The Bristol Blitz – A walk in the Past
I was a child of the baby boom generation born just after the war. Growing up I remember large bomb sites in the centre of Bristol in particular the area around Castle Park which was covered with grass and purple buddleia. My husband who is older than me can even remember going into air raid shelters to escape the blitz and the big street parties which marked V.E. day in 1945.
However when I saw a walk advertised on the “Walk in the past” website “the Bristol Blitz,” I realised I did not know very much about the actual details of the blitz itself. My mother who was a teacher had taken evacuees to Cornwall and my father lived near Bath so they had not experienced it directly.
The Bristol Blitz memorial
Many people know St. Peter’s church which is in the centre of Castle Park close to Cabot Circus shopping centre and the galleries. It was destroyed during the blitz and only the shell remains. It is kept as a memorial to the 1,299 civilians killed in Bristol whose names are listed on a board outside. The area round Castle park had been filled with narrow bustling streets and small shops before the war. St. Peter’s Church
Before the war the government did not think Bristol was a major target so did not make much effort to protect the city. The Germans however disagreed. There was a large aircraft factory in Filton and Avonmouth was an important transatlantic port. Bristol was also a vital railway hub for South Wales and the South West. Pilots could easily find the city at night by simply following the rivers Avon and Severn.
There were several major air raids in 1941 and 1942 in which thousands of houses were completely or partially destroyed and many civilians were killed or injured. Many eyewitness accounts exist. People recalled how at first they watched the flares and bombs and thought it was a rather grand Guy Fawkes celebration. However they quickly realised the horror of the destruction and how the centre of Bristol would be changed for ever.
We met by St. Peter’s church and looked at the names on the war memorial
and then explored the area round Castle Park and the site of another ruined church St. Mary Le port . We also looked at pictures of the rather beautiful
old Dutch house (right)which was destroyedduring the blitz and other photos of the pre war city. we then headed to St. Mary Redcliffe church and saw a section of tram track which narrowly missed the church. We next looked at the ruins of Temple church, close to Temple Meads railway station which was originally a round temple owned by the Knights Templar. Temple Church
We then climbed to Beckinghamham Road in Knowle where a large unexploded bomb nicknamed Satan lay undiscovered under the road for two years. It was estimated to weigh 1800 kgs and was one of the largest bombs to have been dropped in England. It would have caused considerable damage if it had gone off but instead was paraded through London for V.E. day.
This walk was very different from previous walks looking at the medieval city or for Tudor architecture as many of the walkers could remember being told stories by their parents or grandparents who had lived in Bristol during the blitz . Some knew the people who used to live in the houses that had been damaged or destroyed. We also talked to some of the current occupants of Beckingham Road . It was a real experience of living history which brought the past vividly to life.
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