The London Fire Brigade constructed ‘emergency water supplies’ during the Second World War to supply water to their fire engines. There was a particular problem with water supply, both because the water mains were broken during bombing and because the river Thames is tidal and so at low tide it was difficult to pump water. From July 1938, in anticipation of war, new water pipes were constructed for London. By the beginning of the war ‘portable dams’, which held 1,000 gallons of water and were placed on open ground, were ready to be moved into threatened areas of the city. These were supplemented later by larger steel structures that held up to 5,000 gallons, sited in the middle of streets and kept full with water changed every month or so. In the event, both of these types of structure were of limited use as they were not large enough to provide water for more than a few minutes, being intended only as an immediate supply. London was bombed between September 1940 and May 1941. As buildings were destroyed, the water supply for the Fire Brigade was supplemented further by reservoirs built in the basements of bombed buildings and sealed in concrete. Although much larger than the tanks on the ground, these were also of only limited help. There are photographs of several of them among the records of the London Fire Brigade Museum, but neither of the books on the Fire Brigade during the Blitz mentions their use.1
The records of Ginner’s commission are at the Imperial War Museum.2 Ginner’s friend E.M.O’R. Dickey, Secretary at the Ministry of Information, wrote to the artist on 17 November 1941 asking if he would paint, as suggested by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee,
for a fee of 25 guineas, a bombed building adapted for storing water. The exact choice of subject and the size of the picture will be left to your own discretion. We thought that the adaptation of buildings which have been ‘blitzed’ to serve as water tanks, with the curious effect of reflections, would be a subject that would specially appeal to you, and we very much hope that you will take it on for us.3
Information from Esther Mann, London Fire Brigade Museum. The books are Neil Wallington, Firemen at War: The Work of London’s Fire-fighters in the Second World War, London 1981, pp.41–2, and Sally Holloway, Courage High! A History of Firefighting in London, London 1992, p.181.
Imperial War Museum, GP 55 191.
London Fire Brigade, letter to John Hayes, Assistant Keeper at the Tate Gallery, 2 September 1957, Tate Catalogue file.
Photograph in Tate Catalogue file.
Recorded in his notebooks, Tate Archive TGA 9319/3, p.47, 37 x 48 inches. Sold to T.W. Spurr probably in the 1930s. Reproduced in Gerrard Gwathmey, ‘A Group of English Art Rebels’, Arts and Decoration, August 1922, p.253.
‘The honest un-made-up commercial buildings are now nearly all gone’, Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry, London, vol.1, London 1996, p.297.
‘New Blue’ is a trade name, and was probably a shade of ultramarine.
Marjorie Lilly, Sickert: The Painter and his Circle, London 1971, p.132.
Imperial War Museum, GP 55 191.
‘No.14 Filling Factory Hereford, 1918, 12 ft by 10 ft’, recorded in Ginner’s first notebook, Tate Archive TGA 9319/1, p.CXX. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, no.8173, 305 x 366 cm.
Two other Second World War oil paintings by Ginner are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, Building a Battleship 1940 (IWM ART LD 252) and Machine-Tools for Russia 1942 (IWM ART LD 2809), reproduced at http://www
.iwmcollections .org .uk /.
Tate Archive TGA 9319/3, p.219.