North Kensington at War

Last summer our local history group did some research and a walk on the effects of WW2 bombing raids in North Kensington. Posted below is an excerpt from a history originally written by Carole Ann Burnett in 1997 for the 40th Anniversary of St Pius X, St Charles Square. It was deposited in the Local Studies Archive of RBK&C and also with Kensington & Chelsea Community History Group (no longer in operation). It seems to be a very good account of the area during the war.

North Kensington during WW2

Kensington suffered a total of over 12,000 air attacks, most of these being by incendiary bombs. Many of these incidents were in North Kensington. In the borough as a whole 2,718 people were injured, 412 fatally. There were over 3,000 seriously damaged houses and over one thousand had to be demolished.

The Parish (St Pius, St Charles Square), was quite heavily bombed, possibly because of the proximity of two Railway Lines and the Canal, still used then for some freight transport. Extra gates were installed along this to contain flooding from possible damage to the elevated sections – the remains of these can still be seen today. North Pole Road Station on the West London Railway was damaged in 1940; all the stations down to Clapham Junction were closed to the public and the line came into its own, becoming a vital link between all the main railway systems. The line was used for troop, hospital and ammunition trains, and even had anti-aircraft guns running up and down it.

In the St Charles area there were many reported incidents. On one night in October 1940, no less than eight high explosive bombs fell on the area. This was to be the pattern for many months to come as the Blitz raged over London. One of the incidents concerned was the gardener’s cottage (the house next to the Presbytery) belonging to the Training College, where there was ‘damage to the building, with a large crater outside’. A First Aid Post which had been at number sixty St Charles Square had to be evacuated to the College because of extensive damage. On this same night, eleven adjoining houses in Rackham Street were all damaged: this was redeveloped in 1949 and is now part of the Balfour of Burleigh Estate, with Bruce Close roughly being where the street stood. The Sutton and Peabody Estates were also badly damaged: a Community Centre in Sutton Way was hit, with many casualties, including five dead.

The St Charles College and school buildings suffered badly during the Blitz. On the first raid, bombs fell near the Carmelite Convent, almost completely destroying the Demonstration School and smashing all the College Chapel windows. A week later incendiary bombs destroyed much of the top floor of the College, and a few days later more bombs fell in the grounds. Finally, on 25th October 1940 incendiary bombs fell along most of the building, almost totally destroying the top floor. Only the block facing Norburn Street remained relatively intact and the Hall was used for dances and other Parish functions. The already-damaged school buildings were badly burned, but thankfully no one seems to have been killed or injured in these raids. The ruined buildings were still standing in the early 1950’s.

The Carmelite Monastery thankfully, seems to have escaped many of these raids. A bomb fell in the road outside (Hewer Street)  with some damage to the wall and to the roof of the lodge, so that for a short time curious children were able to peep through into what was previously forbidden territory!  St Charles Hospital, considering its size and height, was very fortunate in remaining so intact, as was the nearby Princess Louise Hospital although an incident reported on the same night as the College damage reads “Hospital unable to accept casualties as all windows blown in and no lights.”

Some of these air attacks delivered mines, two of which fell on St Mark’s Road, damaging the houses adjacent to the Kensington Memorial Park. Others landed in the Cemetery- with not surprisingly, noone injured and one fell on the Sunbeam Talbot factory (Rootes site) on Barlby Road, at the time used for the assembly of Rolls Royce Merlin Aero Engines. Land nearby, a playground (now Notting Barn Road Estate) was requisitioned from Barlby Road School and used as a Barrage Balloon depot. St Helen’s Church was heavily bombed during the blitz and was completely destroyed when a V1 Flying Bomb landed where the vicarage is now. What little was left was demolished along with houses in Kelfield Gardens. There were thirty eight casualties with two dead.

During the period of late 1940 and early 1941 there were no public basement shelters in North Kensington and it was not until later in the war that these were built. Some people had Anderson shelters in their gardens or a Morrison shelter indoors; many used coal cellars and the like. Further afield, at Holland Park station, many of those sheltering were killed when a high explosive bomb fell directly on it..

The land belonging to the St Charles Training College (in St Charles Square) was given over for the “Dig for Victory” campaign, as were the Notth Kensington Lawn Tennis Club grounds. For a short time the Training College was put to another use. In a Council Report of “The Emergency and Finance Committee”, it states that instructions have been received from the Ministry of Heatlh as to ‘arrangements for the billeting of Dutch and Belgian refugees’. Accordingly a dispersal centre was opened at the college. Apart from the Belgian and Dutch there were also refugees from France, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Russia and Czechoslovakia: their ages ranged from infants to people in their eighties. Landladies were paid 21 shillings a week for ‘full board and lodging’ and official records had to be kept by them listing every visitor a person had, presumably to lookout for spies!

Later on in the war, the grounds of the College were used for a Wartime Day Nursery. This was housed in prefabricated huts and would have stood at the back of where the Parish Centre is now. It opened on 1943 and was to remain in use until December 1948.

Early on in the war, the Home Guard were stationed on Wormwood Scrubs, attached to a heavy-duty anti-aircraft battery. In the later years of the war a Prisoner-of-War camp was established close by for German prisoners. These prisoners were allowed to come to Mass in the Parish:they were permitted to walk unsupervised, two at a time, and had to wear an identifying patch on their clothes.

Carole Ann Burnett, 1997.


n.b. Carole Burnett, who researched the above at RBK&C Local Studies Centre would have used the Bomb Index files.  On small index cards. filed under the address of each incidents are details concerning the date, time and type of incident and include the damage to both property and injury to residents.   They form a great record from the War. The index box is not complete – there are some missing.

The next posting  will be about three particular bombsites in North Kensington:  St Helen’s Church and Kelfield Gardens, the northern end of St Helen’s Gardens near the Kensington Memorial Park and the crossroads of Wallingford Avenue and Kelfield Gardens. All of these resulted in buildings and homes being demolished and rebuilt.

If you have some information about any of these WW2 incidents and would like to share it,  please send it to me,  Sue Snyder at


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10 Responses to North Kensington at War

  1. Audrey Counsell says:

    This is exceedingly interesting. Since I came to live here in 1961/2 I was very aware that the area had taken a pounding during the war for new buildings were cutting into terraces of older properties. I was a small child in Penge, Anerley and Sydenham during part of the blitz and because of that your local history of North Kensington during WW2 came to life. Thank you so much.

  2. James Farndale says:

    Excellent posting, thank you so much for your efforts, keep them coming if you can please. I was born in 1939 in Hammersmith hospital and lived in Oldham Road (formally Manchester Road). My elder Brother and I were evacuated to Wales, but we have failed find out any information about what year that was, and I was subsequently, on returning back home was shipped off sometime later to a children’s hospital in Carshalton because I had rickets. I believe my treatment was paid for by Bletchynden Mission (the Shaftsbury Society) but I could be wrong, I have tried to find information about my treatment but no-one knows where the records are now. Do you think the two subjects (evacuation in the area and perhaps seriously sick North Ken children) are worthy of experienced researchers following up?

  3. Frances Canny (need Berks) says:

    I was born in 1936 at Hammersmith Hospital, Ducane Road and of course, I remember a lot of the bombings although my parents probably would have done. I lived at 167 Oxford Gardens and we got let off lightly but remember a bomb falling on the Express Dairies in Wood Lane and all of our windows blew out. We had an Anderson Shelter in the garden which filled with water on one occasion and so it was back to the house but it was always so damp. I was christened in St Helens Church before it was bombed and then married there after it was rebuilt. I remember the four corner houses in Kelfield Gardens being bomb sites as I would play around there with my mates. I went to Oxford Gardens School and a teacher would walk home with a group of us for safety and on one occasion there was an incident and we all had to dive into a front garden which happened to be where I lived.

    Thank you for these posting, very interesting. I was a lucky one and lived to tell the tale.

  4. Maureen Barnes says:

    Very interesting read. My Mum, her parents and nine siblings all lived in the area during the war. Her brothers and sisters ranged in age from approx 5 years old to young adults serving in the armed forces so all would have been living there for either all or part of the war (Those serving their country when they were home on leave) there were spells of evacuation for the youngest but these did not work out successfully and my grandparents brought the children home. My Mum told me that apart from shrapnel damage to the anti room their home in St Ervans Road was undamaged throughout the war and none of the family suffered any injuries. Reading your statistics for the area really brings home to me what my Mum always felt….that they were blessed.

  5. Stephanie Jarrett (nee Horsman) says:

    Well done! Amazing history of my family, the Horsmans. Thank you for the information as we emigrated to Adelaide in 1964.

  6. Joan nee Taylor says:

    I lived in Kelfield Gardens and went to Oxford Gardens School during the war… Remember well the church being bombed and playing as a child amongst the ruins. As children we used the shelter in Wallingford Avenue to produce plays as children to keep ourselves amused. I was born in 1936 and played with so many friends in the streets. Evacuated for a short time during the war. My father had already fought in the first world war and was an ARP. Remember the VJ parties in Oxford Gardens and all the street parties. Was a member of the tennis club behind Kelfield Gardens.

  7. Roger Garrini says:

    My grandparents (Gatland) lived in West Row during the war next to the pub on the corner and my grandfather’s sister Florrie Kennedy and her friend Flo Blood ran a grocer round the corner in row of shops. Very dim memories of the sweet counter and the back room behind the shop. From the map and my dim memory as a 4-5 year old I cannot work out exactly where the shop was. Stories of the war were boring as a teenager. I wish I had listened now. Staying to finish a box of chocolates then seeing the shelter blown up where they should have been!!

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