St Sidwell’s Remembered the Exeter Blitz – 75 Years On

During April and May 2017 St Sidwell’s Community Centre held a series of events to remember 75 years since the Exeter Blitz, as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project ‘Reviving Lost History and Building Community. Here’s a summary of what happened…

Blitz Commemoration Talks

To set the scene we started, in April, with a talk by Professor Mark Stoyle on the English Civil War(1642 – 1646): another time in history when St Sidwell’s was reduced to ashes. The parish was devastated when the Royalist defenders of Exeter cleared vast areas outside the city walls in preparation for a siege. They levelled Sidwell Street to the ground, leaving St Sidwell’s church alone in a sea of rubble in the area between the East Gate and St Anne’s chapel. Did you know St Sidwell’s once had its own guildhall? The Parliamentarians destroyed it, during their own bout of devastation in 1643.

St Sidwell’s was gradually rebuilt and a fascinating talk by local historic buildings expert Richard Parker on ‘The Lost Buildings of St Sidwell’s’ described some of the architectural gems now confined to the history books. People who attended the talk described it as “Highly interesting, wonderful detail, marvellous 17th century town maps.” and “Super speaker. I learned so much.”

On May 3rd Todd Gray delivered an engaging, but somber talk about the Exeter Blitz. On the same night, 75 years before, Exeter citizens would have been going to bed having no idea they’d awake in the early hours of the morning to a sustained air attack from the German Luftwaffe. That sense of connection to the past was evident in the room: “Whilst listening I was actually able to live again the thought of the bombing.” “Todd Gray’s talk was extremely interesting and brought home the loss of the Exeter Blitz: people and properties.”

The huge interest of Exeter people in their local heritage was demonstrated with a massive turn out of 75 people, meaning our community centre cafe space needed to be reinvented as a lecture hall:

After Todd’s talk we were really pleased to meet Bob, who had brought along his certificate of baptism. It was dated less than 3 months before St Sidwell’s church was destroyed in the Blitz. Perhaps he was the last baptism before the Victorian church was bombed:

Our last heritage talk was by Clare Maudling on the rebuilding of Exeter after the Blitz. Whilst it’s hard for Exeter residents to love much of the post war rebuilding, Clare placed the rebuilding into context and demonstrated that a valiant effort had been made in the 1950s to consult widely and to try and rebuild a war torn city to the best standard that funds and time would allow. “Another outstanding talk – clear, informative, entertaining and thoughtful.” “A very successful conclusion to the series of lectures.”

The talks attracted people from the wider Exeter area and were enjoyed by regulars to the centre as well as new visitors. To demonstrate our talents with baking and catering, free samples of chocolate brownies, bakewell tart, bruschetta, homemade cheese straws and much more were provided for our talk attendees. You can’t get better praise than this:

75 Years – Blitz Day Commemoration

On the day of May 4th itself, a special Blitz display was created and the doors of the centre were open wide to invite people in to listen to local choirs. A huge thank you to Newtown Community Choir and Wren’s Singing Roots Choir for their beautiful singing and great selection of songs. The following piece is called Da pacem Domine (Give peace, Lord):

This was followed by the first free public showing of a new film of memories of the Blitz created under the supervision of Gina Kennedy from Exeter’s Underground Passages. The film was extremely well received, and although billed as a drop in event, it was so enthralling that almost all of the audience of 49 people stayed until the end. “Really enjoyed the film, It’s so important to remember.”

Lindyhop Tea Dance

To add an event with a completely different feel, a Lindyhop Tea Dance took place at the centre on Saturday 6th May, featuring the South West Lindyhoppers and wartime themed kids crafts. Our Blitz display was also out and received some great feedback: “Wondrous cakes and looking at the the [wartime] photos was fascinating.” “Loved the photo display and the dancing.”


“It had really nice crafts for kids.”


“Keep up the good work, It’s the heart of the community” “Really lovely atmosphere, very positive friendly and welcoming”

Our heritage team were very pleased to get some glowing feedback from people who had attended many of the Blitz events:

“This whole series has been a fine example of a community based project – why can’t it always be like this?!”

“I think that the whole heritage funded project under Marie and Kevin’s leadership has been immensely successful.”

We’re nearing the end of our Heritage Lottery Funded project ‘Reviving Lost History and Building Community’ so keep in touch by signing up to our enewsletter (link above) or by emailing heritage@stsidwells.org.uk.