Letters from CA February 2021/March 2021

Locating the Blitz Garden

I think I can help Gustav Milne with his query about the exact location of the ‘Blitz Garden’ he mentioned in his feature on the London Blitz (CA 368). It is almost in the backyard – if there is one – of the present Museum of London!

Please note, in the photograph shown in the article [and above], the lady with a shopping bag. Just behind her in the pavement is what is almost certainly a GPO Telephones junction cover. Another may account for the unclear feature in the pavement to the left of the gentlemen on the right lower corner of the picture. If I am right, an enquiry addressed to BT will very likely produce a map that shows these covers/junctions, and gives a very precise location for the picture.

If this fails, as the result of post-war development, try a little triangulation. Directly above the two postmen, and forming the skyline, are the ‘belvederes’ on the roof of the old GPO HQ building, one per corner. Lately they have gained another storey in the form of a French chateau-ish tiled(?) roof. In 1968/1969 I worked briefly at PHQ, but removed myself to Wales & Marches HQ because the air pollution of London was causing me breathing problems. I have some knowledge of the area therefore, and can assert with reasonable hope of accuracy that the buildings visible to the right of PHQ still stand. Thus the cleared bomb-site, and the rubble pile above the heads of the five ladies looking over the wall in the picture, are now somewhere underneath the museum’s gallery dedicated to the 17th century and its foyer/cafe.

Now to my A-Z guide: London Wall, visible behind the trees, still stands, as does the probable section of it appearing in front of the spire of St Mary-le-Bow. Thus, the shopping-bag lady might be standing in the northward continuation of Wood Street, and the cap-gent in Monkwell Square. The garden could lie on the corner between them. In my day, there used to be a little garden in the Monkwell area where two plaques could be found: one recording that John Wesley had received God’s call to an evangelical Ministry thereabouts, and the other noting that either the first Luftwaffe bomb to fall on London – or the first V-1 to hit the capital – caused damage there (I forget which German armament was recorded). If the latter, the photograph might be the last record of quite a lot!

A R Utting
Chepstow, Monmouthshire

Investigating the Cerne Abbas Giant

Reading yet another letter expressing enthusiasm for the Cerne Abbas Giant (CA 370), we may thankfully note that in a century of care the National Trust resisted the calls to internally censor this hill figure. Furthermore, opting for rechalking (in the same decade the Westbury White Horse was irretrievably concreted) has enabled the recent scientific investigations surrounding dating, where concrete would have rendered exploration difficult if not impossible.

In a previous letter (‘Hercules and the Giant’, CA 369), Michael Trapp neatly outlined the most pressing of several issues that can perhaps be resolved if further information can be obtained from the monument.

IMAGE: Mark Way
IMAGE: Mark Way

If the awaited OSL results, snail analysis, and further tests prove encouraging (see CA 365), it can only be hoped that the National Trust would be willing to allow further high-resolution geophysical surveys to take place (the last was undertaken in 1996 and geophysical survey has progressed significantly since then). Archaeologist colleagues have suggested that the numbers and symbols, recorded between the lower part of the Giant’s legs in the 18th century, are likely to be well preserved. Confirmation of the three individual numbers and any punctuation may potentially indicate the chapter and line of a relevant text, rather than a date. It can only be speculated what the symbols below those numbers may represent, but in verification of her identity Shaftesbury suggested a ‘bit or bridle, placed somewhere on the side of Virtue’. He also suggested ‘on the side of Pleasure, certain vases, and other pieces of embossed plate’, together with ‘certain draperies’. This may prove an explanation for the features discovered below the outstretched left arm in the 1990s, dubbed the ‘severed head’ and the ‘cloak’. There is further contemporary evidence that will assist, but these potential explanations of those features will remain no more than tentative until further careful investigations of that hillside.

Brian Edwards
University of the West of England, Bristol

Remembering the Blitz

Issue 368 contained a lovely group of articles about the Blitz, which brought back reminiscences of my parents (born 1919 and 1920), and especially my mother who grew up and lived during the Blitz, a stone’s throw from Commercial Road in Stepney (before joining the WRAAF).

Mind you, I had to smile at the idea that one of the reasons for secrecy about the rapid response teams [who worked to prevent floods if river defences were damaged] was ‘not to alert the Luftwaffe to London’s vulnerability’. As if the 120 breaches of the river wall were not evidence enough that the Luftwaffe were very well aware of potential vulnerabilities in Britain’s infrastructure, as were the British of Germany’s weak spots!

My parents often laughed at the Government’s attempts at propaganda, such as ‘the Germans don’t know how to fly’. My mum’s favourite from the BBC was ‘there was no enemy action over Britain last night’, as she recalled the comments of Londoners the next day: ‘who was that bombing us then?’

War isn’t funny, but people always seem to manage to find a joke in the darkest of times.

Helena McGinty
Malaga, Spain

Not Dad’s Army

Having read Roy Loveday’s letter, ‘Observing the Observer Corps bunker at Arborfield Cross’, in CA 368, I feel that there is a need to set the record straight after the flippant link was made between the Wenlip bunker and the comedy Dad’s Army.

As a young adult in 1948, I was one of many terrified at the thought of possible atomic warfare. We knew nothing of the work going on for our protection behind the scenes, but some years later – when I joined the Civil Defence for several years – we felt the same sense of duty. At that time, few members of the public knew about the long-term effect of radiation, but no one thought of being the last people left alive. That was left to fiction.

We trained to build ovens out of bomb rubble and dustbins in order to feed hundreds of homeless people, and learnt St John’s first aid, Red Cross nursing, rescue procedures, and how to simulate terrible injuries to help us cope with what we might possibly have to face in the future. This was intense volunteer work done after a normal working day, and on occasional weekends. Such training and the building and manning of bunkers such as Wenlip may appear inadequate with the knowledge we have today, but they were serious practical undertakings at a time of extreme peril, and very far removed from comedy on TV. 

Dorothy Norris
West Yorkshire

Edible Archaeology

My daughter Rose (12) has been inspired by Manda Scott’s amazing Boudica books to make this ‘Edible Archaeology’ Iceni roundhouse for her YAC scavenger hunt.

David Stokes, Chatham, Kent.

Dr Alexandra Makin @alexandra_makin
@Lborobelltrust you’re officially an @CurrentArchaeo Odd Soc. Congratulations! I remember visiting here on a primary school trip many many (many) years ago. I was fascinated by it all.

Hugh Willmott @Hugh_Willmott
Very pleased to see the positive review of my recent book (The Dissolution of the Monasteries in England and Wales) in the UK’s leading archaeology magazine @CurrentArchaeo!

Dr Joe Flatman @joeflatman
#ArchaeologyDayByDay: @CurrentArchaeo 355 (Oct 2019) was @NT_SuttonHoo celebrating 80 years of fieldwork there, including a favourite #archaeofashion fantastique shown here from #StuartPiggott (L) and an (unusually relaxed) #WFGrimes (R)

Dr Sue Brunning @SueBrunningBM
This is one of my favourite photos from the dig. Pair of hipsters!

Write to us at: CA Letters, Current Publishing, Thames Works, Church Street, London W4 2PD, or by email to: letters@archaeology.co.uk
For publication: 300 words max; letters may be edited.