant, Phoenix Place, Gough Street and Calthorpe Street (the red area was Post Office property).

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

Map showing ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 (POST 122-222)

In 1956, the Planning Authorities recommended that the Post Office acquire the land now occupied by the car park. The London Postal Region was intending to use this site to provide a new Parcel Section, and the map below shows the dates for the proposed acquisition of the remaining properties. The yellow area was already Post Office freehold whilst the red area, incorporating a food suppliers, and Kemsleys Newspapers, which owned the Sunday Times, The Daily Sketch and The Sunday Graphic, was to be acquired in 1958.

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

Map showing proposed Post Office acquisition of Phoenix Place properties c.1958 (POST 122-222)

However, the Parcel Section was never rebuilt on this land and it seems that it has remained empty since, with the crumbling remnants of buildings giving the impression that the whole area has remained a bomb-site.

Sources:

POST 122/222 – ‘Buildings: rebuilding/extension of Mt Pleasant Parcel Office’,
(1950-56)

POST
56/175
– ‘ARP arrangements and incidents at Mt Pleasant during the Second World War, 1939-1945’

POST
102/50
– ‘Mount Pleasant Parcels Office, air raid damage’ (1943-1946)

http://pubsinuk.com/LondonPubs/Holborn/TwoBluePosts.shtml (24/05/11)

16 responses to “Phoenix Place – the last undeveloped WW2 bomb site?

  1. surely the map of 1952 showing ownership of properties has been put onto a map of c 1910 ? Neither the rebuild letter office block nor the post office block are shown as having been rebuilt.

  2. Hi Gerry,

    Yes, thanks for pointing that out. It’s very likely the map illustrating ownership of property in Phoenix Place c.1952 shows annotations to a map of earlier date. There is no date on the actual map, but given the layout of the Post Office site, which does not show the rebuilt Letter Office of 1934, and also shows the Two Blue Posts pub at 79 Mount Pleasant, which was destroyed in the war, it is probable the map pre-dates WWII and probably pre-dates 1934.

  3. Hazel Duxon nee Fenn - mother was a Tillcock

    My Grand parents had the two pubs mentioned on this site – Two Brewers and Two Blue Posts. My Great Grandfather was born there as was my Grandfather and my mother and her brothers. I have an old photo of my Grandad standing in the bombed ruins of 79 Mount Pleasant and our family lived at the Two Brewers and have lots of memories of that area. I did not realise that the Two Brewers was the subject of a CPO at the time (I was 12 yrs. old at the time ), we moved away in 1957. I was sad to see the home that I lived in now demolished and for what – the car park as I see it is not used to its full extent and an is a blot on the landscape as it is. Looking at it now I don’t think it was necessary to pull it down. I remember also the printing machines at Kemsley House ……………….

    • Carol Gaster

      A msg for Hazel:
      If you get this msg maybe you could send me yr address in Ely or your email
      I’d love to hear from you
      regards
      Carol Gaster nee Carol Bell

  4. Anna (BPMA Archivist)

    Thanks for your comment Hazel! You and your family must have some really interesting memories of the area. I can imagine it was fairly densely populated with buildings before the war, and a hive of activity. It’s a shame it’s not that way now. Do you have many memories of Mount Pleasant pre-1957? It would be interesting to hear them!

  5. Hazel Duxon nee Fenn - mother was a Tillcock

    This is the second reply – just lost my replying trying to add a link.
    My grandparents and parents are not around anymore but my mother and her brother were born at The Two Brewers as was her father and grandfather and their siblings. So this pub in particular had a lot of Tillcock family history around it. I remember the inside of the pub very well and have only one photo of my Dad and my Mum’s brother serving and the public bar one Christmas. I can remember loads about the pub but sadly have no more photos of the inside.

    I remember the Lamp Lighters and the Hokey Pokey man – Italian Ice cream seller who ice cream cart usually stood at the bottom of Mount Pleasant. Also the milk being delivered by horse and cart. This area was called Little Italy – many were customers as were Post Office Workers and Journalists.

    This area was badly hit by bombs and can remember my mother saying that on one occasion she fell on her stomach with me underneath. The Two Brewers (32 Gough Street) was badly damaged and we moved into my Grandmother;s flat in Dulverton Mansions, Gray’s Inn Road whilst the repairs were carried out.

    When the bomb hit the Two Blue Posts (79 M.Pleasant) my father was thrown down the stairs. This remained a bomb site for all my childhood.The pub was at the corner of M.P. and Laystall Street.

    This has now been rebuilt and names the the Churchill. but there
    has been an Inn on this site for a very long time so why they chose to rename it instead of keeping the historical name I don’t know.

    Next to No. 79 there was a tall building which had been completely gutted but a skeleton of a building remained. I some boys used to try and climb but it was very dangerous – no accidents to my knowledge.

    Opposite No,. 32 lots of houses were flattened along Coley Street. and I know my mother lost lots of friends. This street now disappears under the new Times building.

    Behind us was a catering firm called Slaters I think then it became Fortes Memory not completely clear on this. I do know when our cat died we had to get another to catch the mice.

    I would walk up M.Pleasant to get shopping for my Mum from Exmouth Market and also to get Stamps at the Post Office.

    I have lots of memories – walking to Gamages with my brother to look at the trains – getting the trolley bus to K.Cross for Saturday morning pictures – trolley bus to parliament hill fields to go conkering and lots more.

    If you are interested in the Tillcocks and the pubs there are a lot of photos and information online at LondonPubs/St.Pancras/Tillcock. I

    Sorry if this has gone on too long Best wishes Hazel

  6. Hazel Duxon nee Fenn - mother was a Tillcock

    I think the first reply – incl the sweet shop in Laystall Street where we used to take our sweet coupons and choose the sweets. I also have photos of the the “beanos” the customers went on where they all posed for a photo outside the pub. The Italians stand out as they have very black hair etc. Also have a collection of small photos taken on these outings.

    In my first reply I said thanks for giving me the opportunity to include my memories. We live in Ely now but visit London many times during the year. We went to a talk held at Holborn Library on Little Italy. I just love the history of the area.

    Thank you again Hazel

  7. This is fascinating Hazel – thanks for taking the time to reply! When I get a moment I will have a proper read and a look at the photos on the webpage you reference. It’s really interesting to hear about the life of the area before it became post-war high-rises and office blocks. It certainly sounds like a bustling and lively area!

    Thanks again!

  8. i know globe limos in laystall st, and sometimes when walking round the mount, one can hear th banter of ww2 pubs.

  9. The more I think about the situation surrounding The Two Brewers – it saddens me to think that here we are in 2013 and still nothing has been done with this site. We were virftually made to leave because of the CPO and then the pub was demolished the pub – for what. Buildings were still standing behind the pub and at least to one side down towards where they garaged the post office vehicles and Kemsley House opposite was not so to say it was a bomb site is a little misleading. However, Grandad’s other pub The Two Blue Posts did take a direct hit and also Coley Street opposite – my mother lost lots of friends.

    If you do not mind me saying – it is about time something positive was done with the land instead of a rather rough car park and an expensive car park at that.

  10. Thank you for your reply – to use land is better than leaving it to waste but obviously those living there now will have their own opinions one way or other. I should think a school might be a good idea.
    I would like to ask if is possible to purchase a copy of The Two Brewers in the little photo taken looking down Gough Street towards Mount Pleasant. It has the sign hanging outside.
    I could almost draw you a diagram of the inside of the pub – I have just one photo of my father and my uncle serving behind the bar.

  11. Russell Whiting

    Hi, My Grandfather, Ernest Whiting, was one of the 2 killed in the bombing of Mount Pleasant on 18th June, 1943. I have little information regarding him as my father was evacuated at the age of 7 in 1940, so he has no memory of his father. His mother, Violet Whiting, became a recluse when his father had died, she also worked at Mount Pleasant. Interested to know if anybody has information on the area and if they may have known my grandparents. They lived is Ossulston Street, next to what is now the British Library.
    Thanks
    Russell Whiting

    • Hi Russell – thanks for your comment. I’ve just had another look at a report on ‘ARP Arrangements and Incidents at Mount Pleasant, 1939-1945′ (POST 56/175), and it notes three fatalities for the night of 18th June, 1943. One was a temporary sorter on Home Guard duties, who passed away at the Royal Free Hospital, another a mail sorter, passed away at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and the third was a skilled workman attached to the Post Office Railway. No names are mentioned in the report. It’s possible we may have some information relating to your grandfather, or the type of role he occupied, in our archives, and we certainly have a lot of information relating to Mount Pleasant and the surrounding area. You are very welcome to visit our search room at the BPMA, or to send an enquiry to info@postalheritage.org.uk, if you would like to carry out further research.
      Regards,

      Anna Flood (Archivist, BPMA)

  12. Hi, I am not sure if you are aware that there is still a building standing by the railway line in Bethnal green which was hit during the war by an incendiary bomb which burnt it out but left the shell standing and can be seen to this day from the railway line or from the Oval road in London E2. Screen reader users: click here for plain HTML

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