From the promotional description:
Between 1940 and 1942 Exeter was raided by the German Luftwaffe 19 times. The worst raid took place in the early hours of May 4th, 1942. This event dramatically altered the landscape of the city of Exeter.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Exeter Blitz in May 2012, Viva Voce, in collaboration with the Bike Shed Theatre, have created a theatrical blitz experience, which will share and celebrate the real-life stories of those who experienced the Blitz here in Exeter. Viva Voce have interviewed over 20 individuals who were between the ages of 6 and 25 in 1942. This play is a testament to their extraordinary stories.The Exeter Blitz Project runs until May 19th. See the Viva Voce or the Bike Shed Theatre for further information.
For readers unfamiliar with the background: the early hours of May 4th 1942 saw the worst of a series of Luftwaffe bombings of Exeter as part of the 'Baedeker Blitz' (named for the reputed selection of targets from the Baedeker travel guide) that targeted historic British cities in retaliation for the Allied bombing of the mediaeval port of Lübeck. Apart from the loss of lives (265 over the 19 raids) the bombing, especially that of May 4th, razed large segments of central Exeter, effectively destroying it as one of Britain's most picturesque and historic centres.
The post-war redevelopment remains controversial even now. The architect Thomas Sharp's bold 'Exeter Phoenix' rebuilding plan was largely ignored (including his recommendations for buildings that could be saved, such as the elegant Bedford Circus) in favour of now notoriously unaesthetic 1950s architecture exemplified by the now-redeveloped Princesshay precinct. It's interesting to consider what might have been:
Sharp estimated that the city had lost something like half of its buildings of architectural merit through bombing. The report discusses at length those buildings destroyed, especially the Georgian buildings, such as Bedford Circus, to the east of the Cathedral. However, the purpose of his discussion was not to propose reinstatement of similar buildings or even the retention of the street plan. On the contrary it was used to mobilise support for Sharp's proposals for clearly contemporary interventions, built to a new street plan. First, Bedford Circus was cited as a successful contemporary intervention of its day, an area of frankly new architecture constructed on a new street plan that had become one of the most valued areas of the city. Second, Sharp argued that the popular perception of Exeter as a medieval city was misplaced and that, the cathedral apart, the principal architectural merits of the city were Georgian. He outlined four possible forms rebuilding might take. Firstly restoration, which he argued would produce a dead museum. Second and thirdly, a functionally modern city with medieval imagery or with eighteenth and nineteenth century dress; i.e. a functional modern city cloaked in historic styles of architecture. He thought that these approaches might be popular with the public but would be contemptible. Finally, and his strongly favoured option, was modern renewal, sympathetic to, but not imitative of existing forms. New development should be of a similar scale to the buildings that had been lost, and be intimate rather than monumental in form.
- commentary on Exeter Phoenix: A Plan for Rebuilding, Town and Townscape: The Work and Life of Thomas Sharp. Pendlebury, Wood & Fernandez.Further information:
- Exeter Memories - The Exeter Blitz - April and May 1942. This site has a gallery of photos from The Story of the Exeter Blitz (c.1945) and Exeter Phoenix: A Plan for Rebuilding (1946).
- Exeter Blitz Aftermath - video clip from the South West Film & Television Archive.
- Exeter Blitz - well-referenced Devon Libraries factsheet.