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The London diary of Anthony Heap 1931-1945 :: Robin Woolven

  • Burgh House New End Square London, NW3 1LS UK (map)

The son of a Gray's Inn Road dentist, lifelong St Pancras resident Anthony Heap (1910-1985) was a modestly paid accounts clerk who kept a diary for 57 years, intending it to be read: all 57 volumes are now in the London Metropolitan Archives. With actor and Gang Show producer Ralph Reader, Heap was a leading member of the Holborn Rovers in the 1930s; and his other lifetime interests were attending West End theatre 'first nights', and local and national politics. Following his father's suicide in 1933, Heap became a non-active member of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists; but moving south from Camden Town to Hastings Street, he joined and unsuccessfully stood for the Municipal Reform (Conservative) Party in the 1937 local election. 

After a series of girlfriends in the early years, Heap was set on a bachelor life: he regularly spent evenings drinking with his male friends in the pubs and bars of Fitzrovia, Tottenham Court Road and Haverstock Hill. Then, in 1940, a mistress appears in the diary. Heap having been employed for 13 years in Peter Robinson's department store at Oxford Circus, he and the woman were dismissed, and she eventually decided she had to remain with her husband and children. As the Blitz opened, Heap found a clerical job in the St Pancras Town Hall, which he kept for 35 years.

Through the war years, Heap's diary becomes more useful to local historians as, leaving his air raid shelter each morning as soon as the 'all clear' was sounded, he tried to visit each local (and wider) incident to record the damage and its consequences. Those he missed, he got to in his lunch hour, at weekends, or in the course of his official travels around the borough, paying staff in their depots or when collecting council rents. In 1941, he met, courted and married a young woman, and they set up house in a flat within a stone's throw of the Town Hall, where, from 1941 he also served one night in three on duty in the ARP Control Room. Unfit for military service, Anthony Heap remained in central London and provided a remarkable record of wartime Camden, of life, the wartime theatre, rationing and eventual victory.

The edited diary is to be published by the London Record Society and Boydell in October 2017.

This talk is free to members of Camden History Society and London Record Society (with whom this is a joint meeting). Non-members welcome (£1 at the door).