Remembering the Morley Bombing of 1940

On 15 October 1940 at 19.45, a huge bomb was dropped on Morley College London’s Waterloo Centre, destroying the oldest parts of the building and leaving only the 1937 extension standing.  The Principal had just left for home and there were 195 local people sheltering in the building whose homes had already been bombed. 

57 people died including the Assistant Schoolkeeper Tommy Rosser and his family.  College records were destroyed, the beautiful murals by Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Charles Mahoney and John Anthony Greene were lost too.

The impact on Morley and the local community was devastating.  Many houses in King Edward Walk were destroyed by flying masonry.  The King’s Arms pub on the corner of Westminster Bridge Road and King Edward Walk was so badly damaged it was never used as a public house again.  It remained derelict until the mid-1960s when Morley College London acquired it as an arts centre – now Morley Gallery and itself, recently refurbished. During the redevelopment, areas of the old bomb-blackened buildings were preserved and kept visible to show the history of the building and commemorate the devastating damage.

True war-time spirit prevailed and within days Morley was running classes again, utilising Johanna primary school.  Eye witness accounts from members of staff tell of windows being blown out as fast as the glazier fixed them, of the canteen serving “sandwiches with unidentifiable fillings” in a corridor, the refreshment having been lost.

The College’s administration moved to the library and Margaret Cowles, the Principal’s Assistant recalled in 1956, “It was that foggy November afternoon in 1940 when we sat, Mr. Cottrell and I, in a library without doors, windows, heat or light, the College being considered unfit for normal human occupation.  We were engaged on an important letter to County Hall by the light of two candles and one hurricane lamp, and with the aid of a bomb-lamed typewriter whose movements were unpredictable.  The work progressed slowly because knees knocked and hands shook with cold in spite of several layers of coats and scarves – Mr. C. even had a hat pulled down over his ears.  Finally we downed tools in a hurry when a kettle of water (coaxed out of the schoolkeeper across the way) came to boiling point on the oil stove on which we had placed it some five hours before and “tea was up!” 

Mr C (George Cottrell, the indomitable College Secretary for forty years) wrote in 1952, “The administrative staff were left with absolutely nothing, other than the few cash record books which it had been found possible to cram into the small College safe.  This particular article, being somewhat heavier than air, went down instead of up and was found under mountains of debris, almost intact!”

That safe is still in use in the College, its scars evident.  The spirit of ‘Make Do and Mend’ lives on.

It would be another 18 years before a new, rebuilt and restored Morley College London was completed, opened in 1958 by the Queen Mother and still serving as our Waterloo Centre for adult education today.

Thank you to Elaine Andrews, Learning Resources Centre Manager (Waterloo) and archivist for writing this commemorative article and drawing on these powerful eye witness accounts.