Sunday, 2 March 2014

The "Madame Tussaud's Bomb" - night of 8th-9th September 1940

The large-scale bombing of London began on the afternoon of Saturday 7th September 1940, but the west end of central London was relatively unaffected.  On the Sunday night / Monday morning, an incident happened that is best known because it damaged Madame Tussaud’s, the world-famous waxworks museum.

The incident is covered by the ‘West End at War’ website, and I recommend you read the webpage, including a map and pictures, first.

This states that the explosion happened at 04.20 on Monday 9th, and the location is given as the junction of Marylebone Road, Allsop Place and Chiltern Street.  This photo from the excellent ‘Britain from Above’ website shows the scene in 1931:

Photo 1 – the plane would have been flying approximately over Oxford Street looking north.  Regents Park is in the top right-hand corner. The crossroads in the centre of the photo is the junction of Marylebone Road (running left to right) and Baker Street (running up to down).  The large building above the junction and to the right is Chiltern Court above Baker Street Underground Station.  The next building to the right is Madame Tussaud’s.  The road in between them is Allsop Place.  Facing Tussaud’s across the Marylebone Road is the Marylebone Institution; it is bordered on the left (west) by Chiltern Street and on the right (east) by Luxborough Street.

Such contemporary news coverage as there was seems to have focused on whether the waxwork of Hitler was damaged; strangely there seem to be no photographs of the Marylebone Road frontage of Madame Tussaud’s that a visitor would see today.  However, we do know what the building would have looked like:

Photo 2 shows a sketch of the buildings pre-1940 and is helpful in showing the cinema, on the left, the restaurant in the centre and the exhibition on the right.  

Photo 3 shows the building, Allsop Place on the left, the Marylebone Institution out-of-camera on the right.

Photos 4 and 5 show comparable views from the 1970s and modern day; the London Planetarium is on the site of the cinema.

Photo 6 shows the Marylebone Institution front to Marylebone Road, the only view I can find, as it neared completion in 1900.  Madame Tussaud’s would be directly opposite to the right, Luxborough Street is on the left edge of the photo:

The modern equivalent is the rather bland modern Westminster University building which can be seen by clicking here.

Photographs 7 and 8 are from shortly after the bombing in Allsop Place, looking towards Marylebone Road.  Photo 7 was probably the morning of Monday 9th given the very evident rescue efforts, the shadow of the sun on the building, and the crowd of onlookers just visible across the Marylebone Road

The wrecked building on the left is Tussaud’s cinema – close inspection of photos 2 and 3 shows identical wall decorations on the corner of the building.  The crater where the bomb fell is barely visible but is just behind the group of rescue workers in the foreground.

Directly across at the T-junction is the Marylebone Institute.  There seems to be a crowd of onlookers across the road in front of the Institute, a phenomenon that ended rapidly as bombings became commonplace.  Note buildings are visible through the windows of the Institution, showing (unsurprisingly) that the glass had been blown out.  Chiltern Court is out-of-camera on the right.

This is roughly the same view today.

Photo 8 is from John Neville’s book “The Blitz: London Then and Now” (page 57) and was taken from slightly further back up Allsop Place then photo 7.  

While it shows the rubble of the cinema, it also shows the next building in Allsop Place, which was the focus of attention for the rescue workers in Photo 7 but out-of-camera to the left.  The pace of the rescue effort seems to have slackened

Ten days on, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the parents of the present Queen) visited the site, seen in photos 9 and 10.  In photo 9, they are standing in Allsop Place on the edge of the crater, now clearly evident compared with Photo 7.  The King is in military uniform listening to the man pointing towards the windows of Chiltern Court, out-of-camera to the right.  The Queen stands alone, in silent contemplation of the crater, possibly thinking of the bomb that fell on Buckingham Palace on the 13th. In the background the glassless windows of the Institution look on.

Photo 10 shows a near-identical view but with the photographer having moved round to the right of the previous photo.  The King is on the right; a man is walking to stand by the Queen’s shoulder.

Accounts of the incident
I am not aware of any eyewitness accounts to this incident.  However, in his book, “Diary of the War Years and One Year After” Anthony Weymouth describes the night of the 8th and 9th from Harley House, which was about 200 metres to the east of Madame Tussaud’s along Marylebone Road.
“Another night which, in its frightfulness of waiting and anticipation, surpassed anything which Edgar Allan Poe or the author of Dracula could have conceived.  The sirens sounded as darkness fell. Then the horrible intermittent droning of the German planes began. They came nearer, overhead, faded into the distance. But not always.  Now and then the crash of a bomb, preceded by the loathsome whistle as the hundreds of pounds of dynamite falls from the sky, shakes the building.”
At midnight the family gave up the attempt to sleep and got up to make tea.
“I was standing by the window.  It was four o’clock. Suddenly – a crash such as I have never before heard. Not in the last war, not in any thunder-storm. Could there be so much noise collected together in a few seconds?  The asbestos shutter fitted to the window was blown in like paper.  The splines which should have held it in place had splintered like matchwood.  The shutter itself lay in two pieces on the floor … Our ears opened and closed: our heads seemed to swim … An hour of small talk. More tea. Then a sudden noise – the first welcome sound throughout that grim night. The All Clear.”

His entry for Tuesday 10th September records more information:
“Marylebone Road is roped off to the west of Harley House.  Madame Tussaud’s, which is some hundred yards to the west, is in ruins.  Chiltern Court – a high block of flats built over Baker Street Station and adjacent to the waxworks – is still standing, but with almost every window broken, and its walls pitted by the debris flung against them. Of the Tussaud cinema itself, nothing remains but an outer wall and part of the stage. So violent was the explosion that, I am told, the rows of tip-up seats were blown out of the auditorium and clean over the top of the station …
… it was this bomb that had blown in our window on Monday night.  I can speak only of what I saw – the wreck of the cinema, windows broken on both sides of Marylebone Road, the glass roof of Baker Street Station shattered, but one of the glass faces of the clock still intact. In Baker Street itself, they tell us, the blast had destroyed shop windows and thrown the contents of the shops into the road – women’s clothes, boxes of chocolate and whatever wares the tradesmen were displaying.”

The casualties
The loss of the cinema and damage to waxworks was the focus of media coverage but it was far from the whole story.  We have already seen a hint of the human cost from the urgent rescue work in photo 7 and we can pick up threads of the story from the contemporary message forms sent between civil defence staff on the ground and their control rooms, reproduced on the ‘West End at War’ webpage:
  •             The first form says that the incident was at Madame Tussaud’s and calls for a stretcher party. 
  •            The second form gives the location as Madame Tussaud’s and Chiltern Court, which is the building above Baker Street Underground Station and between the station and today’s Planetarium building.  It also says Allsop Place was blocked, that people were trapped under rubble and that there was a fire.
  •            The third form says there were casualties at the Luxborough Street entrance to the Marylebone Institution, caused by blast and broken glass.

In addition the second message form mentions 40 casualties (although this number is scored through); these would have been treated or evacuated to surrounding hospitals. 
In "The Emergency medical Services" Volume 2, Dunn reports "a large number of injuries from flying lass and falling debris amongst the inmates of the St Marylebone Institution opposite."  This fits well with the windowless state of the buildings in photos 7 and 9 above.  Dunn continues: "A [first aid] unit from Berkeley Court was sent and set up in the Institution premises."  This could refer to the Luxborough Street entrance referred to in the third message above.  Dunn concludes: "Thirty-one casualties were attended, some being sent on to hospital.  They were all old men who had been in bed when the bomb fell and the work done was particularly valuable as it saved them the journey to a [fixed site] first aid post which, in their shocked condition, was best avoided. A second unit from Health Centre No. 2 was set up in the entrance of Madame Tussaud's building, but dealt with only three patients."

Scrutiny of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission list of civilian war dead shows within 48 hours four of the injured had died.  In all one person died at Allsop Place, one was fatally injured at Chiltern Court, while at the Marylebone Institution one died and three were fatally injured.

One death at Allsop Place
Muriel Margaret Caton-Woodville was aged 41, and died at 18 Allsop Place, possibly the wrecked building in Photo 8.

She was born Muriel Margaret Sterling in 1898 or 1899 in Glasgow, daughter of Clara and John, both English.  Two elder brothers, Robert and John, were also born in Glasgow suggesting her parents had been resident here since at least 1894. 
Her father worked for JH Young & Co, muslin manufacturers, with offices at 216 Bothwell Street and a factory at 53 Mill Street, Greenhead, both in Glasgow.  (Mr Young rented the mansion in Ruchill that was later bought by the City to form Ruchill Park.) 
They seem to have been affluent: their address - 30 Ashton Gardens – was in Hillhead, next to the University and at the 1901 Census they had three servants living with them, a cook, nurse and housemaid. (A photo of the street is here, number 30 would have been at far end on the right, approximately the entrance to the modern Medical School.)
Muriel attended Laurel Bank School in Great George Street, and went on to study painting and design at the Glasgow School of Art, finishing her studies in Paris.  Around this time she had her portrait painted by John Bell Anderson:

She worked in stage design in the theatre, where she was one of the first women to be employed in this role, notably by the Birmingham Repertory Company in London, as well as at the Malvern Festival. (The following link to programmes crediting her work: 1 2 3 4 5 see page 238).
In 1929, she was a resident at 19a Marylebone Road (with a number of other single women), which was the address of the Three Arts Club, first established in America to offer support and temporary residence for women painters, actors and musicians (more information here and here).  Could she be somewhere in this video?  It is of a Ball held by the Club in the same year.

In 1935 she married Anthony Caton-Woodville (1878-1957) in Marylebone.  He came from a colourful family and had been married before to an actress, Dora Brockbank (stage name Dora Barton) from 1908-1933 approx.  They most likely met while appearing in the same plays.  The electoral roll shows them to be registered at the same address in 1932 but not in 1934.  Anthony was also registered at a second London address in the late 1920s but whether this was a second home or a work address is unclear.  They had one child – Humphrey – born in 1914. A photo of Anthony and his first wife, Dora, can be ordered here.
While he is described at the time of Muriel’s death as a ‘painter artist’, the only example of his work I can find is a book of caricatures of theatrical scenes.  He also seems to have worked as an actor and a photographer. It may be that he worked with Muriel on set design.

In 1940 Muriel and Anthony lived at 18 Allsop Place, in between Chiltern Court and Madame Tussaud’s.  Muriel was a full-time driver in the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service.  The full-scale Blitz on London had started on Saturday afternoon and it’s possible she had been called on duty on Saturday night and Sunday. By the early hours of Monday morning she was presumably off duty. 
Muriel died in the rubble of her home; Anthony and her mother Clara, were both seriously injured but survived.

The National Probate Calendar names her husband, her solicitor and Agnes Annabel Kidston; her affects were valued at £1,228. (The NPC says she was also known as Muriel Sterling, her single name).
Agnes Annabel Kidston can be traced: she was born in Glasgow in 1896 and died in North Berwick in 1981, raising the possibility she was a childhood friend.  Annabel was an artist (see pages 6-8 of this document).  Agnes spent her childhood in Glasgow and in 1901 lived at Fernacoile, New Kilpatrick (today’s Bearsden): Muriel might have known her from the Glasgow School of Art or even from school.

Anthony married for a third time to Grace Hammond (1894-1959) in 1946.

For an appreciation of Muriel’s life see The Glasgow Herald from three months after her death.

One fatal injury at Chiltern Court
Chiltern Court opened in 1929 as a block of luxury apartments:

In the war it may have been commandeered (in part?) by Special Operations Executive (mission: reconnaissance and espionage in occupied Europe).  However, contrary to some reports it was not their HQ; this was at 64 Baker Street and they did not move there until October 1940.
The main who died at Chiltern Court was a Polish Citizen, Eliasz Hermann Ronies.  He was born in 1879 in Lviv (Lvov), now in the very west of Ukraine.  He was married to Gelda.  It is unclear when they arrived in London or what happened to Gelda after Eliasz’s death.
Eliasz was injured at Chiltern Court and was taken to the Middlesex Hospital; he died there on Tuesday 10th September 1940 and is buried in West Ham Jewish Cemetery:

Four fatal injuries at Marylebone Institution
While there had been a workhouse on the site since 1776, this was initially towards Paddington Street and it was only in 1901 that the north front went right the way up to Marylebone Road, opposite Madame Tussaud’s and Allsop Place.

When the bomb exploded in the early hours of the 9th, four men were fatally injured.  The first to die was Albert Smith, aged 50, resident at the Institution.  He died at 1 Luxborough Street which would be at the north-east corner of the Institution site.  (This fits with the third message reproduced on the West End at War website, referring to casualties at the Luxborough Street entrance.)  Albert is very difficult to trace through the records as he has no middle name, wife, or parents and was resident in the Institution.

The second man to die was Arthur George Dyer, aged 77; he died in the same hospital and the same day as Eliasz Ronies from Chiltern Court (the Middlesex on the 10th).  The first third of his life can be tracked: he was born in the Isle of Wight in 1863, son of an ostler, and one of at least seven children.  Aged 18 he was living with the family at Newport on the Isle of Wight, working as a draper’s assistant.  In 1883 he married Agnes Bowman on 21st December but his story than disappears from view.

The next to die was William Potts, 76, at the Middlesex Hospital one week later on 17th September.  Nothing else is known about him.

The last victim of the Madame Tussaud’s bomb was also the oldest, Frederick Brandon aged 80. He survived for 17 days before he succumbed at St Bernard’s Emergency Hospital in Southall (it is likely he would have been cared at a near-by hospital such as the Middlesex initially, but then transferred to a ‘sector hospital’ to free up much-needed beds in the central London hospitals once he had been stabilised.
Frederick Brandon was born in St Albans in Hertfordshire, son of Jonathan (a bricklayer’s labourer) and Elizabeth (a hatmaker).  By 1871 they had moved to Kentish Town in London and his father worked as a porter and labourer and his two elder brothers did the same jobs.  By 1881 the street they were living in was described as “impoverished” and the men of the family were working as coal porters.  He married Lucy, a domestic servant, in 1883, but by 1891 they were still childless.  They lived in Wood Green by 1901 and Fredrick, the 11-year old son of one of Lucy’s siblings was living with them.  At the 1911 Census the family lived in Frederick’s old family home, both Fredrick senior and junior were general labourers.  Lucy died in 1925, but Frederick senior was still at the same address in 1939, aged 79.  We do not know why he was in the Institution in 1940, but it’s possible he became ill, or just couldn’t earn enough.

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