Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Worcester Cathedral and the home front

No city in England managed to fully escape the impacts of the Second World War, however, Worcester and its Cathedral experienced these to a lesser extent, as it was bombed only a handful of times during the war, resulting in several casualties, but very little destruction. However, it was affected in many other ways which are often overlooked when considering life on the home front.

            As a wartime inhabitant of Worcester, if you happened to be walking past the cathedral on 6th June 1940, you would have been confronted with the sight of the Cathedral’s wrought-iron railings being removed to fuel the country’s war machine. Although the removal of gates, railings and other sources of scrap metal was a common occurrence up and down the country, it was nevertheless a controversial decision to sell the railings (for £44 9s 0d) which had originally surrounded the Old St Michaels graveyard.
5th January 1943: The colours being laid up at Worcester Cathedral. Note the War Memorial and lack of railings in the background. 

            As with all cities and towns across the country, there was the urgent necessity to prepare for the real possibility of German bombing. One preparation was the decision on the location for an air-raid shelter - The crypt was at first proposed; however this was soon disregarded as the potential problem of those sheltering being crushed by falling masonry presented a substantial drawback. The site for the shelter was eventually decided to be under College Hall.

            Further preparations were made to preserve the Cathedral and its collections. This included £25 to be spent on protecting the Cathedral’s manuscripts, and new insurance was taken out for objects such as the organ, bells and furniture. Additionally, particular stained glass windows were removed and stored for safe keeping, and on 8th September 1941, blackout coverings were fixed to the outside of the windows of St John’s Chapel and the Chapter house, which were the main places used for Holy Communion during the war.

Rogation Day 1941: Blackout precautions were needed for services during the war.
            Although the Cathedral itself remained undamaged, due to a combination of precautions and luck, it was by no means left unchanged by the war. The tower, for example, which for centuries has formed part of Worcester’s unique skyline, had its fair share of alterations. It was decided upon as Worcester’s primary observation post to be used to sight and shoot down German bombers, approaching the city. The tower was also the site of Worcester’s air raid siren, to warn civilians of an impending attack.

However, despite the disruption caused by the war to civilians in big ways and also in smaller ways, the stoical attitude of the British during the Second World War was true of Worcester and it’s Cathedral. At Worcester, as in many years previous, an illuminated Christmas tree was placed in the north transept. In December 1941, it was asked that any gifts or donations for the Worcester branch of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association be placed below the tree. 

by Carys Aldous-Hughes

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! That explains why there are no railings there now. The guns on the tower must have made it a prime target for bombers heading up to Birmingham. The clergy must have held their breath every time the flak went up!

    It could have been worse for Worcester - the government actually had emergency plans to turn the city into a heavily defended fortress, should the Germans invade up the Bristol Channel or via Wales. Bridges across the Severn would be blown up and tanks and troops would line the river. There are documents in our archives (at the Hive) showing plans to surround buildings with blastproof walls, and dozens of fuel dumps ready for the military vehicles. I wonder if the cathedral staff were told about these plans? I expect it would have had quite a big part to play!