- Written by John Gillett
Blitz walk, 27th May, 2012
On Sunday 27th May, Eugene Byrne took a party of Society Members on a tour of the City taking us back to the dark days of 1940-42, the worst days of the Bristol Blitz.
We started in Temple Gardens just off Victoria Street and Temple Church, bombed on the night of 24/25 November, 1940. Eugene explained that bombers dropped a mixture of explosive and incendiary bombs, many with time delays, making fire-fighting extremely hazardous. Temple Church suffered mainly fire damage.
Following the raid a fire officer, seeing how far teh tower was leaning, prepared to blow it up in order to make it safe. Fortunately it was explained to him that the bell-tower had been leaning since 1460 and that generations of choir boys were said to have put nuts in the gap between the church and the tower knowing they would be cracked as tower moved to the ringing of the bells.
It was a short walk to the Avon Fire Service HQ, opposite the site of the old Electric Lighting Power station. This power station supplied power, originally for street lighting (opened in 1893).
We crossed Victoria Street and walked over St Philips Bridge (or Hap'penny Bridge). The original stone bridge took a direct hit on 11th April, 1941. Unfortunately the bridge carried power from the power station to the tram system. The cable wasn't repaired and tram services in Bristol came to an abrupt end. There was one last journey, however. An enterprising tram driver marooned at the top of hill, let the brake off and free-wheeled to his depot.
We crossed St Philips Bridge get to Castle Park, the site of Bristol's medieval castle. Following the Civil War, the castle was dismanteld and the stones were used to create a busy shopping and business area. Buildings on this site included St Philips Hospital (which became council offices) and the Dutch House, a much-loved shop that featured in countless Bristol postcards. The raid of the 24 November 1940 destroyed these buildings and a few days later an army demolition squad erased them finally. A small concrete pyramid on High Street provides an entrance to medieval underground cellars now deemed unsafe and inaccessible. Time for an Underground Bristol tour?
St Mary le Port is a probably Bristol's oldest church was destroyed in this raid and is now a ruin.
The Grand Hotel on Broad Street held the check-in desk for the only commercial air service in Britain where astonishly one could fly to Shannon (and thence to the United States) or Lisbon from Whitchurch "aerodrome" (no airports in those days). A special bus with blacked-out windows ferried passengers between the hotel and the "aerodrome". For a brief time the The Grand was Spy Central.
We had an excellent 2 hours that helped us appreciate the extraordianary courage of bristolians. We also leaned about the difficulties of the post-war years and the meaning of austerity!
More ideas for Blitz walks can be found here on the "Bristol Blitzed" website.