As German bombs started raining down on the East End of London 70 years ago this September, much of Hackney was damaged and many were made homeless. One resident, aged 11 at the time, remembers the falling bombs:
“One night a bomb dropped onto a bus outside the Vogue. It made a large crater, and fractured a water main. After a while, water seeped into the cellar we were in. As we were hearing a lot of noise from the anti-aircraft guns, and from the dropping bombs, it was decided to go over the road to a proper shelter under the Coronation Buildings, where there was a very large air raid shelter.
“We came out and saw the sky criss-crossed with searchlights. Whilst we were running across the road, a bomb landed with an enormous bang on the West Hackney Church. The blast blew out the windows of The Star Furnishing Company windows. The huge glass windows just disintegrated, and fell to the ground like a beautiful waterfall, with all the noise and dust. We rushed into the shelter, but amazingly we were all untouched.” (from BBC Archive)
But it was the Coronation Avenue shelter that was to provide the biggest casualty of the Blitz for Stoke Newington on 13 October 1940, when a direct hit wiped out 170 people in one night.
“We had settled down as usual when there was a dull thud, a sound of falling masonry, and total darkness…somebody lit a torch – the entrance to the next room was completely full of rubble as if it had been stacked by hand…The water was rising and I started to make my way to the far end…It was very cold and dark and I was shivering. The air was thick with brick dust, which got into my mouth, the water was quelching in my shoes. I still dream of, and recall, the smell of that night and the water creeping up my body…The next morning we were told that only one person had survived in the other two rooms”. (BBC Archive)
There is a memorial stone at Abney Park cemetery to all the borough’s residents who died in the air raids; many of them were in the Coronation Avenue shelter that night.