Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust
Registered Charity Number 1118618
Artists impression of the proposed memorial
|Bethnal Green Tube Disaster 1943. |
On 3 March 1943 a crowd of people entered Bethnal Green tube station which was used at the time as an air-raid shelter. After the searchlights went on and an anti-aircraft battery a few hundred yards away in Victoria Park launched a salvo of a new type of anti-aircraft rockets the crowd surged forward. Someone tripped on the stairs causing many others to fall. 300 people were crushed into the stairwell within a few seconds, 173 of them died and over 90 were injured. The worst civilian disaster of the 2nd World War.
In a book published last year we recently discovered that there was also a government cover-up after the Bethnal Green tube shelter disaster.
Rick Fountain's book 'Mr. Morrison's Conjuring Tricks' sets out the evidence
that in 1941 (so, two years before the disaster) Bethnal Green Council had
written to the government asking for permission to alter the station
entrance and make it safer if a lot of people wanted to use it. The
Government department refused and the Borough Engineer wrote a stronger
worded letter explaining that the entrance and stairway needed several
measures to make them safer. Again the government refused permission. The
Council's borough engineer wrote a third time to plead for permission to
alter the entrance, but was once more refused.
The day after the disaster all these measures sought by the Council were put
in place. However, Bethnal Green Council was made to keep their earlier
letters secret, under the Official Secrets Act. The Council was therefore
made to take the blame. Statements given in Parliament suggested that the
victims were to blame. This ensured the event was kept as secret as
possible. This was partially to prevent the enemy using it for propaganda
purposes, but apparently it also saved the Home Secretary of the day,
Herbert Morrison, from having to resign. The Mayor of Bethnal Green was not
allowed to defend herself and was largely blamed for the tragedy.
The public enquiry, and the summing-up by the judge in the one court case
that followed, largely agreed that there had been no panic on the part of
the victims so they were not to blame. The final statement about the enquiry
was read out in Parliament by another MP as Herbert Morrison had a cold on
that day. So no questions could be asked. It was the Hillsborough of its
The memorial in spring 2014
We have already built two thirds of the memorial now
all we need to do is raise the money to complete the 'stairway' on the top.
Details of how to donate to the trust are given at the bottom of this page and on the 'Appeal / Donations' page. If you have any additional fund raising ideas please let us know.
posted: 18th November 2015.
Teak order nearing shipment date.
posted: 12th November 2015.
Schools visit on Remembrance Day
Pupils from Morpeth School and Globe Road Primary School visited our
Memorial on Monday 9th November to lay wreaths and flowers in memory of
their former pupils that died in the Bethnal Green tube shelter disaster.
Full story and photographs.
posted: 10th November 2015.
Please sponsor a conical
Can you help us to finish the partially built Bethnal Green tube disaster memorial? We are asking individuals and businesses to sponsor one of the 173 conicals for £200 each. The conicals will be sited in the roof of the ‘stairway’ that will go on top of the existing memorial plinth. They will be all different shapes and sizes to represent the victims whose ages range from 5 months to 78 years old.
Please let us know who you would like to sponsor a conical in memory of, and we will add this to the list on our website, with the victims’ names and the sponsors at the side of them. This matter is urgent as we want the memorial completed before we lose any more of our survivors. We need to raise just £50,000 more to finish it, so can you help us do that quickly now?
Sunlight will shine through the conicals onto the paving below. The surname of all the victims will be carved in large letters around the sides of the teak ‘stairway’ so they can be seen all round that busy junction.
For more information please call our charity office on 01474 702513.
posted: 15th July 2015.
Schools pack and audio trail
On Thursday 9th July, despite the tube strike in London, the University of East London organised a launch at the side of the Memorial. This was to announce their schools pack which will be sent to all schools that would like to learn about the tube disaster. They also launched a new plaque close to the memorial, on the railings looking down towards the stairway on which everyone died. This plaque explains how to download the memory-scape audio trail to listen to when walking around the memorial. You can download the APP or you can hire audio units from the library nearby, but at present that is closed for refurbishment.
Harry Paticas, an architect from Arboreal Architecture, had worked hard to produce the plaque so it is in keeping with the memorial – in the same unique Bethnal Green font. He unveiled the plaque with our patron, Tommy Walsh.
Dr. Toby Butler, from the Raphael Samuel History Department of the University of East London, had applied to the Heritage Lottery and obtained a grant to undertake the historical work involved with the disaster records. This allowed him, along with a team of wonderful volunteers and staff, over the last 2 years recording the memories of our survivors, relatives of the victims, rescuers and anyone that witnessed the disaster in one way or another.
These recordings are vital for future generations to know what happened on that fateful night and afterwards. To have this historical gem of recordings has been something that we would never have been able to do ourselves, so we are extremely grateful to all of those that have been involved from the University of East London in the Bethnal Green Memorial Project and of course to the Heritage Lottery for the grant for them to do this.
Extracts have been incorporated into the memory-scape audio trail so you will be able to listen to them when walking around the memorial. Tommy Walsh did the voice-over for the trail which gives it the authentic cockney background to the memories.
posted: 8th July 2015.
Ben Nevis Challenge
These 4 gorgeous and brave guys completed the gruelling Ben Nevis challenge
on 20th June and raised £1,350 for us. We think they are wonderful to have
done this and helped us enormously towards the completion of the memorial.
Brian Wood has recently left the British Army after 16yrs. His old commander
spoke to him about the Bethnal Green disaster and the Stairway to Heaven
Memorial that needs to be finished. He decided that it would be a great
challenge for him and his 3 friends, Matt Ryan, Russell Smith and Monty
Bath, to complete and raise money for an outstanding cause!
Well done lads and thanks a million. Hope you have recovered now.
posted: 23rd April 2015.
Raju Vaidyanathan's last Marathon.
Raju Vaidyanathan is running his last marathon on 26th April. He has taken
part every year to raise funds for our charity and this will be his last as
his knees won't last much longer!! Please donate to make it worth his while
limping round the course one last time.
Please donate here
posted: 23rd April 2015.
I remember, I remember.
The owner of the Genesis cinema in
Mile End Road, Tyrone Walker-Hebborn, kindly organised a film night for us followed by a 1940s themed party. It started with a wartime newsreel and the featured Somi de Souza’s film ‘I remember, I remember’ with interviews of 3 of our survivors. It is a very moving and powerful film, but is quite short. For those of you that were unable to attend this excellent evening please click on this link to watch it now.
Everyone enjoyed the party with its Lindy Hop dancing and generously added donations in our buckets and tins. Our thanks go to Tyrone and all the staff at the Genesis cinema and especially to Somi De Souza for producing the film as a fund-raiser for our charity. The film remains the copyright of Somi de Souza so please do not share it without our permission.
posted: 19th March 2015.
100th anniversary of S & R Kelly & Sons pie & mash shop.
S & R Kelly & Sons pie & mash shop at 284 Bethnal Green Road were celebrating their 100th birthday on Saturday.
All day long owner Robert Kelly was working hard producing his pies with mash and liquor followed by bread pudding free of charge.
Pie loving supporters just had to put a donation in the buckets for our charity.
Robert Kelly said that his family had been serving families in Bethnal Green for 100 years with pie & mash, jellied eels and live eels. So he wanted to give something back to the East End by raising funds to help finish our Memorial to the Bethnal Green tube disaster.
Pearly Kings & Queens and a pianist helped the party atmosphere with a good old fashioned ‘knees up’ and sing along throughout the day. Customers came from all over London and the South East to join in.
Derek Spicer, Treasurer of the Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust charity, said he was delighted with the response and wanted to thank Robert and the rest of the Kelly family for their generosity in organising such a wonderful event and raising just over £2000 for us on the day, plus a very generous donation from the family too. This will help us to complete the final part of the Memorial this year.
posted: 3rd March 2015.
2015 Memorial Service.
We were blessed with beautiful weather for the 72nd anniversary of the Bethnal Green tube disaster on 1st March. The sky was blue, the sun shone and St. John on Bethnal Green Church was packed with survivors, rescuers and relatives of those involved in the disaster as well as many people from the local community and far flung places.
Actress Somi De Souza read the poem ‘I am there’ during the Service and the names of all 173 people who died in the disaster were read out while 173 candles were lit on the altar by the Rector, Rev. Prebendary Alan Green, and assistant priest, Rev’d Christine Hall. Rev’d Green spoke about all those who had died in the disaster who were not involved in the fighting, but just going about their normal day. He said that the memorial that remembers them should also help us to remember all those who die in conflicts around the world today and to try to prevent them. The Rt. Hon. Rushanara Ali read the poem ‘I’d Like the memory of Me’ and John Biggs, Greater London Assembly Member for City & East London gave a reading from the prophet Isaiah.
After the Service The Speaker and Councillors of Tower Hamlets Council, as well as local MP Rushanara Ali and GLA’s, John Biggs, led the parade across the road with lots of Pearly Kings & Queens, to lay wreaths and flowers on the partially built memorial honouring the tragedy. A line of fireman from Bethnal Green station stood in honour of their former comrades who helped in the rescue at the side of the memorial.
The Secretary of the Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust charity, that is raising funds to complete the memorial, said that thanks to the wonderful generosity of so many people and the families of those involved in the disaster, plus the match-funding donation of £10,000 from Canary Wharf PLC and a further donation of £25,000 from Tower Hamlets Council, it meant that the final part of the memorial (the ‘stairway’) could at last be ordered.
It is expected that this final phase will take at least 8 months to be shipped, cured, carved and put in place, but it is hoped that it will be completed by the end of the year. The charity will continue to raise funds to be able to pay for the final bills for the memorial fixings and to cover the VAT, which will eventually be refunded - provided the new government honours that commitment. Businesses and individuals are urged to continue to sponsor the conicals that will be sited in the roof of the memorial and allow sunlight to shine through, representing the victims.
The conicals can be sponsored for £200 and have their name and/or business website listed at the side of one of the victims names on the charity’s website, plus the Bishopsgate Institute and Tower Hamlets archives for posterity. So far several local businesses have sponsored conicals – S & R. Kelly’s pie & mash shop, 284 Bethnal Green Road; The Hare pub, 505 Cambridge Heath Road; Rinkoff family Bakery, Jubilee Street, E1; PIP Electrics Ltd; The Boudoir in Docklands; Goodger Design Associates: the Hague School (in memory of their former pupil Rose Relf Jnr), Karen Goodger Zumba Gold Teacher; Peter Sceats & Associates; Joe Ellis and NAKMAS; and Len Goodman from Strictly, in honour of his relative, boxer Dickie Corbett.
After the Service everyone was encouraged to return to the church for refreshments helped partly by donations from Sainsbury’s and the Beigel Shop in Brick Lane. An exhibition about the disaster was also there for people to look at.
Photographs of the service will follow soon.