From our archive: the Museum at War

Dec 7 2017 2:25 PM

What we learnt preparing for our Festive 40s wartime waterworks celebrations.

As part of our Winter Waterworks season, we’ve been celebrating a wartime waterworks Christmas at the Museum, channelling the 1940s spirit of rationing, air raids and make do and mend.

We’ve also unearthed some wonderful stories and photographs from our archive which show the crucial role the Kew Bridge site played in the War effort. Here are the top five things we learnt.

1.    Our Tower was used as a fire watching post.

It’s logical really: at 165ft tall, our standpipe Tower still dominates the Kew Bridge skyline. What better place for local air raid wardens to look out for any fires breaking out.

2.    Home Guards – but not as we know them.

The Waterworks had its own Home Guard brigade, but our home guards (see picture above) could not have been less like the characters immortalised by Dad’s Army. Because many of our workers did jobs classed as reserved occupations, exempted from conscription, the brigade is full of young men in their prime.

3.    We played a major role in fire-fighting during the Blitz

Our archive records a local resident recalling just how noisy the Waterworks were during the Blitz. There was a very good reason for that: our engines were working at full tilt to supply the water used by firemen in the aftermath of bomb attacks. We’re proud to say that we contributed in our own way to saving St Paul’s and to ameliorating the devastating effects of night after night of bombing.

4.    We were targeted by Nazi bombers

Given its location and significance in terms of supplying water for drinking as well as fire-fighting purposes, it’s unsurprising that the Kew Waterworks were seen as a legitimate industrial target.  An aerial photograph from 1943 – on display in the Museum - clearly shows that this was indeed the case.

5.    We were bracing ourselves for an attack

The Metropolitan Water Board were anticipating just such an attack. At Kew Bridge, the Waterworks windows were covered with steel blast shutters to protect the workers in the event of an attack. Outdoors, the filter bed workers had access to an air raid shelter.

We’ll be continuing the 1940s theme in the run up to Christmas when we’ll need out younger visitor to save Christmas lunch by taking our ration book trail challenge.