The Blackout

Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

The Air Ministry forecast that Britain would suffer night bombing attacks and on 1 September 1939, the country was plunged into darkness. Street lights were switched off at the mains and everyone had to cover their windows and doors at night with heavy blackout curtains, cardboard or paint.  It was enforced by civilian ARP wardens who were unpopular due to the strict fines they imposed.   The average fine was £2, worth £100 today.  Some people just forgot or blamed others in the house.

For some it was more challenging – the Master of Shrodells Public Assistance Emergency Hospital in Watford found it difficult to make sure no light escaped due to the building having about ‘2000 windows’, a problem faced by all large institutions.


Blackout notice, Bishops Stortford Urban District Council, 1940
HALS (ref Acc 3831/12)
IT WAS THE DOG'S FAULT - a woman in Ware blamed her dog for turning on a light and a Much Hadham farmer was caught burning rubbish, which was spotted by a pilot.
HALS (ref Hertfordshire Mercury 23 Aug 1940)
POLICE CHIEF HORRIFIED - In October 1940, Hertfordshire’s Chief Constable flew over the Bishop’s Stortford area to observe the blackout and was horrified at what he saw, describing it as 'appalling’, suggesting offenders should be imprisoned. Other culprits were Hertford, Baldock, Letchworth and Hemel Hemsptead. Meanwhile, Arthur Dearman of Nursery Road, Hoddesdon was warned no less than 12 times before receiving a fine of £2.
HALS (ref Hertfordshire Mercury 25 Oct & 16 Aug 1940)
Towns and villages around major cities were often subjected to attack by lone German aircraft and to random bombing, especially at night. Pilots unable to reach their targets dropped their bombs wherever they thought damage might be caused. One captured German pilot said that they were ordered to drop bombs wherever they saw a glimmer of light. The blackout lasted until 23 April 1945. During that time, thousands of people died in road accidents and more were injured by trips and falls. Kerbs and lamp posts were painted white to help people see in the dark.
Painting the kerb at Watford (HALS ref WatLns 0508-00-06)
Not only did houses no longer leak light, they no longer let in air. Companies were quick to see the commercial potential and targeted their customers with fans and superior blackout curtains.
Northmet offered fans for sale (HALS ref Royston Crow, 1940)
Fishpools of Waltham Cross promised the best quality curtains
HALS (ref Herts Mercury Aug 1940)
Painting a lamp post in Watford, 1940
HALS (ref WatLns 0507-00-08)
Poster for Hoddesdon Urban District Council
HALS (ref UDC1/30/5)
This page was added on 09/07/2020.

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