Mount Street/Farm Street W1

17 April 1941

By Ronan Thomas

Mayfair - running due west from Berkeley Square to Park Lane and south from Oxford Street to Piccadilly - began to suffer barely one week into the Blitz.

Grosvenor Square W1 (home to the American Embassy since 1938) and Berkeley Square W1 (housing a Heavy Rescue Depot, an ARP Holding Depot and an air raid shelter), were both hit by high explosive bombs. On 13 September 1940, houses on the north side of Berkeley Square were destroyed and incendiaries damaged buildings at its southern end. On 26 October 1940, Curzon Street House, a large block of flats under renovation by a team of workmen, received a direct hit. Dozens of fatalities were caused, the exact number was never determined. On the night of 15 November 1940, Pitts Head Mews W1 were also hit by a single high explosive bomb, virtually demolishing them.

Mount Street W1 – a well-heeled Mayfair thoroughfare of late Victorian and Edwardian red brick residences and shop fronts - was damaged in September 1940 and in April 1941. The main incidents centred on Farm Street RC Church (the well-known Mayfair society church frequented by celebrity Catholic converts including writers Siegfried Sassoon, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and, later, actor Alec Guinness), on the Jesuit Residence at 114 Mount Street and on buildings further west at the corner with South Audley Street and with Balfour Place.

The Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception (Farm Street Church) - a decorated Gothic Catholic Church designed by J.J.Scholes, built from 1844-1849 with entrances in Mount Street Gardens and on Farm Street W1 - was damaged in September 1940 when an unexploded anti-aircraft shell hit the adjoining Jesuit Residence at 114 Mount Street. Church staff extinguished two incendiaries burning at the Church in the early hours of 22 September 1940. More serious damage was caused after additional incendiaries struck the Church roof. The staff had removed lights from the Church's 1912 arched West Window (overlooking the High Altar built by Catholic architect Augustus Pugin in 1848) and it escaped destruction. But over one third of the roof was consumed by fire. Several windows at the Farm Street entrance were lost. Sifting through the charred debris pile in the Church interior the next day, priests and staff managed to recover most of their altar vessels and vestments. Masses continued in the damaged Mount Street Residence after emergency repairs were effected.

On 17 April 1941, the west front of the Church facing Mount Street - modelled on the 13th century entrance to Beauvais Cathedral in northern France – was wrecked by high explosive blast after a bomb fell close by. After this raid, during which the Luftwaffe dropped over 890 tons of high explosive and 151,000 incendiaries across London, John 'Jock' Colville, Winston Churchill’s Assistant Private Secretary, wrote in his war diary: “Mayfair has suffered badly” (Sir John Colville, The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955, 1985).

Farm Street Church had experienced major structural damage. Initial repairs - undertaken by architect Adrian Gilbert Scott – were not completed until 1951. In the 1950s a new stained glass West Window, designed by Evie Horne, was installed over the Farm Street entrance. Additional repairs were necessary in 1977 and 1987 to restore Farm Street's considerable beauty.

Also hit in the vicinity were businesses and flats at 105-108 Mount Street, at 12-17 Mount Street (north side), at 18 Farm Street and the quiet Mount Street Gardens (laid out 1889). Other buildings around Farm Street Church fortunately survived. These included the Grosvenor Chapel (1730), used from 1942 by an American military congregation and the Connaught Hotel (1897) on Carlos Place. During the war, the Connaught accommodated General Charles de Gaulle (head of the Free French Government-in-exile) and welcomed Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower as a periodic dinner guest.

Yet Mayfair remained vulnerable as the first phase of the Blitz culminated. Many of the district's grand mansion flat blocks – left empty or housing homeless civilians from other bombed parts of London - were deemed by City of Westminster ARP as particularly at risk from incendiaries burning undetected on their upper floors. On 16-17 April 1941 mansion flats at the corner with Balfour Place and the Audley Hotel at the junction with South Audley Street were bady damaged by a high explosive bomb and by incendiaries. They were restored to pristine condition after the war.

The heaviest raid of the Blitz, on 10-11 May 1941, took a more serious toll in Mayfair. At 12.50am on 11 May a high explosive bomb fell on 1-3 Clarges Street W1, just off Piccadilly. At No 2, Carr's Hotel was demolished and eight casualties reported, of which five were confirmed fatalities. In the subsequent rescue operation, firemen played water onto walls in an adjacent property to prevent flames reaching a trapped woman (later pulled out uninjured). At 2.15am nos 20-24 Park Lane (the site of today's Park Lane Hilton Hotel) were damaged and Shepherd's Market and Hill Street W1 were gutted by incendiaries. At 3.10am, a parachute mine destroyed four floors of Mayfair Court on Stratton Street W1. Eight casualties were reported and BBC staff trapped in its basement were successfully extracted.

During the 'Little Blitz' of January to April 1944, Mayfair was bombed for the final time. On 23 February 1944, John Colville noted in his diary that : “Bombs shook us in Stratton Street (Mayfair). The effort is small on the Luftwaffe's part but the results are considerable” (Sir John Colville: The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955, 1985).

Photo:Mount Street/Audley Hotel damage, April 1941

Mount Street/Audley Hotel damage, April 1941

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Farm Street Church: damaged September 1940 and April 1941

Farm Street Church: damaged September 1940 and April 1941

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP message, Mount Street, 19 September 1940

ARP message, Mount Street, 19 September 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP message: Mount Street/Farm Street Church 22 September 1940

ARP message: Mount Street/Farm Street Church 22 September 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Mount Street viewed from Balfour Place, bomb damage April 1941

Mount Street viewed from Balfour Place, bomb damage April 1941

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Mount Street/Balfour Place damage, April 1941

Mount Street/Balfour Place damage, April 1941

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Balfour Place damage as viewed from Alford Street W1, April 1941

Balfour Place damage as viewed from Alford Street W1, April 1941

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bomb Map: Mount Street/Farm Street

Bomb Map: Mount Street/Farm Street

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Mount Street/Farm Steet W1

This page was added by Ronan Thomas on 06/06/2011.
Comments about this page

when the bomb fell on clarges street 11t May, 1940 my mother and father were sheltering under a table in the basement when the whole house fell on top of them. Their family were waiting for them to get home that night and an uncle went to clarges st to see if they were alright. When he saw the destruction he thought they had been killed. The shock turned his hair white overnight. The next morning after being pulled from the wrekage unharmed my parents returned to a house in mourning. Needless to say there was much rejoycing. Although my father died in 1992 my mother will be 90 this year and lives to tell the tale.

By patricia cottrill
On 07/01/2012

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