75 Years Ago: November 24th 1940

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It was a day just like this. The sky was grey, a few specs of forgotten blue sky – remnants of a forgotten summer – buried behind banks of heavy, cheerless clouds. Just another autumn day in England. Churchill had been Prime Minister for six months, but here in Bristol you could be forgiven for thinking that this was nothing but a phoney war, unlikely to affect you.

It was a Sunday and like most Bristolians of the time you went to church in the city centre. You crossed the area now known as Castle Park, not thinking that the hints of ice on the breeze or the solemn ringing of the church bells were any different or more portentous than they would have been on any other of the countless Sundays since Norman churches and the great castle first defined this geographical, spiritual and commercial centre of Bristol.

And as you walked, you passed the best of Bristol – medieval timber framed merchant houses, tall and elegant Georgian terraces beside the water, ornate commercial facades decorating ancient lanes bordered by Victorian shopping streets – busy with pedestrians in their Sunday best. Then you passed Dickensian warehouses, curious and crooked structures, crammed between the river to the south and Stokes Croft to the north; you might have thought that this was an organic city, painstakingly pieced together by countless generations, each proud of its contribution to posterity and now in full flower.

But now it’s 6.30pm on 24th November 1940. The sky darkens across Bristol. And then, terrifyingly, it lights up with pathfinder flares and anti-aircraft search lights. Above the city wave after wave of unfamiliar Luftwaffe planes sweep towards unsuspecting targets, their bombs whine through the air and smash into the delicate brocade below.

For six hours planes circle the city, each bomb illuminating the path of the next. The hours pass and the targets diminish, until eventually, ultimately, the heart of the city has been destroyed.

In the aftermath of war the derelict scars and pathetic fragments of great buildings are grassed over as Castle Park or built on as “Broadmead” devoid of history and character, erected with hope but too much haste and not enough money. Bristol’s ancient and medieval footprint is buried forever, its history soon forgotten.

Remodelling the park in the 1970s and 1990s tried to give it new life, but today its artificial slopes and fabricated mounds remind us of restless souls and ancient ghosts, fighting to break free from mangled graves and a shroud of soil; broken bodies writhe  below in the agony of one terrible day, 75 years ago.

Now the Council have their pencils out and landscape architects are plotting another remodelling of the park: fortunately the firm of Hitler and Goering are not available to submit plans.

Berkeley Squares would like to see the land levelled, its absurd craters, grotesque and tasteless memories of a different war, removed. If you have opinions on the future of Castle Park, the City Council would like to hear your opinion.