Bethnal Green Memorial

The Bethnal Green Memorial is a public sculpture and landscape in the corner of Bethnal Green Gardens that commemorates the tragic WWII disaster that occurred at the entrance to the underground station on the 3rd March 1943. Local people were queuing up to access the station as a bomb shelter when the sound of a new type of anti-aircraft rocket launched from a nearby park caused the crowd to panic and surge forward. They fell over each other on the stairs and the resulting crush led to the deaths of 173 people. Press reports were censored at the time and those involved were told by officials not to talk about it and the story was suppressed for fear of undermining the war effort. In the absence of the truth, rumours spread that a German bomb had landed in the stairwell, which was convenient accidental propaganda and was allowed to prosper.

In 2006 a charity was formed from survivors and family members of those who had lost their life to raise money and build a fitting memorial. Finally, in 2017, the memorial was opened to the public by survivors of the disaster, the memorial charity, local people and the Mayor of London.

The concept for the design is that of an inversion of the negative space within the stairwell where the crush occurred, lifted up towards the heavens in reverence for those who died. The hollowed-out stair volume is built from sustainably sourced solid teak with conical shaped holes in the roof that at midday throws light shafts down the stairwell where the tragedy occurred, one for each life lost. A polished concrete plinth supports the teak inverted stair, and folds across the site with multiple bronze plates fixed to it with extracts from the accounts of survivors and victim's families. The plinth twists and leads to a bench where those who have just read the accounts can pause and reflect.

Photography: NAARO

Awards:

  • RIBA National Award 2018

  • RIBA London Regional Award 2018

  • RIBA London Project Architect of the Year 2018

  • Special Mention for the RIBA Stephen Lawrence Award 2018

  • Shortlisted for the New London Awards 2018

  • Finalist for the Structural Timber Awards 2018

  • Shortlisted for the Selwyn Goldsmith Awards for Universal Design 2018.