St Paul's Watch Papers WW1 & WW2

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St Paul's Watch Papers WW1 & WW2

Papers of the St Paul’s Watch
1915-1945

The St Paul’s Watch was a voluntary organisation first formed in June 1915 to protect the Cathedral from bombing raids by airships during the First World War. The Watch’s leader was Surveyor to the Fabric Mervyn McCartney, who over the course of the war supervised over 260 men. Their duties were to look out for, and put out, any fires that may start as a result of the bombs that were being dropped during the air raids, keeping detailed logs of nightly activity. They received training from the London Fire Brigade, and remained in close contact with them, using telephones that had been installed especially for that purpose. They also had to develop a good understanding of the geography of the Cathedral, especially of the staircases and passages on the upper levels of the building. To assist with this, a complete set of plans of the Cathedral, showing the location of every staircase, passageway and water hydrant, was drawn up and bound into convenient pocket-sized booklets.
 
The Watch disbanded at the end of the war but reformed again in 1939 at the start of the Second World War, with their new leader, Surveyor to the Fabric Godfrey Allen. Their duties remained similar to those during the First World War, as they continued keeping watch over the Cathedral, reporting to the London Fire Brigade any instances of gunfire, incendiaries or damage to the building. The Watch also received training on dealing with fires, incendiaries and gas attacks, which was to come in useful between autumn 1940 and spring 1941, the period known as the Blitz. The Watch drew its members from various professions, and included architects, academics, business men, civil servants, and members of the clergy. As a result of this talent and diversity the Watch was sometimes known as ‘best club in London’.
 
The last meeting of the Watch was held on 8 May 1945, and after the war it was suggested that the volunteers of the Watch should regroup to be form a new body, to continue their friendship and love for the Cathedral, and to use their talents and enthusiasm for peacetime rather than wartime efforts. This body would become known as the Friends of St Paul’s Cathedral, and it was officially formed in 1952. Their aims were to help foster interest in the Cathedral’s history and architecture, as well as aid improvements in the Cathedral with financial support, and they still continue their good work to this day.
 
The Cathedral Collections Department holds a number of records relating to the activities of the Watch dating back to their formation in 1915. The Cathedral Library holds a large number of photographs from the St Paul’s Watch during the Second World War, as well as correspondence between members of the Watch, in addition to a number of original log-books, which were filled out after they had completed their nightly duties. The Cathedral Architectural Archive holds two files of papers outlining the Watch’s training, including papers on procedures and drills, copies of lectures and test papers, intelligence notes and alerts, information on enemy weaponry, extracts from articles, and newspaper cuttings. The Archive also holds facsimile copies of the personal papers of Richard Wakelin, a Watch volunteer, including correspondence, photographs and drawings.  
 
Further reading:
W R Matthews, St Paul’s Cathedral in Wartime 1939-1945 (1946)
 
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