Bristol, High Street And The Blitz 1940

A Memory of Bristol

Bristol's High Street scene of many strirring events in Bristol's history the heart of the city was destroyed and lost forever in 1940.

As a city with docks and industry at its heart, Bristol was a natural target for German bombing during World War Two. The German Luftwaffe were able to trace a course up river from Avonmouth using reflected moonlight. This path brought them right into the heart of the city. The presence of the aircraft manufacturing industry in Filton, North Bristol, also added to the likelihood of the city being a bombing target.

There were six major bombing raids between 24th November 1940 and 11th April 1941. During this time over 1,400 people were killed and much of the built environment of the city centre was destroyed.

During the first air raid almost a quarter of the medieval city (the area of Castle Park), historic buildings (the 17th century timber framed Dutch House and St Peter's Hospital), and four churches (St Peter's, interior of St Nicholas, St Mary-le-Port and Temple) were destroyed.

The Castle district was one of the worst hit areas and it has never really recovered. It used to be home to the jolliest of pre-war cinemas, shops, and cafes, frequently full of shoppers and revellers, daytime, evening or weekend. However, after the war the large areas of dereliction failed to be redeveloped effectively into such a lively social area.

Broadmead emerged as the central area for shopping in post-war Bristol. In the late 1990s a large shopping mall at Cribbs Causeway was developed and it soon became a major shopping centre for the region.

Future developments of Broadmead are now underway and this will hopefully see the centre of Bristol as a thriving shopping district once again.

Bristol High Street in 1937.

1-2 Irish Linen & Hosiery Association Ltd. - Hosiers

This building, called the Dutch House, was originally built in 1676 as a dwelling house at the junction of the four oldest streets in the city. It was unusual, though not unique, for Bristol to have a building of five storeys and an attic (and possibly cellar) and was an outstanding feat of timber construction. Why it was called the Dutch House is not clear, one theory being that the timber frame was constructed in Holland.

Until 1940, it was probably the most photographed building in Bristol, and its many occupiers over the years included: 1810 - Castle Bank Established by James George, a member of the family which ran Georges Brewery - and four partners. 1826 - Stuckeys Bank 1866 - T.W. Tilley, Hatters Shop. - This appears to be when it was first called the Dutch House and the battlements, weather vane and flagpole were added. 1902 - Parry Bros, Tobacconist.

1908 - The building was saved from demolition by the Lord Mayor's casting vote, the City Council wanting to widen the road. Instead of demolition, the shopfront was cut back to allow extra room for the pavement to pass beneath the overhanging upper floor, and columns were added to support the upper floors.

As well as the unusual appearance, one item of particular interest was a two-dimensional cast-iron soldier on the first-floor balcony of the High Street/Wine Street corner - it was 6ft high, lin thick and wearing a uniform complete with musket and backpack.

The soldier first appeared in a picture of the Dutch House dated 1878 and there have been many pictures of it since, but curiously the soldier is absent from some (possibly removed at intervals for restoration). The building was severely damaged on 24 November 1940 and, at 11.00 a.m. on 27 November 1940, the remains were reluctantly pulled down. The cast-iron soldier survived and found its way for a short time to the top of Philips Furniture Store in Broadmead. Today it lies in the basement of the City Museum — surely a place for its permanent display as near as possible to the site of the Dutch House could be found.

3-13 Jones & Co. Ltd. - Department Store

(See Wine Street)

14-15 G.A. Dunn & Co. Ltd. - Hat Manufacturers

This building (called Gloster House) was on the corner of Mary-le-Port Street. It was rented from Jones & Co. Ltd and Dunn's moved here on 19 March 1913, then selling only hats. The premises were destroyed on 24 November 1940 and the business transferred across the road to 41 High Street until March 1946, eventually moving to 48 The Horsefair, the business by then being a men's outfitters.

16-17 Stead & Simpson Ltd. - Boots and Shoes

Stead and Simpson had traded from here since the 1920s, the premises surviving the blitz and the company continuing to trade here until 1960, when it was demolished to allow development of the area.

Above this shop (and 18-19) was Princes Restaurant, which opened in 1924. Its entrance was in Mary-le-Port Street via a staircase between Ideal Cleaners and Stead & Simpson. It was open from 9.00 a.m. until 9.00 p.m. and provided a silver service. Unusually for this area, it was open on Sundays, no doubt because of the demand created by those people attending the many local churches. The business also catered for wedding receptions, club dinners, private parties, whist drives, private and club dances, as well as outside catering.

18-19 Singer Sewing Machine Co. Ltd. - Sewing Machines

Singer's had operated from these premises since around 1887 until its destruction following enemy action. Upper floors: Princes Restaurant - J. Mahoney, Gent's Hairdressers - Maison Louise, Ladies' Hairdressers.

20 H. Salanson & Co. Ltd. - Opticians/Cameras

This company was established in 1887 by Alfred Salanson at 28 High Street and moved to these premises in the 1890s, selling electrical accessories for the 'new electric light'. Over the following forty years there was diversification into optical and ophthalmic-goods, microscopes, spectacles, cameras and photographic equipment and by 1940 the company also sold a limited range of toys.

(There was a story concerning a young boy who had saved his money to buy some toy soldiers from the shop and had managed to get there just before closing time on Saturday 23 November 1940 - the following Monday would have been too late!) After the blitz, the company moved to Narrow Wine Street (they already had premises in nearby Castle Mill Street), in 1957 to Fairfax Street and in 1987 to The Horsefair in Broadmead. In 1992 the business was acquired by the London Camera Exchange, the name of a longstanding Bristol business therefore disappearing overnight.

21 Duck, Son & Pinker Ltd. - Piano Warehouse

As well as pianos, this company also sold gramophones and radiograms, and had other premises in Queen's Road. The premises in High Street were destroyed in the war and in 1952 Duck, Son & Pinker Ltd traded from a hastily-built single-storey building in Lower Castle Street. By 1975 they were operating from premises in The Arcade, Broadmead.

22 Posada Wine & Spirit Co. - Public House

The Posada had been at these premises since at least 1893 and occupied the ground floor and cellar. In November 1940 the landlord was F. Gee; the premises survived the blitz of 24 November and it then only traded from 10.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m., that is until the blitz of 3 January 1941 finished it off! Upper floors: A.E.G. Harding Accountant - National Amalgamated Union of Shop - Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks - Wainwright Paving & Contracting Co. Ltd - Scottish National Key Registry & Assurance Association Ltd.

23-25 United Clothiers Ltd. - Outfitters

This business dealt in men's and boys' clothes. It survived the war and traded here until the building was demolished to allow development of the High Street/Wine Street area in the late 1950s.

26 Thirty-Five Shilling Tailors. - Gents Tailors

Survived the raid of November 1940, but not that of 3 January 1941.

27-28 Scholastic Trading Co. Ltd. - Booksellers, etc.

The business was established in 1860 and moved to these premises in the 1890s (the premises were previously occupied by Salanson's, who moved to 20 High Street). These premises extended into 27 - 29 Bridge Street and there was also an additional shop at 20 Bridge Street. The premises were destroyed in the blitz of 3 January 1941 (there were approximately 200 staff at this time) and they moved to premises at 32 St Nicholas Street. An advertising board for Scholastic remained on the High Street site until its development in the 1960s. The company still trade today under the name of Blandfords at 25 St Stephen's Street.

St Nicholas Church

Originally built around 1250, the building which existed at the time of the blitz was built in 1769. At the outbreak of the Second World War it was classed as a public air-raid shelter and the Angel Fountain (on the High Street wall) was removed for safety. It was extensively damaged following the blitz of 24 November 1940, but temporary repairs allowed services to resume in 1941. This continued until 1959, when the parish of St Nicholas merged with St Stephen's and many of the contents were moved to St Stephen's Church.

Permanent repairs were completed, and in 1973 it became a church museum. In 1992 the museum closed, and two years later it became the Tourist Information Centre. The Tourist Information Centre has now moved to The Harbourside and the ground floor of St Nicholas Church is unused.

Two items of interest are still applicable today: the clock in the tower has a seconds hand, which is reputed to be the only one on a public clock in England; and the Curfew Bell rings for seven and a half minutes every day immediately after the clock has finished striking 9.00 p.m., in continuation of a paractice which has been associated with the church since medieval times.

31 Olivers Wine Vaults - Public House

(Proprietors: Olivers 1913 Ltd) Brewery: Bass - This business opened around 1921, the premises being destroyed in the blitz of 3 January 1941.

32 Maynards. - Confectioners

Maynards had many local shops and these premises were destroyed following the blitz on 3 January 1941. The building (Nos 32 and 33) was particularly ornate, originally built in 1867 (designed by Archibald Ponton) as one shop, the frontage changed very little until its destruction. The ground floor had one central column (leaving the rest free for plate glass) separating Nos 32 and 33 and the three upper floors' frontage was each split into five equal units by colonnettes, each floor different and with a wealth of decoration.

32A Bentleys - Opticians

(Proprietor: C.H. Dunsdon)

33 Maypole Dairy Co. Ltd. - Dairy produce

This was one of thirteen shops which Maypole had in Bristol by 1939, these premises being occupied by them since 1902. Butter was patted and cheese cut to size on the premises in front of customers. The premises were destroyed by the blitz of 3 January 1941.

34 Lawleys Ltd. - China and Class Dealers

Premises destroyed on 3 January 1941. The business still trades today from a unit in The Galleries Shopping Centre.

35 Alex R. Morrison. - Restaurant

In 1939 you could purchase a Savoury Tea for one shilling (5p) or supper for one shilling nine pence (8p) and sit in a room with potted palms and spotless table linen. Alcoholic drinks were available, but had to be brought from the Crown Public House in the Market (staff had access to the Crown via a connection at the back of the premises. Before this, drinks were brought in via the Flower Market!). There was a separate private room seating seventy available for evening dinners. The premises were destroyed on 3 January 1941.

36 W.E. Massingham Ltd - Bootmakers

The premises here were destroyed on 3 January 1941. Upper floors: W.E. Massingham, Chiropodist - Miss C.B. Allen

37-38 Purity Milk Bars.

Milk bars were premises where you bought plain and flavoured milk drinks. Customers could also watch staff cooking ring doughnuts (fried in deep fat) just inside the front windows. This type of business was a recent import from the USA and the staff dressed as Americans.

Between Nos 38 and 39 was the entrance to the Flower Market.

39-40 Andersons Rubber Co. Ltd. - Rainwear Specialists

This company was established in 1851 and had premises in London and Bristol. These premises survived the war and in August 1970 were altered to be the High Street entrance to the Rummer (Andersons moving to the Byzantine-style building on Stokes Croft). Upper floors: Abbey Road Building Society - Employers Mutual Insurance Association Ltd - Air Way Ltd, Sanitary Cleaning Systems - McCullochs, Wholesale Jewellers.

41 Faringdon Shoe Co. Ltd. - Boot/Shoe Sales

Upper floor: (known as All Saints Chambers) Everymans Insurance Brokers - Madame Rosina, Clairvoyant ('World celebrated clairvoyant and psychic adviser with studio over Faringdon Shoe Shop, open 10.00a.m. - 6.00 p.m.')

The premises, which still survive today, were occupied by G.A. Dunn, Hats (previously at 14-15 High Street) from 1944 into the 1970s.

42 H.W. Edwards. - Manufacturers Agent

Upper floors: J. C. Godwin & Son, Stockbrokers - Glynnes, Ladies' Hairdressers - F.C. Price Ltd, Financiers - The premises survived the blitz and after the war were occupied by Paige, Costumiers and later by Cona Coffee. The building still exists today.

43 H.W. Sapsed. - Watch Repairer

The building still survives today and occupants after the war included Scholls Shoes and The Card Cabin.

44 J. Beardmore. - Fancy Goods Dealers

(Proprietor: W.L. Mottershead) Upper floor: J. Beavis, Dentist - M. Roth, Bespoke Tailor - D. Gregory, Ladies' Hairdresser - The building survived the blitz, with Beardmore continuing to trade here into the 1950s, and still exists today.

45 Parry Bros - Tobacconist

These premises were occupied by Parry Bros since at least 1909. The premises survived the war and Parry's were still there into the 1970s. The building still exists today. Upper floors: Maison Hollyman, Ladies' Hairdresser.

46 Bollom of Bristol Ltd. - Dyers and Cleaners

These premises survived the war and Bollom occupied it before and immediately after (later occupants being Cole & Pottow, Tailors in the 1950s and Irish Linen in the 1960s). The building still exists today. Bollom had many premises in Bristol, their main works and registered office being in Horfield Road.

Between Nos 46 and 47 High Street was a narrow entrance to All Saints Court.

47-48 Hodders Ltd. - Chemists

Hodders was established in 1846 in Broad Street. They occupied these premises in the late 1930s and by 1940 this was one of thirty branches in and around Bristol. These premises survived the war and Hodders continued to trade here into the 1970s. Today, all of Hodders' shops have closed, though this building still exists.

49 W.W. Kemp & Son Ltd. - Gold and Silversmith Retailers

The company was established in 1881 (by one brother; another setting up the business of Kemp Bros, Jewellers, in Union Street) at 60 Stokes Croft and moved to these premises (called Regent House) in around 1920. In 1933, the shop had to be temporarily closed when Gary Grant was choosing an engagement ring for his first bride. The building survived the war and the Kemp's remained here until 1961 (the premises were later occupied by Tudor Facey & Miller, Photographers) when they moved to Carlton Court in Westbury-on-Trym, where they still trade today. The building itself also still exists today.

A memory shared by Paul Townsend , on Dec 28th, 2009.

Comments & feedback

Be the first to comment

Starting a conversation is a great way to share, and get involved!
Post some feedback, your own recollections, or questions below.

Add your comment

You must be signed-in to your Frith account to post a comment.

Sign-in or Register now

Tips & Ideas

Not sure what to write? It's easy - just think of an important place in your life and ask yourself:

  • How does it feature in your personal history?
  • What are your best memories of this place?
  • How has it changed over the years?
  • How does it feel, seeing these places again?
  • Do you remember stories about the community, its history & people?