The Fireplace that Survived the Blitz | Vincent Street, Westminster

It always amazes me what can go unnoticed in London, even when I’ve walked a street a few times, it’s still very easy to miss extraordinary pockets of history.

That’s exactly the case with Vincent Street, in particular beside the corner of Hide Place in Westminster.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

Opposite Napier Hall (pictured above) and surrounded by ivy, is this curious sight. An interior fireplace facing the open street.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

As you may have guessed, the Westminster fireplace was indeed once part of the cosy insides of a home, in fact a terrace of homes.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

The former terrace of houses can be seen on the OS maps from 1893-6 from layersoflondon.org below (I’ve circled the exact spot in red).

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

This peaceful domesticity was disturbed during The Blitz of The Second World War, where in the Vincent Square Ward, bombsite.org records 64 high explosive bombs were dropped between 7 October 1940 and 6 June 1941.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

This is brought starkly into focus when we look at the 1945 Bomb Damage maps, purple indicating damaged beyond repair and the thin black circles indicate where V-1 or V-2 rockets were dropped.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

Today when you walk past, along with the fireplace, the only pre-war survivor is Napier House, its foundation stone declaring it was completed in 1904.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

Next door to the fireplace is Dean Abbott House, sheltered accommodation run by Sanctuary House. Presumably named after Eric Abbott (1906-1983) a former Dean of Westminster Abbey.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

Diagonally opposite is the looming Hide Tower, built 1959-1962 designed by Stillman and Eastwick-Field.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

Sadly I can’t find any surviving images of pre-bomb damage Vincent Street but perhaps it’s the ordinariness of the scene that makes it so poignant, one minute you’re warming yourself in front of the fireplace and within a few minutes your entire home is destroyed.

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London

Here’s the exact location of the fireplace on a modern map;

Blitz Fireplace Westminster | Look Up London
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7 Comments

  • Judith Barnett

    Reply

    Wow. How extraordinary. I love that it’s there and not just swept away as irrelevant.

    August 25, 2021 at 9:33 am
  • Jay Alexander

    Reply

    Love your insights into historic London, Katie. As a Londoner born in Paddington and having lived all my life (to date!) in London, through your website and videos you do so much to remind everyone that we are lucky to live in such a wonderful city with an incredible past and a vibrant present.

    Keep up the good work!

    Best wishes,

    Jay

    August 25, 2021 at 9:35 am
  • Ronald Lloyd

    Reply

    Dear Katie, thank you for showing us such an interesting place. All your news letters are really wonderful. I so look forward to reading them. I hope you are keeping well. Love from Ron.

    August 25, 2021 at 10:09 am
  • Stewart Francis

    Reply

    I lost what I wrote just now. So here goes again: brilliant research and pinpointing on a map, Katie: impressive.! As an infant in probably IN 1940, my portrait was painted by a celebrated artist, Charles Buchel. He lived next door and during air raids he shelteted in our air raid shelter, dug deep in our garden. I stlll have the painting. This was in our house at 101 Clifton Hill, St John’s Wood. NW8. I’m pretty sure it is now flats.

    August 25, 2021 at 10:35 am
  • Robert W

    Reply

    Great spot. The ordinariness of the fireplace is what makes it interesting.

    August 25, 2021 at 11:30 am
  • Stewart Francis

    Reply

    I wrote something just now in this post-box, but it hasn’t appeared.
    I said how impressed I was, Katie, by your research on this strange and wonderful item and by its pinpointing on different maps. What a nostalgic discovery! I added a by-the-way point about the Blitz. which your item related to. As an infant, my portrait was painted by a celebrated artist, Charles Buchel. The circumstances were that he was our neighbour when my family lived at 101 Clifton Hill, St John’s Wood, NW8. When there was an air raid we would invite him into our shelter that was dug deep in our garden. I still have this painting, in which he portrayed me as I would look at the age of six – which he did superbly. I have not returned to look at this house – I don’t want to. I believe the house is now flats. After the war, my father had the air raid shelter dug up and removed.

    August 25, 2021 at 11:34 am
  • Stewart Francis

    Reply

    A PS to my previous post about the painting by Charles Buchel. A key point is that he must have taken sketches of my face while he was in our air-raid shelter during air-raids. Then he would have used the sketches to complete the painting in his studio; or this is what I imagine. He would have had plenty of time to do these sketches during the air raids. I have no idea what sort of lighting was in our shelter. I never thought to ask my parents about these things when they were alive!

    August 25, 2021 at 12:44 pm

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