UEL to shine new light on Bethnal Green Disaster
On Sunday, hundreds will gather in Tower Hamlets to remember 173 people who died in one of Britain's worst civilian disasters.
The event will mark the 70th anniversary of the dark day during the Blitz when east Londoners, mostly women and children, were crushed as they made their way down the stairs at Bethnal Green station to shelter from an air raid.
To this day the stairs are adorned by fresh flowers from relatives but the community wants to make sure it's remembered for years to come.
Fundraising continues for the Stairway To Heaven artwork and now a project to record the voices of those involved in the tragedy is under way.
Dr Toby Butler, a senior lecturer in history at the University of East London, said: "Many of those impacted in the disaster are around 90 now so it's time to capture those memories for future generations.
"You can imagine what it was like in schools at that time with the enormity of the tragedy because most of those who died were women and children. But it hit every generation.
"People felt they couldn't talk about it, with the public announcements telling them to 'keep mum'. That made it even harder."
The fear that the enemy would use the news for propaganda led Home Secretary Herbert Morrison and Prime Minister Winston Churchill to impose a media black-out on some details of the tragedy.
This was also the case for the inquiry which followed. It was decided the panic was caused by a new anti-aircraft rocket battery firing nearby.
However, those at the scene deny that was solely the case.
Dr Butler said: "There's no doubt many more people would have been rushing downstairs but what caused the disaster was someone tripped at the bottom. And the issue was a lack of handrails and lights.
"A lot of people thought the council might be at fault but they had already asked the ministry for work to be done. But that was turned down by the Government on financial grounds.
"The council, however, couldn't defend itself because of the Government orders.
"It says a lot that just the day after the improvements were made."
Fundraisers are hoping the anniversary year will enable them to complete a stunning memorial to the victims.
They still need to raise around £130,000.
The anniversary event takes place at 2pm on Sunday, March 3, at St John on Bethnal Green Church, next to the station.
Images courtesy of the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives