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Owen’s Fields

The entrance to this small park was once the entrance to a school playground that separated Dame Alice Owen’s Girls’ School and Owen’s Boys’ School and is now known as Owen’s Fields in Clerkenwell, London EC1.

The girl’s school was built in 1890 and was a substantial building with underground cellars. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the pupils were evacuated to Bedford and the cellars beneath the school were used by the local inhabitants as an Air Raid Shelter.

On the night of 15 October 1940 London saw the heaviest air raid since the outbreak of the war. There were near perfect flying conditions with a full moon to aid navigation. Over 400 German bombers made their way across the English Channel to attack London, dropping both incendiary bombs and high explosives.

About 150 people, mainly local families with children and the elderly had come to sleep in the public air raid shelter in the basement of the school.

At 20.07 hours, a large high explosive bomb hit the school directly which resulted in the buildings collapse and people were crushed or trapped in the basement. The shock wave from the blast ruptured the culvert that carried the New River from a reservoir to the north of the school and the basement started to fill with water.

Local people were first on the scene and started rescue work with whatever tools they could find and they were later joined by uniform services, who were dealing with incidents all over London. Some people were immediately rescued, but for some, it was a long wait including the school caretaker’s wife, Mrs Burley. She was photographed being carried from the ruins 17 hours after the bomb fell.

However, the majority, thought to have been 109 were not so fortunate and died in the shelter, The last bodies arrived at the mortuary on 8 November after more than three weeks of recovery work. Seventeen of the bodies were unidentified.

A commemorative Peace Garden has been created behind the Sixth Form College that now stands on the site and anyone wishing to visit the garden should contact the college through their website.

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