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Anthony Heap’s Strand

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Anthony Heap (1910-1985) kept a daily diary for nearly 57 years – from just before his 18th birthday in 1928 until 36 hours before his death in University College Hospital in October 1985.

Anthony Heap in 1965

Anthony Heap in 1965

He was a Londoner who lived until 1932 with is parents in Gray’s Inn Road. Anthony attended St Clement Danes Grammar School in Houghton Street, leaving to take a job as an unhappy accounts clerk at Peter Robinson’s at Oxford Circus until sacked in 1940 with his co-worker and mistress, a married woman with children.

His parents separated in 1932 and Heap and his mother lived in flats in Camden Town until moving back to central London in 1935, to flats within 400 yards of St Pancras Town Hall. His dentist father took his own life in 1933 and, at the inquest, Anthony’s mother admitted to the Coroner that since Anthony’s birth she ‘had been known as Mrs Heap.’

His politics were of the far right and in the mid-1930s he was a non-active member of Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. He and his mother attended the famous 1936 BUF rally at Olympia as Anthony has won two tickets for his letter to the Evening Standard on ‘Why I am a Fascist’. In 1937 he moderated his political views and unsuccessfully stood in the local election as a Municipal Reform (Conservative) candidate – but he was standing in the traditionally Labour Somers Town ward!

Unfit for conscription, in the second week of the Blitz, Heap found a job in the Treasurer’s Department of St Pancras Town and remained working there until retiring in 1975. Sleeping every night for months in public air raid shelters under St Pancras church, in the Royal Hotel then under Friends House on Euston Road, on hearing the ‘All Clear’ siren, Anthony set out each morning of the blitz to walk his neighbourhood and the West End to view and record the damage and action still in progress, In 1941 he met and married Marjorie, also a clerical worker, and they had one child, a son, born in 1949.

He kept a diary for 57 years and wanting them to be read, left them to the British Records Association. All 56 volumes are now in the London Metropolitan Archives where Robin Woolven transcribed the years 1931 – 1955 inclusive then edited the years 1931-1945 which were published by the London Record Society in 2017.

Mentions of the Strand in The London Diary of Anthony Heap 1931-1945

Edited by Robin Woolven, London Record Society (2018) 630 pp. ISBN:978-0-900952-58-6

1929

Thursday 30 May.  General Election. Fine day. Got own tea. Went with Mum and Dad down to Daily Sketch Offices in Strand to see first results. Got cab home at 1.0. More results on wireless. Bed at 2.

1931

Thursday 8 January … Walked along Strand, called in Woolworths and bought Galsworthy’s The Man of Property (Forsyte Saga) and up to the Avenue Pavilion for an hour’s news-talkie.

Saturday 31 January Feel slightly better this morning but tooth giving a little trouble. Sore throat still the main worry but gradually got better during day. Went on a double-deck tram down the Kingsway tunnel for first time since its re-opening.

Saturday 18 July …  bus to Charing Cross and tube to St James Park where met Maud at 6.0. Had tea in Lyons in Victoria St. Bus to Elephant. Tried to get in the Trocadero but packed out. Bus back to the Strand and went to the Tivoli. Saw Dirigible, very good film. Went in the Cafeteria a few yards down the Strand after. Then bus to Mornington Crescent. Arr. home 11.40.

Thursday 5 November Received formal exam certificate from CIS [he passed the exam and was now an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries]. Went down to Somerset House in afternoon to get some share transfers stamped – very fine day …

1932

Saturday 6 February …  had a bath, changed into evening kit, had tea and left at 6.45. Took bus to Southampton Row and walked up to the YMCA for half an hour. Then a bus down to the Strand station to meet Beatrice at 8.0 and go to the London Rover Ball at the Horticultural Hall – a very enjoyable affair as usual but marred by Beatrice’s childish behaviour in taking offence at an unintentional faux pas of mine, she assuming a very peeved air and maintaining a strong silence going home, relenting a little however when I left her at Tottenham Ct Rd station. Got home at 12.30 and turned in soon after 1.0. Naturally did not sleep well, for the evening had annoyed me considerably.

1934

Saturday 10 February Peculiar weather. Rather dull. Also faint missling [sic] rain at time. Hampstead with Nigger [his dog] home for tea. Changed into evening kit. Bus down to Strand station to meet Lilian. Called for two drinks at Horse Shoe on way. Bus round to Victoria St for Horticultural Hall, Vincent Sq. London Rover Ball. L came up beautifully dressed in blue. Had a dance or two. Went out for a couple more drinks with Wiffles after much searching for a pub. Another dance or two. Harry and Vic arrived late about. Went out to pub again with them. Three more drinks and a cigar. Was rather tight on getting back. Made rather an ass of myself and I’m afraid annoyed Lilian. Justifiably so I must confess for I was certainly very neglectful and inconsiderate towards her. Didn’t dance much latter part of evening. Just fooled about with Harry. Over 11.30. Party of us went up to Oxford Corner House. Talk and general atmosphere rather restrained at times. Out at 12.50. Three of us tried to get on 29 bus. L and I got on top, Vic left off as conductor had said full up. Actually six or seven empty seats on top. A minor catastrophe as he had key and L would have to knock up people at home which she didn’t relish. However it was no use my going up there and not being able to get back so I got off at M Cres. and came home. To bed. A rather unfortunate evening altogether.

1935

Sunday 14 April … In evening went for a walk with Mother to see the seating stands and other erections in preparation for the [Silver] Jubilee procession in Charing Cross Rd, The Mall, St James’s and Green Park, Belgrave Square, Piccadilly and so home. Stands the whole length of the Mall, Constitution Hill and Piccadilly as far as the Ritz. Many streets such as the Strand, Piccadilly, St James’s St etc lined with long narrow striped poles surmounted with axe-heads. An ingenious idea.

Looks most impressive.

Sunday 5 May Very warm today. Almost sultry. Evening: walked round sightseeing with Mother. Mainly the route of the procession tomorrow. Bus to Ludgate Circus – up to and in St Paul’s – Fleet St – Strand – Whitehall – Horseguards Parade – and St James’s Park – Green Park – Piccadilly – Leicester Square and home from there by tube. Multitude of sightseers parading the streets making progress very slow. London almost more miserable under a plethora of flags, bunting festooningthe other decorations. Most of the shops along route boarded up to prevent windows getting broken. Saw little floodlighting, most of it starts tomorrow but the fairy lights all along both sides of Piccadilly and St James’s St give a very lovely effect and London has suddenly become a dream-like place overnight. Bed at 11.30.

1936

Saturday 12 December Final reflection a propos the change of King – By an odd coincidence King George died exactly three weeks from the beginning of the year while King Edward has abdicated exactly three weeks from the end of it – We have thus had three Kings in one year for the second time in our history – 1483 was the last time (Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III). Went down to see and hear the Proclamation of George VI read this afternoon. Couldn’t get anywhere near St James’s however so went along to Trafalgar Square and heard it there through the loudspeakers as it was read at Strand, Charing Cross, and saw the procession as it came through from the Mall and passed across to the on its way to Temple Bar and the Royal Exchange. Dense crowds all along the route. A very impressive business despite the glum gloom of the afternoon for it was very dull and a faint drizzle fell throughout. Walked up Charing Cross Rd after and bought a 2/6 pipe. Have decided to have another shot at a pipe even though my first attempt at one four years ago was far from successful which was probably due to it being a Woolworth’s pipe and my inability to fill it properly. I fancy I should do better this time with a better quality article and ready-made easy-fill tobacco. Should not give up cigarettes altogether but a pipe is certainly preferable sometimes e.g. pub-crawling, fishing etc. Besides it goes much better with beer and is decidedly more masculine.

1937

Wednesday 17 March …  Home after work to change into evening clothes, then down to Australia House for Montague Burton’s (the tailors) dance which John Bell asked us along to. Presumably held tonight in celebration of St Patrick’s Day. Why, I don’t know. A rather poorish affair really. A most astonishing plain, uniformly unprepossessing crowd of people, scarcely any of whom seemed to have any idea of how to dress even. Didn’t notice a single man, woman, fellow or girl in the place with a really striking or distinguished appearance. Was also surprised to see scarcely any Jews present. Everything was as drab as could be. Likewise the hall, which was in fact exactly what one would expect to find under Australia House! Got to bed to.

Thursday 13 May [After spending the previous day watching the Coronation procession while standing at the bottom of Haymarket, Heap took the dog for an evening walk around King’s Cross where he was knocked to ground and set upon by three youths outside a pub, so he missed his evening walk around London]  Eye half closed up and very painful all day. And jaw so stiff I could scarcely eat anything for the jolts it gave me, just had to nibble. Called at doctor’s on the way home to be assured that neither are really severe or require special treatment. Just a question of time healing with the aid of hot fermentation. After pecking at some dinner went along to the City to see the floodlighting there on the Tower, Tower Bridge, Bank, Exchange, Mansion House (these three very well done), Guildhall, Bow Church, St Paul’s (very poor) and down past Ludgate Circus to Fleet St and Embankment. Some grand displays along here, HMS President moored alongside Somerset House, Savoy, the imitation bonfire on top of Shell Mex House, and further along, Big Ben and the green-hued County Hall across the water. Had intended to only do the City this evening but having reached Charing Cross decided I might as well cut up Northumberland Avenue and get just a view of the West End sights as well – the National Gallery and St Martin’s, Horse Guards Parade, Buckingham Palace (in the distance), the flaming torches and brilliant illumination of Pall Mall. Saw cars drawing up for reception at the German Embassy in Carlton House Terrace. So up Lower Regent St and across Piccadilly Circus, through Shaftesbury Avenue and Bloomsbury and home. Walked for three hours at a fairy quick pace so must have covered about ten miles this evening. And it was worth it too, despite the strain on my eye of the constant floodlighting. Wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Hot fermentation on my eye and jaw before bed at 12.30.

1938

Sunday 3 April Walked down to the Embankment via Lincolns Inn Fields and back before lunch. Passing through Houghton St. I found that the greater part of the old school buildings have been pulled down and supplanted by a huge block of offices. Only a fragment of the old building now remains. [The London School of Economics was built on the former site of Heap’s school, St Clement Danes Grammar School]

1939

Monday 11 September …  Dispelled the depression which started to settle over me in the evening by going out and taking a stroll round the West End to see what blacked out London looked like. By bus as far as the Dominion and from there did the familiar round of theatre land – Charing X Rd, Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Strand and then bus home from Wellington St. Not a complete black out for the green and red traffic signals and the dimmed lights of cars and buses provide a certain amount of light but effective enough to make nocturnal London appear strangely unreal and unfamiliar. With an air of mystery and intrigue about it all. The black outlines of many buildings silhouetted against the starry sky reveal an unexpected beauty in their symmetrical design obscured hitherto as they have been by the blatant glare of neon lights. While away from the traffic of the main thoroughfares, the secluded back streets somehow suggest the quiet repose and serenity of eighteenth century London by night. One almost expects to see torrid laden linkboys or sedan chairs to appear round the corner any moment. Yes, there is an exciting and disturbing coolness of an eerie and almost ethereal quality about the darkened streets of central London now and frequent flakes of what appeared to be lightning enhanced their effects considerably. A fair number of people about except in the vicinity of the Strand which was practically deserted. The evening a welcome change from the eternal book and radio evenings.

1940

Sunday 14 January Very cold and very foggy. Temp 33 deg. Under these conditions neither Hampstead nor Regent’s Park seemed very attractive propositions. But have to get out and exercise or I feel rotten all day so took a long triangular walk round with the Strand as the base line and the Law Courts and Trafalgar Square as its two angles. A good proportion of soldiers among such few pedestrians as there are about the streets. In Trafalgar Square a group of Canadians asked me where

British Colombia House was. I hadn’t the least idea. Alternatively did I know the whereabouts of the George the SEVENTH memorial? I wasn’t sure whether they meant George V or Edward VII but in either case I didn’t know so had to confess equal ignorance thereto. And I thought I knew my London! At that moment an aged flower seller appeared on the scene and doubtless in the expectation of a tip relieved me of my embarrassing questioners. Though I don’t suppose she could direct them any better than I could. And I doubt even more if she got a tip. Passing the Duke of York’s Theatre, observed that it has got play bills of a cheap melodrama which was on just before the war, displayed outside. Appalling neglect! This, together with the Playhouse and the Haymarket are the only three theatres which haven’t reopened since the war started. The only important cinemas still closed are the Tivoli and the Regency. The Carlton kept them company until very recently but has now opened up again. The base of Nelson’s Column is now covered with four-sided National Savings advertisements. While nearby Charles I’s statue is completely boarded up as a precaution against an attack. Presumably this is the only statue in London deemed worth trying to save.

Thursday 12 September … Walked round the West End and saw some of Tuesday night’s damage in afternoon. Some buildings destroyed at corner of Kingsway and Remnant St. The Strand roped off from Southampton St, Maiden Lane, Henrietta St closed waiting for a time bomb to explode. One had already done so at the top of Bedford St. The top part of Shaftesbury Avenue was likewise closed for the same reason. Some damage had been done to buildings in Regent St opposite Austin Reed’s and also to the north end of Burlington Arcade. And that was about all. But nothing in Central London can compare with the Holborn catastrophe for extensive damage. Today’s first alarm didn’t go off till 4.40. It lasted an hour, I spent it writing cards and letters to various people apprising them of my good fortune [on finding a new job]. Tonight’s alarm didn’t go off until about an hour later than usual – 9.15. However the all clear didn’t sound till 5.45 so there wasn’t much in it. The anti-aircraft barrage was exceedingly active again throughout the night and doubtless proving as effective as last night. Bed at 6.15.

Saturday 12 October Spent the afternoon doing an extensive sightseeing tour of the recent raid damage. Took the bus to Blackfriars and started from the damaged building. Went up and into St Paul’s. The broken masonry was still piled in front of the hole in the altar and the sun streamed through the hole in the roof. On the whole the damage remarkably limited. Then down Ludgate Hill and along Fleet St. At Temple Bar turned into the Temple and had a look around there. A pitiful sight to see the havoc brought on to this lovely and secluded old spot. It’s many years since I wandered round there, used to haunt it during my school holidays when I was about nine years old. Proceeded along the Strand where a bomb had landed by St Clement Danes and hard on Montreal Place alongside Bush House. I walked up into Covent Garden. A crater in the roadway where Wellington St runs into Bow St – houses demolished in Endell St and Maiden Lane. Back to the Strand to Trafalgar Square and into Whitehall where two minor hits had been scored. Saw the damage done to the House of Lords by the Richard I statue (only the sword has been bent on this) then got a bus up to Piccadilly Circus in order to come back via Soho where on Thursday night a bomb wrecked the corner of Greek St and Old Compton St and buildings in Charing Cross Rd opposite Foyles. The whole area around Cambridge Circus on the north side is in a terrible state now. Practically every street is blocked with debris which the Army Pioneer Corps have now been detailed to clear away. Next week 5,000 of them start work all over London. Home to tea at 5.30. Night alarm slackening off. Tonight though it started at 7.15 and was over by 2.10. Stayed on at the R [the Royal Hotel shelter] till 5.30.

Sunday 17 November Another stroll round the West End in afternoon. Saw some more of Friday night’s damage, principally at the Savoy Hotel and Hampton’s furniture store on the corner of Trafalgar Square which had been completely burnt out. Minor damage to National Gallery, Suffolk Place and Dunn’s shop next to Strand Palace Hotel. On way back I noticed the building next to the Homeopathic Nurses’ Home in Great Ormond St had been completely demolished. When this happened I don’t know. Someone at Drury Lane has a sense of humour. For outside the entrance has been placed the ‘Pit Full’ boards. So it is – of debris!

1941

Sunday 11 May Big Blitz overnight, the first of any magnitude for three weeks. Lasted from 11.0 till 5.0. Stayed in bed [in his bunk in the Friends House shelter]and tried to sleep but it was impossible for, as if there wasn’t enough row outside, everyone must perforce get up, put all the lights on and talk ‘umpteen to the dozen’, as if that makes things any better. Not to mention the additional din caused by a host of new arrivals who were so numerous that the shelter began to resemble the black hole of Calcutta. However, I did actually manage to get a couple of hours sleep after the ‘all clear’ had sounded, and how I needed it. Walking home in the morning, I discovered that the two near hits which shook the Friends House during the night were: (a) the pub next to De Gaulle’s Free French Forces HQ over the road {in Gower Place] and (b) the corner of Euston Rd and Dukes Rd behind St Pancras Church, including the Swiss Café, the garage next to it and part of Somerset Terrace behind it. A third bomb had made a crater in Euston Rd further along (it had fallen almost exactly the same spot as the land-mine last Sept) broken in the front of Clifton House and the Euston Tavern and smashed all the windows in the Town Hall again.

Those of Sinclair House [his block of flats in Hastings Street] had remained intact fortunately though the shops underneath had got slightly damaged once more. No water supply up on the top floor so we have to go down to the basement to draw it.

Walked as far as Shaftesbury Avenue in morning. Various shops burnt out in Tottenham Court Rd, houses demolished in Fitzroy Square and Fitzroy St, a good part of Charlotte St and Old Compton St (Soho’s two main streets) completely destroyed by fire, a nasty hit between Dean St and Wardour St (also on Levita House, Somers Town) – a house on Gower St and a building on Malet St down – unexploded bombs in Hampstead Rd, Oxford St, Guilford St – St Pancras, King’s Cross stations both closed through bomb damage on platforms – street craters in Oxford St, Barnard St and Bedford Sq. Fire damage on corners of Russell Square and Tavistock Square. Such was the extent of the havoc I viewed on this “morning after the night before.”

[Tried] the Empire in afternoon but found they couldn’t open through the failure of the electricity, so went round and saw some more of last night’s damage instead. I thought I’d seen something this morning, but it was nothing to what I discovered this afternoon. Along the Strand the corner of Villiers St was down. In Lancaster Place something had crashed through the new Waterloo Bridge approach into the tram subway entrance below. From the bridge, fires could be seen still burning all along the riverside. In Catherine St there was a crater between the Duchess and the Strand. Buildings opposite both sides of Australia House had been hit and St Clement Danes Church burnt out.

But it wasn’t until I hit Fleet St that I came across the really big stuff. Huge areas on both sides of it had been burnt right out, not so much in the ‘street’ itself as behind it. Ludgate Circus was a shambles and New Bridge St a gigantic network of hose pipes leading up from the river at Blackfriars to fight the fires still burning in Ludgate Hill, Old Bailey. Ludgate Hill was, in fact, in ruins and practically nothing was left of St Bride St, Shoe Lane, Charterhouse St and the whole length of Farringdon St, north of Holborn Viaduct and very little of Smithfield and the south end of Farringdon Rd. These are plain unexaggerated facts. This whole area had been virtually laid waste. EC1 and EC4 last night met the same fate as EC2 and EC3 on Dec. 29th last. But it didn’t end there.

Proceeding up into Holborn, I found that sorely tried borough had taken it on the chin again and this time it was almost a knockout. What little had been left of Gray’s Inn Rd from the last show-down was finally disposed of. The north front of Lincoln’s Inn too had taken a rap and more of High Holborn, including the Stadium, [pub] had been hit. The best part of Red Lion St and Eagle St were burnt out, Bedford Row had taken three direct hits and, as a piece de resistance, the whole of Theobald’s Rd (both sides) from Bedford Row right up to Southampton Row, together with the end of Lamb’s Conduit St had been brought to the ground. The casualties must have been enormous and though the main brunt of the attack must obviously have been concentrated on this adjacent area close to the City, I should think that the total damage sustained was as great as anything inflicted in any previous raid. And this is the price we have to pay for so called democracy. Is it worth it? I shall leave posterity to judge. The world is too insane today for anyone to hope to make any sense out of it all. Our water in taps again this evening.

Saturday 11 October A very red-letter day in my life, the reddest of all I suppose. For today at noon I was married to Marjorie at the Town Hall. The ceremony, which took place in one of the committee rooms upstairs, was pleasantly informal, very much to the point, and despite the considerable amount of writing by the registrar and his clerk which seemed to be involved, admirably brief. Mother and Joan acted as witnesses and three of M’s colleagues from the [First Aid]  post were present. And the sun shone for us, so everything was lovely. Went for a drink in the Euston Tavern after Joan left to catch a train. Mother, Marjorie and myself went to the Cumberland Hotel at Marble Arch for lunch. Lobster salad, mushrooms on toast, pastry, lager, coffee. Excellent. Got a bottle of wine to take to Somerset in Soho on way back. Came indoors (i.e. our new flat) for an hour or so. Out again for half an hour’s stroll around. Had Mother over to tea. Set out soon after 6.0 for the Strand Palace, where we dined, drank half a bottle of Sauternes and a bottle of claret. The band kept playing show tunes of the ’twenties, a nice nostalgic evening. Left at 10.30, cab home and, as Pepys so slyly says, so to bed. About my own ‘first night’ I shall say nothing except that it was somewhat restless. We kept getting very thirsty and got very little sleep. And there were no critics present!

1945

Thursday 21 October Marjorie comes home with the news that she’s to be transferred to Somerset House for two months beginning next Monday. Some special work in connection with the new ‘pay as you earn’ tax…

Wednesday 9 May VE Day+1 as the newspapers describe it, and another public holiday. No evening papers tonight, no morning papers tomorrow. Naturally didn’t get up so early today but went out to lunch again at the same place as yesterday. Even adhered to the same programme to the extent of getting in St James’s Park for an hour or so in the early afternoon and after catching another glimpse of the Royal Family as they set out from the Palace on a tour of the East End, coming home about 3.30. Incidentally a military band was playing in the grounds of Buckingham Palace today and thus doing something to remedy the one great deficiency in yesterday’s proceedings – lack of music. Once more into the West End in the evening, more or less a repetition of last night. The same good humour of crowds, the same high spirited skylarking. The same awe-inspiring floodlighting. Wasn’t perhaps so overwhelming an occasion but was near enough to being so as made no difference. After waiting in the rain for an hour outside the Palace in the hope of seeing the King and Queen appear on the balcony, strolled through the Mall to Trafalgar Square, circled round via Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, and finally wandered down the Strand for a last enchanting eye-full of the floodlit splendour of St Paul’s Cathedral, Houses of Parliament and Waterloo Bridge. Then back on what must have been the last 68 bus to Euston Rd which was completely illuminated from end to end with its full pale blue peacetime lighting. And so we came to the end of two perfect days. They couldn’t have furnished a happier set of memories to look back on in my old age.

Anthony Heap’s Theatre and Cinema Going along the Strand

Heap’s other main leisure interest was in attending as many West End theatre first nights as he could manage. Ideally down in the ‘pit’ or up in the ‘Gods’, between 1931 and 1984 Heap attended some 3,351 theatrical performances (an average of sixty-two shows a year), the vast majority as a member of the first night or preview audience. In the years 1930-1945 he attended 114 performances at the theatres along the Strand namely at the: Strand 24, Vaudeville 23, Aldwych 17, Duchess 21, Savoy 14 and Adelphi 19. He also attended the Tivoli cinema in the Stand on seven occasions in those years.

Find out more

The Bomb Sight Project maps the London WW2 bomb census between 7 October 1940 and 6 June 1941

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