From 7th September 1940, London was bombed by the German Air Force for 57 consecutive nights. The resulting devastation altered the landscape and the character of the city beyond all recognition. Over 40,000 people were killed; churches, houses, shops and offices were reduced to rubble.

The Thames estuary, Tower Hill and the square mile of London were targeted often. During the Blitz the area around Tower Hill on the nights of 8th and 9th, and 29th December 1940 suffered heavy damage. Several buildings dominated the area around Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The Port of London authority building at No. 10 was the centre of administration for the London ports emergencies committee. Trinity House close by was a timber framed 17th century building. Trinity House is a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers. The historic All Hallows Church, the oldest church in the city of London was overlooked by the massive Mazawatte tea warehouse.

The Toc H movement is social service movement started at Talbot House in the First World War by the Reverend Philip Thomas Byard Clayton (known as "Tubby" Clayton), who went on to be vicar of All Hallows. Other buildings associated were scattered around Trinity Square, the heart of Tower Hill. At numbers 41 and 42 were the Headquarters and a hostel respectively, Friars house was the HQ of the Toc H Women’s Movement and No. 28 Great Tower street was a Toc H hostel for women called New June.

Tubby Clayton outside No. 41
Tubby Clayton outside No. 41 Trinity Square.

On the evening of 8th December London was subjected to the heaviest raid it had experienced in 2 months, when over 400 aircraft delivered a total of 380 tons of high explosives and 115,000 incendiaries.  The offices of the Port of London Authority were hit, and the people sheltering in their basement had to be evacuated. One of these was Mary Rushworth, who worked at the New June Toc H women’s hostel. She described the evening of the 8th after the PLA building was hit:

“We homeless wanderers gathered at No. 42 with possessions and mattresses and all kinds of paraphernalia about them, wondering what our next destination would be. It turned out to be the wine vaults of the despised warehouse on Tower Hill, where for several weeks we on three tier bunks in temperatures calculated to keep wine at its best, but without much regard for human beings.”

On that Sunday 8th Tubby Clayton, was on leave from his work at Scapa Flow. In the early hours of Monday 9th December, Tubby was awakened with the news that All Hallows had been hit by a high explosive bomb, which had landed on the east vestry, wrecking the east wall and window and causing blast damage in the inner church. The altar and chancel were completely wrecked.

All Hallows Church after the raids of December 1940.
All Hallows Church after the raids of December 1940.

However worse was to come immediately after Christmas. On 29th December the area was subjected to air raids that caused what was referred to as the 'Second Great Fire of London'. On that night London suffered its most devastating raid. From 6.15pm until the all-clear sounded three and a half hours later, some 100,000 incendiary bombs and another 24,000 high-explosive devices rained on the heart of the City, destroying many of the buildings that had stood since the City of London was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. At one point, some 1,500 fires were raging in a strip of land that stretched from St Paul's Cathedral to the borders of Islington to the north – the largest continuous area of destruction in any Blitz attack on the UK.

Mary Rushworth remembered: “This night the city was the target and it was subjected to a rain of fire. Everywhere seemed to be alight with flames leaping in the air and burning debris falling in the streets. Flames were rising from the western roof of the tower itself.”

The Thames was abnormally low that night, and fire crews found it impossible to get their hoses through the mud and into the water. The water mains were soon fractured and pumps ran dry. As it was the weekend many of the buildings in the city of London were unattended and locked, hampering the efforts of the fire brigade to get to incendiaries on roofs.

On his rounds, Padre Trench saw that All Hallows was in danger from nearby fires and decided to remove the communion vessels, candlesticks, cross, service book and record book, and by the time he had completed this task the fire had a strong hold on the church, which in the 136th year of its life was burnt out. The roof of the church fell in and the inside pillars of the south aisle were destroyed, only the tower and the North wall and Porch remained. Not far away in the square mile – the old city of London - the raid had also caused much damage. 31 guild halls, 19 churches and all of Paternoster Row, the heart of the publishing industry, were destroyed. In the square mile 160 civilians died, 14 firemen and 500 injured, 250 of them firefighters.

Amidst all the chaos and carnage St Paul’s cathedral emerged out of the smoke intact. The cathedral had a dedicated team of fire watchers. Much had been written about the “blitz spirit “and its existence has come to be regarded problematic by some historians who have called into question this interpretation. Historian Edgar Jones concludes that the British people proved more resilient that interwar planners had anticipated and puts this down in part to the constructive participant voluntary roles such as fire watching and first aid that so many were able to contribute.

Certainly at the time the people of London were praised at the time for their endurance and bravery. American war correspondent Quentin Reynolds commented on the limitations of saturation bombing: “A bomb has its limitations. It can only destroy buildings and kill people. It cannot kill the unconquerable spirit and courage of the people of London. London can take it.” On the day after the raid of the 29th December the people of Tower Hill started to regroup face the challenges caused by the raid. Mary Rushworth remembered “Morning came and amid a scene of desolation the daily round and the common task began. Jane Welch described the scene “the city that day was strange sight – smoking and blackened ruins, whole street blasted from end to end … but by the evening many of the streets were clear and it was surprising how much ‘business as usual ‘contrived to be carried on – the spirit of everybody is truly marvellous “

Of the Toc H properties, the New June women’s hostel was rendered uninhabitable, No 42 Trinity Square had just about been saved by the efforts of the fire fighters. No 7 was completely destroyed, but the house at Crutched Friars suffered only minor damage. All Hallows was not usable, and so the congregation found refuge in the HQ of Toc H in Trinity Square. In April 1941 the services moved to a new home in the undamaged crypt and under croft of All Hallows

At Trinity House the interiors had been gutted and apart from the separate east wing, the only surviving part was the basement wine cellar. Normal business had to be resumed and the work of Trinity House carried on in a selection of undamaged offices around Tower Hill. The Port of London Authority building was damaged but remained functioning.

Jane Welch, Toc H worker, lamented that “It is the destruction of all that so much that is historic and irreplaceable that hurts so badly.” She wondered if the raid on 29th December would result in the breaking up of the community at Tower Hill, but hoped not “there was something finer than buildings, which bombs could not destroy.”

She was proved right. The Port of London Authority building was rebuilt and renovated by 1970s. Trinity House was restored and reopened by Queen Elizabeth in October 1953. Due largely to Tubby Clayton’s efforts at fundraising at home and abroad, the restored and rebuilt church of All Hallows was dedicated in the presence of the Queen Mother on July 23rd 1957.