Bombed Churches, War Memorials, and the Changing English Urban Landscape | Peter J. Larkham

Bombed Churches, War Memorials, and the Changing English Urban Landscape | Peter J. Larkham

War memorials are produced through acts of new creation and by the destructive effects of war. This article examines how some churches, in their bombed and ruinous condition, came to be reused across England in the post–World War II period. The ways these buildings were treated throughout the war and the postwar reconstruction period represent a range of options for repurposing valued structures with varying degrees of damage and provide a useful snapshot of architectural and urban conservation theory and practices.2

In England, bombed churches form large-scale, prominent, and long-lasting urban landscape features. While some churches have been preserved in their ruinous state as markers of past wartime destruction, most have either been replaced with more generic memorials commemorating wartime loss and a vanished civic and architectural past, or they have been redeveloped. Documentation about the decision-making processes pertaining to the demolition, rebuilding, and memorializing of war-damaged churches is surprisingly scarce. Furthermore, what documentation does exist is scattered widely among offices and archives of central and local governments, churches, and voluntary organizations. This article addresses the questions of how and why bombed churches became memorials and investigates how they are used today. These churches were selected from the author’s long-term research and observations about postwar reconstruction in English cities, and the article extends an international literature on postwar reconstruction studies.

The idea of using English World War II–era bombed churches as memorials began during the blitz and generated much public and professional debate (fig. 1). Despite these discussions, some remained as uninterpreted bomb sites for two or three more decades. Decision-making processes were slow, and funding was scarce. The significance of retaining and reusing war-damaged churches as memorials is demonstrated by the lack of such use for any other building type (only two other bombed buildings, in Bath and Hull, have been given state protection as scarce reminders of the war) and by the tendency to retain parts of redundant churches as monuments (for example in Canterbury, Salford, Upton-on-Severn, and Worcester). Many churches became available for alternative uses as a result of both large-scale outward migration of residents from city centers and a decline in church attendance from the mid-twentieth century.

Ongoing research in other European countries suggests…


Visit Project Muse for more articles in this issue.