You don’t have to look far to see the physical impact of WW2 in Bristol; the myriad of concrete greys in Broadmead; the skeletal shells of St Peter’s church standing sombrely alone in Castle park and across the river the spectral vestiges of Temple church leans into the silence that separates it from the busy thoroughfare of Victoria street just metres away.
All of these, in their own way, starkly show the total devastation caused by the bombers. But on top of this, personally, there are two scars, a splinter and some pock marks, which every time I see them bring home to me the sheer force these incendiaries smashed Bristol and its inhabitants with.
The first is this metal shard, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a listing grave marker, sticking out of the church yard in St Mary Redcliffe, near the boundary fence which runs along Colston Parade (1).
This bit of metal was actually from the tramline that used to run along Redcliffe Hill which is perpendicular to Colston Parade and more specifically is supposed to be from the bottom of Redcliffe Hill near Bedminster Bridge (2). To give some sense of scale and bearings I have roughly marked these on a map.
In the bombings of the 11th April (Good Friday) 1941 the tramlines were a bulls eye, targeted to impede the cities transport network (and indeed in many ways it has still not recovered from losing this infrastructure). It is said that when the shell hit the tramline near Bedminster Bridge the blast caused the piece of tramline to fly up in the air, get thrown over the neighbouring row of terraced houses on Colston Parade and stabbed itself into the grounds of the church yard, where it remains unmoved to this day – Supposedly two thirds of the tramline is subterranean.
The approximately 5 ft of iron still stands defiantly as a reminder of both the destructive power of war and the capacity for survival when we are reminded ‘how narrowly the church escaped destruction’.
Second is this spattering of pits across the wall of St. Nicholas Church on the corner of the High Street, caused by the fierce rounds of incendiary shrapnel. It is then quite sobering to think that this was just a brush, a graze on the outskirts, when you look right and see Castle Park, a grassy sanctuary where once the same spot was crammed with streets, businesses and homes.
If you would like to visualise and explore this pre-war area from yourself this for yourself Bristol’s ‘Know Your Place’ is an excellent place to start (and a brilliant project in many other ways). The above image was a screenshot taken from Know Your Place using the ‘1900s epoch 2 base map’ http://maps.bristol.gov.uk/knowyourplace/