ARP Stretchers – Railing against the blitz

This historical footnote was visited by ODOjack on the 10th March 2019

The practice of upcycling and shabby chic furniture is most associated with trendy drinking spots in north London. However, it seems South London’s post-war council estates were way ahead of the curve. 

Odd Days Out has been to investigate how the ARP stretcher – which saved thousands of lives in the Blitz – went on to assist with the rebuilding of London after the war.


The Blitz

Between September 1940 and May 1941, over 18,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on London, killing 43,000 people and injuring another 139,000.  The Air Raid Precautions service struggled to cope with this daily onslaught and had to find new ways of dealing with the thousands of casualties.  One such innovation later proved to be a boon for post-war developers: the ARP stretcher, a steel mesh with two kinked poles at either side.

The stretchers were made from steel so that they could be easily sterilized, unlike conventional wood and canvas stretchers.  Over 600,000 were manufactured during the war and the fact that so many survived is testament to their design and manufacture. While these were strong and efficient many patients complained that they were an uncomfortable means of transportation.

Post-war development

After the war the stretchers continued to serve the people of London.  Many were used as railings for the wave of new municipal house building undertaken as London recovered from the devastation of the war. 

Now, some eighty years later, these railings are becoming dilapidated and in need of restoration and some have been lost altogether.  Many of those who live in these homes today are unaware of the vital part that their railings played in saving lives in the Blitz. 

But help is a at hand.  The Stretcher Railing Society works for the promotion, protection and preservation of London’s ARP stretcher railings. 

Visiting

The Stretcher Society have listed a dozen sites, mainly in South East London, where the stretcher railings can still be seen. These can be found on the map below or at https://www.stretcherrailings.com/map

I visited my local stretcher railings at Mereton Mansions in Brookmill Road, Deptford. I was pleased to see the railings were in a good state of repair and hope they can continue serve their purpose for many years to come.

So next time you find yourself in south London, don’t forget to be on the lookout for these pieces of hidden heritage that have been serving the city for 80 years.  With the Society helping raise awareness of their unique wartime heritage, we can hopefully preserve what little we have left of the ARP stretcher railings.

Sources and further reading

https://www.stretcherrailings.com/

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/campaign-launched-to-save-south-londons-stretcher-fences-once-used-to-carry-wounded-civilians-in-the-a3609751.html

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/15/campaign-save-world-war-ii-stretchers-today-serving-capital/

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