This is a fascinating amateur home movie from 1942, astonishing both for its range and its ambition as a historical record of a frightening time. Title cards inform the viewer where they are. Meanwhile, the footage captures the shocking scenes Bristolians saw on their city streets during the Second World War.
The first title card reads:
“These pictures, taken in 1942, show some of the damage resulting from many blitzes in the winter of 1940-41”.
The first scenes are from The Centre. Traffic and people pass Dunscobe Opticians, set in a row of buildings, with some windows altered.
“Thanks to the Dunscombe fire-fighters their premises have so far escaped serious damage”.
A closer shot shows that the large windows have been mostly bricked up, leaving a smaller window in the centre. It isn’t attractive, and is clearly designed with just the wartime conditions in mind.
Next, we’re in what looks like a back alleyway. It looks like a building has gone, leaving cracked walls and a large pile of debris on the ground.
The Hatchett Inn 1942
There’s now a clip of the Hatchett Inn on Frogmore Street, with a row of barrels in front of it. The man with the trolley is presumably dealing with the delivery, and seems unaware of the camera.
“They still roll out the barrel at the old Hatchett Inn”.
Thankfully, not only did the historic public house survive the bombs, but it’s still trading today as Bristol’s oldest pub.
The Hatchett Inn was constructed in 1606 and underwent a lot of alteration before its Grade II listing. The name is thought to come from the axes once used by woodsmen in nearby Clifton Woods.
In a street busy with pedestrians and workers, entire houses are missing. Where they once stood, now is a big pile of debris.
Workmen mend the road. They have a barrier up alerting traffic to the road closure at that section.
Taylors Of College Green
The sign for Taylors of College Green apparently sits mounted on a damaged wall. It advertises:
Fashions, millinery, furs – 65, Whiteladies Road
Fabrics, soft furnishings, linens – 67, Whiteladies Road
Outfitting and corsets – 69, Whiteladies Road
Fancy departments, shoes – 47 Queen’s Road
It looks like life as usual on Park Street. Buses and cars drive along the road, pedestrians go about their business.
H.A.Blake & Co Tailors and Outfitters is smart and open for business, having fitted a new style of shop window so most of the space is wood. In contrast, all the windows on the upper storeys are smashed and haphazardly boarded up.
The Masonic Temple In 1942
We now see the beautiful facade of Bristol’s Masonic Temple, including the curved entrance way. But the wooden boards across the windows and doorway hint at the serious damage incurred.
Next door, an entire section of the street is missing, the debris several feet high across the plot. Blank fireplaces sit at each storey of the exposed walls, the homes completely gone. People walk and drive past many such ruins, going about their daily lives.
A piano sits in the street, next to what used to be a building. The piano was first painted white. Then the bold message, written in dark paint across the front, “CHURCHILL’S NOW AT 54 PARK ROW” shows up clearly.
Above, empty windows and a beautiful iron fireplace sit in the remains of the wall.
The Former City Museum And Library In 1942
Then we see the devastated City Museum and Library. This beautiful piece of architecture from 1872 holds enough of its structure to show its elegance, but is clearly badly damaged. The roof is gone, the windows are missing and the galleries smashed. An elephant head sits mounted on a wall inside all this chaos.
Thankfully, the building was restored. In 1992 it became a restaurant.
Women Bus Conductors
“Women Bus Conductors do a fine job of war-work”.
It’s still the age where passengers get onto a bus through the rear entrance, and then the conductor comes along to collect tickets. Even with the camera there, both the conductor and the passengers look quite severe.
Bristol’s Long Bus Queues In 1942
“Shortage of transport results in longer bus queues”.
You’d think you were standing outside the entrance of a major event given the number of people waiting. It’s predominantly women, with many children and suited men too.
“Here is one of the ‘Austerity’ war-time buses designed for the maximum carrying capacity with the minimum of material in construction…when full the bus holds 40 passengers”.
From the outside, the new style of bus looks American in design. It’s a single decker, entered from the front. Inside, everyone looks packed in like sardines. The standing teenagers are literally scowling at the camera!
Back on the street, we’re at a junction where there’s another solid building brought low. Large yellow barriers declaring “NO THOROUGHFARE” seal off what remains of the doorway. The same warning appears on stairways and other derelict scenes.
Workmen pick their way through the rubble and take blows at huge blocks of stone. No high vis jackets, safety gloves, hardhats or power tools. They do wear hats and waistcoats though! It looks like an insurmountable amount of work.
Beyond the landmark circular entrance, the Triangle Cinema is reduced to a derelict square. For the past few years, throughout a national boom in cinema attendance, the Triangle Cinema had been run by the same management as the Whiteladies Picture House. But now it was beyond repair.
“No more movies at the Triangle Cinema”.
The workmen stand in an area littered with bricks and planks. Debris covers the high stairway.
The Prince’s Theatre
The Princes’ Theatre is still standing, but badly damaged. While the ground floor is smartly boarded up, look up and the building is just a shell. It’s very surprising that people are allowed to walk along the pavement, since the whole building looks fragile. There’s a big gap where the entire right section of the building collapsed.
At ground level, the camera sweeps across the front of the theatre, where the notice “This Week The Co Optimists” still remains.