It's cool and callous-looking enough to imagine something grim could happen behind its doors. George Orwell wove it into Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the fortress with 'WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH' brandished on its walls. But did Adolf Hitler really earmark Bloomsbury's Senate House to be spared the bombs, so he could use it as his headquarters after the war?
That's the rumour peddled for decades now, by various different sources. Despite extant Luftwaffe maps of London, there's no first-hand evidence that the Nazis planned to avoid bombing the University of London building. So what else have the conspiracy theorists got?
Skyscraper News reasons that the Fuhrer had his eye on Senate House because "there was a noticeable absence of bombing in the immediate area." The Guardian's Simon Jenkins — who doesn't help matters of bias by nicknaming Senate House 'Hitler's Headquarters' — bemoans that the Nazis "sadly did not bomb" the building.
That's just not true.
Over 100 high explosives fell in Bloomsbury, according to Bomb Sights — some, in the immediate vicinity of Senate House. Indeed, on the night of 7 November 1940, Senate House was the victim of a direct hit. It's recorded in the diary of diplomat Harold Nicholson, staying at Senate House at the time:
Splaaassh! Craash! Tinkle! Tinkle! Oh I was no longer in my bed but on the floor. Charles Peake burst in, "Are you alright, Harold?" "Yes", I said. "We’ve had another direct hit: a bad one this time" Well, up I got,…The passage outside was filled with a red fog which was just dust. There were air-raid wardens rushing about in steel helmets. And would you believe it? We really had been struck on the boko by the Luftwaffe… A bomb had hit us on the shoulder. It had broken through one floor and exploded on the floor below.
Senate House's library was badly damaged, as shown in this picture. Senate House itself describes the Hitler HQ claim as an 'unfortunate urban legend', and we agree with them on that. The building may have not been destroyed, but it seems the Nazis gave it a bally good go.
Another building rumoured to have been earmarked for Hitler's HQ is Du Cane Court in Balham. OK, in this case, the building did avoid direct bombing altogether. Still, Bomb Sight records a bomb falling just metres from Du Cane Court. Surely the Nazis wouldn't have bombed so close to the building if Hitler had ordered them not to (unless it was a case of bomber butterfingers).
Aside from escaping the bombs, the other meaty reason given for Du Cane Court being coveted by Hitler is that it resembles a swastika from above. Incredibly, some of these claims urge you to see for yourself on Google Maps... at which point you realise it's bunkum. It would take a lot of de/reconstruction to make Du Cane Court look anything like a swastika. It would have been easier for the Nazis to make their own from scratch.
We'll never properly know exactly what was going on in Hitler's head (we doubt he did half the time). But would he really have fancied the 30-minute commute by armoured Mercedes, every time he wanted to make a speech in Trafalgar Square? Unlikely.