Thursday, April 18, 2013

London Bookstore and Library Bombed in the Blitz

In researching books in Britain during World War II, the two photographs below kept turning up. They appear on numerous bookish blogs, but none of these sites included text to put the scenes in context. I found them on stock photo sites and have included the captions here.

On Corbis I found this top image of the library at the 17th-century Holland House. On the night of September 27, 1940 the building was hit by German bombs. This place was private property, so I don’t know why these men would be browsing the shelves the day after the attack. I suspect that the scene may have been staged and printed in the newspapers to boost morale (to showcase British perseverance in the face of the German Blitz).

Version 1. Holland House, Kensington, London, 1940. Available from Corbis.
The photograph is part of the collection held by English Heritage, which provides the following caption:

Holland House, Kensington, London. An interior view of the bombed library at Holland House with readers apparently choosing books regardless of the damage. Photographed in 1940. The House was heavily bombed during World War II and remained derelict until 1952 when parts of the remains were preserved.

Interestingly, I noticed that there are actually two versions of this photo. The photographer took the shot from two slightly different angles, and there is an obvious difference in the blown-out white center space.

London bookshop after German bombing, 1940. Available from AP Images.
The next photo I kept seeing is a British kid reading amidst the ruins of a bookstore. AP Images includes a caption that was written during the war:

Reading history and seeing it, too an amusing sidelight of the latest chapter in London’s history is this lad who, according to the British caption, sits mid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid on October 8, 1940 in London, reading the History of London.


  1. Wonderful post! These are amazing shots indeed.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I wanted to use the image but I could not find it's source anywhere. Heartfelt thanks!!!

  3. According to Derek Hudson's 1967 'Holland House in Kensington': "The news of the tragedy of Holland House was not released to the Press until four weeks later. The report of the bombing, with photographs of the littered main staircase, and of the wrecked library — a melancholy tangle of fallen beams and masonry, open to the sky — was published on the morning of 22 October 1940, ..." Do we know even, for certain, that the photo was taken the day after the bombing?

  4. I've always admired this photo and the other morning woke up thinking that those men were looters. A search for some historical context to the photo brought me to your site, which I am enjoying immensely. Thank you for important work.