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The accidental enemy
11:44am Thursday 29th August 2013 in Features
St Martin-le-Grand Church in Coney Street which was heavily bombed, featured in the Baedeker travel guide
The 1937 edition of the travel guide Baedeker’s Great Britain, which was reputedly used by the Germans to plan the 1942 York Baedeker Raid, has been reproduced in a beautiful facsimile edition. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.
AT FIRST glance, it could almost stand as a description of York today. “An ancient city with 84,800 inhab., the capital of Yorkshire, situated on the Ouse, in the centre of the wide and fertile Vale of York. The ancient walls are still standing, many of the streets are crooked and narrow, and there are not a few quaint old houses”
But then the entry in Baedeker’s begins to reveal its age. “The industries of York include Rowntree’s cocoa and chocolate works, Terry’s chocolate factory in Bishopthorpe Road, Cooke’s factory for optical instruments in Bishophill and the L&NER waggon works.”
This is actually a description of York in the 1930s. It is taken from the 1937 edition of the Baedeker Guide to Great Britain. And in case you’ve forgotten the significance of that, the 1937 Baedeker was the one reportedly used by the Germans when planning their Baedeker raids on York and other historic English cities.
Between April and June, the Luftwaffe carried out raids on five major historic cities in England. The cities – Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury – were reputedly selected from the 1937 Baedeker travel guide, and were supposedly bombed in retaliation for the British bombing of the German cities of Lubeck and, a little later in 1942, Cologne.
According to AC Grayling’s 2006 book Among The Dead Cities, 1,637 civilians were killed in the raids on the five cities. A further 1,760 were injured, and more than 50,000 houses were destroyed.
In York, the death toll in the bombing raid which took place in the early hours of April 29, 1942, has been put at 94. There was also widespread damage to the city itself, including the medieval Guildhall, St Martin-le-Grand Church in Coney Street and the Bar Lane Convent.
Fortunately, the Minster – which features very prominently in the Baedeker guide – was not hit.
The original 1937 book is extremely rare. But an exact replica has now been produced by Oxfordshire-based publishers Old House, a division of Shire publishing.
Abraham Davies, of Shire’s marketing department, said the publisher acquired a copy of the 1937 original, and then digitally scanned every page and every fold-out map. “It’s as perfect a reproduction as is possible,” he said.
It’s certainly a beautiful book – a chunky 700 pages that manages to fit comfortably in one hand. Many of the pull-out maps are beautiful. And while York takes up only six of the nearly 700 pages, there are also fascinating accounts of surrounding areas of Yorkshire, including Harrogate, Selby, the Yorkshire Dales, Scarborough and Whitby.
Reading it makes for a pleasant journey back in time, to an age when life was a little more leisurely.
Thus Bolton Abbey in the Dales is described as being “at the foot of the most picturesque part of Wharfedale, the finest of the Yorkshire dales and one of the most beautiful valleys in England.”
The guide advises visitors to “ascend at least as far as Barden Bridge. This may be reached by motor-car or motorbus, but the walking route offers much more beautiful views.”
There is also a description of the old fishing town of Whitby, with its “crowd of red-tiled houses climbing the steep sides of the cliff.” Scarborough meanwhile, which is “beautifully situated on two bays, with bracing air”, is described as the leading seaside resort of the north of England, as well as “the chief centre for tunny fishing in the North Sea.”
It is the descriptions of York itself, however, that are perhaps the most fascinating – especially for the hints they give of how the city in the 1930s differed from that of today.
Thus, in describing the “many narrow and tortuous streets” of York, the guide comes to the Shambles, the narrowest of all, “still largely occupied by butchers.”
Then there is a description of King’s Manor which, the guide says, has been “occupied since 1833 by the Yorkshire School for the Blind (admission free on purchase of an article).” And, amid a list of some of York’s finest churches, there is a description of St Martin-le-Grand, with “nine windows of the 15th century.”
That, as students of York history will know, is the very church that was so badly damaged in the German bombing raid a few years later – the raid reportedly planned with the help of this very guide. What a tortuous web we weave…
The facsimile edition of the Baedeker’s 1937 Guide to Great Britain is published by Old House, priced £14.99 plus £1.50 p&p.
Readers of The Press can buy the book at a 25 per cent discount from the Old House website, oldhousebooks.co.uk
Enter the code OldHouseMaps into the basket on the website.
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