Stretcher Railings: The Post-War Up-cycle Hidden in Plain Sight

Often in London, we forget to really take note of the things we pass most often. We forget to look for details and then we miss some interesting history. For a perfect example, look no further than stretcher railings!

Stretcher Railings

What are Stretcher Railings?

The ‘ARP’ stretcher was mass produced in anticipation of air-raid casualties during the Second World War.

The all-metal design allowed them to be easily decontaminated after the much-anticipated gas attacks, but many were never used and when the war ended they were redundant.

In a period where material was short it made sense to re-use these useful items, usually converting them into railings.

Stretcher Railings

So in a clever bit of up-cycling before the term was even invented, these cast iron stretchers (that can’t be melted down) perfectly replaced the wrought iron ones sacrificed during the war.

Stretcher Railings

Their distinctive curved ends – built in to avoid putting patients directly on the floor – means they’re easy to spot!

Stretcher Railings

You can find stretcher railings all over London, particularly on lots of post-WWII estates.

Below is a photo of them somewhat in action. Taken c.1942 you can see four stretcher railings stacked on top of the van. This is the Willesden Civil Defence Light Rescue squad.

Stretcher Railings

Thank you to fellow Blue Badge Guide Mike Armitage for sharing this photo owned by his father

Have you ever noticed any?

Stretcher Railings

Find Stretcher Railings!

You can use this handy map put together by the Stretcher Railings Society to find ones close to you!

More London Inspiration


  • A Look Sideways London classic. My having managed to get down to “avoid putting patients directly on the floor” before realising these were stretchers as in “stretcher bearer” rather than some kind of metalwork equivalent of a canvas stretcher only served to make it all the more impactful.

    April 1, 2020 at 6:49 am
  • Stewart Francis


    Fascinating, Katie! I have never noticed them! I’ll look out for them whenever I’m at last able to go into London. I wonder how you found out that bit of information. Lovely blossom in that first photo. Thanks for continuing to send these super weekly newsletters – refreshing messages to read.

    April 1, 2020 at 10:26 am
  • Judith Barnett


    My best friend, who lives in London has come across these in the past and told me about them 🙂 She thinks she found them near Tabard Gardens.
    Such fun facts and it’s not even Friday!

    April 1, 2020 at 12:02 pm
  • Martyn Agate


    Brilliant! Well spotted and thank you for pointing this out to us. Maybe at least one set of these railings should have a ‘listed’ status as it is a part of our herritage now. They will all go eventually when the buildings they surround becone redundant or are redeveloped etc.

    April 2, 2020 at 9:21 am
  • Adrian Butters


    Thank you for newsletter Katie, always good interesting read.

    Yes, my parents use to tell me about railings being taken away to be melted down during WW2, strange to imagine today.

    Some of the finest examples of Almshouses were to be found in Nottingham, at the bottom of Maid Marion way in Nottingham city centre, but due to Maid Marion way being widened in the late 1960’s they were knocked down (not without public outcry), and were unfortunately lost forever.

    It’s good to see London’s Almshouses, not something I know much about, but I’m sure fair amount of them in the capital.

    Yours truly

    Adrian Butters.

    April 3, 2020 at 11:24 pm

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