Shaftesbury Avenue Fire Station

7 October 1940

By Alec Gladd

Shaftesbury Avenue W1 was bombed on several occasions during 1940 and 1941. On 24 September 1940 two high explosive bombs hit the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Wardour Street, damaging the Queen's Theatre and St Anne's Church, Soho. Four casualties were reported, but no fatalities. The buildings were assessed as dangerous when inspected by the Rescue Service.

The next day, 25 September 1940, an oil incendiary bomb hit near the intersection of Great Windmill Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, bursting a water main.

At around 1am on 3 October 1940 an anti-aircraft shell also fell near the junction of Great Windmill Street and Shaftesbury Avenue resulting in one minor injury and slight damage to buildings, with glass and debris scattered in the road.

At 7.45pm on 7 October 1940 - after four nights in which Westminster escaped damage in raids on London - a high explosive bomb hit the doorway of the Fire Station at 72 Shaftesbury Avenue, close to Cambridge Circus and directly opposite the Palace Theatre (1891). The Shaftesbury Avenue Fire Station (built in 1887 and renamed the Soho Fire Station in 1921), suffered severe damage and was virtually demolished. Two passers-by sheltering in the doorway were killed and several firemen inside the Station also died or were seriously injured. Three fire engines were covered in debris and the Station entrances were completely blocked. Survivors from the building escaped by sliding down the debris, dazed but otherwise unhurt. 

In 1942, a temporary station structure was put in place; this building remained in use until a new Soho Fire Station was opened at 126 Shaftesbury Avenue in 1983.

In the early hours of 16 November 1940 two high explosive bombs again hit Shaftesbury Avenue, the first (very heavy calibre) at 2.20am, the second at 2.30am. The first bomb failed to detonate, leaving a small but deep crater in Shaftesbury Avenue. The surrounding area had to be evacuated until it was defused by a Bomb Disposal Squad. It was described as being extremely large, weighing one and a half tons and as long as a pillar-box. The bomb was loaded onto a lorry and driven away down Shaftesbury Avenue on 17 November at 3.50pm. Oblivious to danger, curious people lined the streets to see it leave, as far down as Piccadilly Circus. A member of the squad on the lorry recalled that whilst watching the crowds craning their necks on Shaftesbury Avenue he had:

 "all the sensations of a curious type of dream, one aligned with nightmare and familiar to many, the dream when one discovers oneself walking along the street without one’s trousers on" (The Blitz: Westminster at War, William Sansom, 1947)

The second bomb hit 95 Shaftesbury Avenue, partially demolishing the premises, causing a fire in the adjoining cinema and extensive damage to surrounding property within 100 yards.

More damage in the Shaftesbury Avenue area included the Newport Buildings, obliterated by a parachute mine on 17 April 1941. 48 people were killed and upwards of 83 seriously injured. The mine also destroyed the adjacent Shaftesbury Theatre (1888). 


Photo:Damage to the Shaftesbury Avenue Fire Station, October 1940

Damage to the Shaftesbury Avenue Fire Station, October 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Incident file, Shaftesbury Avenue Fire Station, 7 October 1940

Incident file, Shaftesbury Avenue Fire Station, 7 October 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Air Raid Damage Report for 95 Shaftesbury Avenue, 16 November 1940

Air Raid Damage Report for 95 Shaftesbury Avenue, 16 November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bomb map: Shaftesbury Avenue incidents

Bomb map: Shaftesbury Avenue incidents

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Shaftesbury Avenue Fire Station

This page was added by Alec Gladd on 29/02/2012.

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