Over the weekend I was walking through Hammersmith and came across one of the blue plaques that indicates a site of historical interest, but in an unusual twist it was affixed to the side of some park gates rather than a building.
Colet Gardens on the Hammersmith Road used to be the site of the St Paul’s School, which was originally established in the early 1500s as a cathedral school and occupied this particular site from 1884 to 1961, when it moved to a riverside location in Barnes. The main school building was finally demolished in 1968 but a derelict remnant still survives on one corner of the the site – given how handsome these ancilliary buildings are, the red brick and terracotta edifice of the main school building must have been an imposing sight when it was intact. Of course these days we wouldn’t consider destroying a building like this but this was the 1960s, when a whole host of injustices were done all across London…
The site is of particular historical importance because of what took place in the school’s lecture hall on the evening of 15 May, 1944. The school had been evacuated at the beginning of the war and this building, sited 4 miles away from Whitehall in a non-descript residential area, was seen as an ideal base for Montgomery’s XXI Army Group – no doubt influenced by the fact that he himself had been a pupil there in his younger days, an ‘Old Pauline’ as ex-pupils are known. The meeting on 15 May constituted the final briefing to senior officers on the plans to invade Normandy – D-Day. The guest list reveals how important this briefing was – the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, King George VI and General Eisenhower were all in attendance. From the biographies I’ve read and the documentaries that I’ve watched, I’d bet almost anything that it was the then General Montgomery who led the meeting however!
I thought that this was a great little find, and it just goes to show that history is all around us in this city, everywhere we go. What interesting historical sites have you discovered lately?