Friday 27th September 1940 – Freeman’s 139 Clapham Road

The following bomb incident has the highest death toll of any I could find within the boundaries of my website, it was a horrific incident that resulted in the loss of 23 lives, mainly young women.

I have not yet seen the official Air Raid Precaution records of this incident, I will update this section with this detail at a later date. For now I have pieced together all I could find about this incident.

At this time 139 Clapham Road was the headquarters of pioneering catalogue company Freemans, the largest catalogue business in the UK.

I have been in touch with Helen, niece to Annie Alley who sadly died in this incident. It turns out that Helen has been communicating with Linda, the daughter of a woman who escaped from the bomb site that day. There is more about Linda further down the page. In Helen and Linda’s correspondence Helen has found out some interesting information which she has passed on to me:

“Her mother and my dad’s sister (Annie Alley) lived in the same area and went to work together. Annie and her friend worked in different offices in Freeman’s and so went to different shelters when the sirens went off. This is what her mum told her to pass on to me and I am sure she would be happy for me to repeat it here:

The sirens went off about lunchtime and everyone went down to the shelters. There were a number of shelters in the basement, they were like small rooms – my mum went into the shelter designated for floor staff and Annie went into the one next door for office staff. Just before the bomb hit “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was playing over the tannoy, then all the lights went out and my mum was in darkness for a number of hours while she was waiting to be dug out. She was pulled out of the shelter by Eric Rampton (one of the founders of Freeman’s), only to find herself surrounded by the injured and dead – all the men were stripped to the waist as their shirts had been ripped up for bandages. My mum just ran home and she never returned to work in Freeman’s until 1972. Unfortunately, the water pipes shattered in the shelter that Annie was in and all the occupants were drowned”

I’ve also found the following accounts of what happened that day:

Marian Ivey on the People’s War website describes the incident:

“There was a major incident when in one of the early daylight air raids a bomb fell, penetrating the forecourt of the building. The staff were all in the basement area where the mail order goods were stored and where everyone had to go as soon as the sirens were heard. We knew of course that there had been a direct hit as we not only felt it but the place was immediately plunged into darkness and an acrid smell developed.

Only when we were eventually led out by torches into the open air could we see the crater and the number of injured being treated. There were quite a few people badly maimed and some fatalities I think but I can’t remember the details. A short time after this tragic incident we assembled again in the repaired forecourt when we were visited by the then Duke of Kent who was there to say appropriate words on behalf of the King.”

Also on the People’s War site Kathleen Blackwood also talks about the incident:

One day, we had to rush to the shelter as there was a big raid on and we heard a bomb coming down, it was terrifying, all the girls, me included dropped to the floor and covered our heads with our hands. We heard later that it had dropped on the warehouse near the shelter. Everyone was shaken badly and they put a record on the P.A. system, it was “In the Mood” and whenever I heard that record my mind went back to that moment.

As you can imagine it was a very harrowing experience and we were sent home early. I learned later that there had been a direct hit on one of the shelters and a lot of office girls had been killed., I remember reading about it but nothing was ever given out regarding the exact location of any incident, in case it helped the enemy in any way. My family and boy friend urged me to leave as I might not be lucky next time”

In memory of those that were killed in this incident

Using the invaluable Commonwealth War Graves Commission website I have been able to find the following casualties from this incident

NameAgeNotes
Annie Jessie Florence Alley15Daughter of Mr. G. Alley, of 46 St. John's Hill Grove, Battersea. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Beatrice Mabel Bennett24of 18 Ada Road, Camberwell. Daughter of Robert J. S. and E. M. bennett. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Marjorie Doris Blackman26a.r.p. nurse; of 53 Narbonne Avenue. Daughter of William Arthur and Ellen mary Blackman. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Evelyn Florence Bolsom19Daughter of William Henry and Dorothy Bolsom, of 58 Ferrier Street, Wandsworth. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Cissie Louise Bradshaw17Daughter of charles John and Rosina Ellen Bradshaw, of 13 Edenvale Street, Fulham. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Ethel Mary Butcher20Daughter of Mary Butcher, of 16 Willington Road, and of the late John Butcher. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Grace Marion Carden15of flat 3, 9 Cranworth gardens. Daughter of Ethel Worsam (formerly Carden), and of the late F. Carden. injured at 139 Clapham Road; died same day at south-western hospital.
Doris Eileen Child25Daughter of Arthur George and Elizabeth Ann Child, of 65 Hamilton Road, Wimbledon, Surrey. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Mabel Muriel Clark20of 39 Flavell Road, Wandsworth. Daughter of Harry Clark. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Alma Ruth Davis32Daughter of Annie Alice Sayers (formerly davis), of 197 Broomwood Road, Clapham Common, and of the late Charles W. H. Davis. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Eileen Linda Forty21Daughter of Palin l. Forty, of 6 Pentland Street, Wandsworth, and of the late Walter T. B. Forty. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Dorothy Harriet Hurst18Daughter of Henry A. and G. M. Hurst, of 43 Chatsworth Avenue, Merton Park, West Wimbledon, Surrey. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Louisa Christine Longhurst26of 1a Mandalay Road, Clapham Park. Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R. D. Strachan, of 2 Durnsford Avenue, Wimbledon Park; wife of Herbert W. Longhurst. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Dora Maud Maloney19of 53 Mexfield Road, Wandsworth. Daughter of Mabel Beatrice Maloney, and of the late P. Maloney. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Ivy Florence Matterface29Daughter of W. H. and F. B. Matterface, of 102 Warriner Gardens, Battersea. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Margaret Winifred Pridgeon16of 18 Rawson Street, Battersea. Daughter of Henry Pridgeon. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Phyllis Muriel Temple20of 60 Larkhill Lane. Daughter of Mr. C. Temple. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Elsie Amelia Westmore20Daughter of Frank E. Westmore, of 16 Horsford Road. died at 139 Clapham Road.
Dorothy Mabel Douglas19Daughter of Leonard S. L. and Cozbi Douglas, of 203 Franciscan Road, Tooting. Injured at Freeman's Shelter; died same day at Lambeth Hospital.

The official number of deaths was twenty three, I have only been able to find nineteen of those on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, the other four are probably on there somewhere however I have tried all search terms I can think of.

 

Site of the bomb is indicated with a red dot on the map below:

screen-capture-3

The bomb census map shows the incident highlighted in black indicating ‘Total destruction’ :

I have found another account of the terrible incident at 139 Clapham Road, over on occultandparanormal.webs.com. I cannot verify it’s accuracy, it was told from mother to daughter, the mother being at the scene of the incident. The following extract is an account taken from this website – all copyright belongs to the original poster.

The extract is as follows:

 

Background

Freeman’s Catalogue moved into 139 Clapham Road in 1937.  In 1940 my mum and her friend, Ann were working in Freemans.  It was their first job and both girls were 14 years old.  Around lunch time, the air raid sirens went off and the staff descended into the basement shelters.  Freemans took a direct hit and along with a great deal of damage to the building, the basement became a death trap.  The final death toll was 23 – including Ann.

The waterpipes had shattered in the shelter that Ann was in, and she drowned along with her 22 colleagues. My mum was in another shelter and was rescued after a couple of hours.

 Haunting

Over the years the staff have seen a woman dressed in 1940’s style clothes in the building.  The taps in the toilet turn themselves on and shadowy figures have been seen in the basement.

In 1970 I applied for summer job at Freemans.  I went to the interview, but I found that I wasn’t at all comfortable in the building and had to excuse myself and leave.

I have attached a link to a program called  “Haunted Britain“  at approx. 1.20 seconds into the film, Freeman staff are interviewed about their experiences in the building.  Freeman’s have now moved to new offices in Euston Road and the old building has been converted into luxury flats!!

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsWcPdXooQ0&NR=1

I have marked out where the incident took place on a modern day aerial view map  (indicated by the red shape) which shows the newly built ‘Printworks’ houses and the converted main building 

Back to Bombing incidents within our area from 1940

6 Responses to Friday 27th September 1940 – Freeman’s 139 Clapham Road

  1. Helen says:

    Annie was my dad’s sister – the aunt I never met. Whether she was a friend of Linda’s mum, I don’t know. Thank you for putting this information on the internet as I have tried for years to find out more about what happened.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Helen,

      It is very sad that your aunt lost her life in this incident, I’m really glad to be of some help in your research. Is there anything missing that you know of from my account of the incident?

      Chris

  2. EF says:

    Hi,

    First, thanks for your excellent website. It’s really informative and a great resource.

    I’m interested in the local area around Freeman’s and found this reference to someone who was working there at the time it was bombed: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/78/a2456778.shtml

    Quite a long history with just a small reference in amongst it, but I thought you might find it interesting.

    EF

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for the lovely feedback and for the link! I’ll add that to the post about the freeman’s bomb incident. Why the interest in the Freeman’s bit of our area if I may ask? Any particular aspects interest you? It’s always great to hear from someone with an interest in local history.

      Chris

  3. Terry Lawson says:

    Well done on the website

    I’m researching a memorial tablet of the ex pupils of Reedham Orphanage, Purley, Surrey who lost their lives in WWII.

    Eileen Linda Forty is on that memorial

    I think that her mother’s forename was Palm, not Palin, double checked with mother’s marriage and her birth, I think the entry in the Civilian War Dead Register may be incorrect, but I’m very much open to correction

    Terry Lawson

  4. Helen says:

    Belated update.
    I did get in touch with Linda (re the story on the paranormal website) and it was clear that her mother and my dad’s sister (Annie Alley) were friends. She was even able to send me photos of the cottages by the railway where he lived. Her mother and my dad’s sister (it’s hard to call her my aunt as she died before I was born so I never knew her) lived in the same area and went to work together. Annie and her friend worked in different offices in Freeman’s and so went to different shelters when the sirens went off. This is what her mum told her to pass on to me and I am sure she would be happy for me to repeat it here:

    The sirens went off about lunchtime and everyone went down to the shelters. There were a number of shelters in the basement, they were like small rooms – my mum went into the shelter designated for floor staff and Annie went into the one next door for office staff. Just before the bomb hit “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was playing over the tannoy…then all the lights went out and my mum was in darkness for a number of hours while she was waiting to be dug out. She was pulled out of the shelter by Eric Rampton (one of the founders of Freeman’s), only to find herself surrounded by the injured and dead – all the men were stripped to the waist as their shirts had been ripped up for bandages. My mum just ran home and she never returned to work in Freeman’s until 1972. Unfortunately, the water pipes shattered in the shelter that Annie was in and all the occupants were drowned.

    I also found that Annie is commemorated in Westminster Abbey:
    Of the many civilians of the Commonwealth whose deaths were due to enemy action in the 1939-1945 War, the names of some 67,092 are commemorated in the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour, located near St. George’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, London.

    Thank you for the information on this website.

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