The Cathedral during the Second World War

Some glimpses of the Cathedral in the Second World War taken from the notes for Chapter Meetings prepared by Colonel Waller, the Cathedral Architect.

The monuments

September 1939 – A chamber in the southwest corner of the Crypt was prepared to take Robert of Normandy and a large case from Westminster. Edward II was encased in sandbags and more sandbags were to be used to protect, in order: 1. Morley, 2. Blackleech, 3. Williams, 4. Clent, 5. Jones, but not Brydges, Machen or Bower. Would this order of priorities be the same today?

The windows

October 1939 - Ten selected panes from the East Window (including a medallion) and the Lady Chapel Annunciation lights were removed and stored in the Crypt. They were replaced by asbestos sheets and eventually by ‘cathedral glass’.

November 1940 – Mrs Wills of Miserden Park offered to store the glass in her wine cellar. Because of a labour shortage, the glass could not be moved until the following month.

February 1941 – Asbestos and the remaining nine lights were removed from the East Window and replaced with glass.

Fire watching

January 1941 – To avoid blacking out the windows of the Chapter House, a hut was erected on the stage with with a light and a kettle. Outside staff were to take duty with the vergers five nights a week.

September 1941 – The Dean refused a request from the Times to photograph a fire brigade rehearsal ‘to avoid spreading information to undesirable quarters’.

After the war

19 steel helmets, 12 stirrup pumps, 20 eyeshields and a stand pipe were returned to the fire service. The King’s School did not wish to keep the fire extinguishers because during the day it was easy to call the fire service and at night there would be no-one to use them. The books and long central bookcase were returned to the Library, which had been used as a school room while the school was requisitioned. The sandbags round the memorials were found to have perished, leaving quantities of loose sand to be removed. The East Window glass was returned from Miserden Park in July 1945 and stored in the Crypt. About two-thirds of the glass needed some repair and was taken to Cheltenham a few lights at a time for Mr Beck to repair.

And the large case from Westminster which had spent the war in the Crypt was found to be still in good order so the throne of England was returned safely to London.


This article was written by Jill, one of our Archive volunteers, who is working through the Architects papers, indexing the architects notes written on a monthly basis in preparation for the Chapter Meetings.

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