With its deep history and vast size, it is no wonder that London hides some incredible secrets. From the Underground to the Tower of London the UK’s capital has an abundance of remarkable stories about days gone by.
Some of London’s greatest stories come from its most challenging days like the Great Fire of London which destroyed most of the historical City of London after starting in a baker’s or when Guy Fawkes and a group of revolutionaries planned to assassinate King James I in the Gunpowder Plot.
London’s greatest ever challenge though was arguably World War Two and more specifically the Blitz. The Blitz was a relentless bombing of the capital by Germany between 1940 and 1941, after Adolf Hitler was defeated by the RAF in the Battle of Britain.
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Many UK cities, including Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Coventry, were also bombed in the Blitz as the Germans attempted to break Britain and destroy its ability to function. London had many defences to try and limit the German offensive from blackouts to residents hiding in the network of Underground stations.
One of London and Britain’s greatest defences though were barrage balloons. According to Forces.net in 1940 the UK had 1,466 balloons, including around 450 over London.
Barrage balloons played a very important part in the UK’s defences against the Germans, according to the BBC, the giant balloons were around three times the size of a cricket pitch. The balloons were tied up and then released to climb to great heights where they would restrict German pilot’s ability to move.
Often the balloons were cleverly positioned to drive German planes into anti-aircraft fire and if the pilots actually flew into the wire holding the balloons they would crash and hit the ground. By 1944 according to Forces.net, there were several thousand balloons flying over the UK keeping civilians safe from German planes.
The balloons may have long since vanished but actually, there are remnants of their usage that can still be found in London today. In two locations in London barrage balloon tethers, or anchors, which helped keep hold of the balloons are still visible.
The tethers would have helped keep control of the large balloons and made sure they don’t float away. The best examples can reportedly be found at Wanstead Flats where there are four tethering points that would have been tied to the balloons.
The rather peculiar shaped tethers would have been secured like concrete to the ground and able to withstand great pulling forces. A single tether can also reportedly be found in woodland adjacent to Betty Layward School in Stoke Newington (see main photo).
The single hoop tether may have once been one of many found there. In fact in 2005 when sharing memories of World War Two with the BBC one person mentioned the barrage balloons in the area, he said: “My family lived at No.63 Jenner Road, Stoke Newington, and being a boy that played outside a lot, I had already inspected the new barrage balloon site that had been set up on Stoke Newington Common and had seen it raised in several tests.
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