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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Christmas Bombings - "Cross Street Chapel has just gone up"

Cross Street congregation worship in the ruins

This year we remember the 75th Anniversary of the Christmas Bombings in Manchester of 1940 , when the historic Cross Street Chapel was destroyed, along with the Assize Courts, the Royal Exchange and the Market Place.

Yet in the midst of destruction the congregation at Cross Street gathered to worship affirming a faith in the future - the message of Christmas.

I found this photograph recently in the Essex Hall archives. The Chapel was rebuilt in 1959 and then formed part of an innovative redevelopment in 1997. I am proud to be associated with the Chapel.

James Edward Holroyd was a Ministry of Information press officer on that fateful night in 1940 and later wrote of his experiences in "Lancashire Life" (December 1980), republished in "A Lancashire Christmas" in 1990. He operated from the basement of the "Manchester Guardian" building in Cross Street and recalls John R. Scott, head of the Guardian - a newspaper with strong Unitarian connections - and MOI chief regional officer appearing from time to time. It was he who uttered the sad words "Cross Street Chapel has just gone up!"

Holroyd wrote;

"At about 1.30am on Tuesday the all-clear sounded, and I climbed a vertical internal ladder to the MG roof. A never-to-be forgotten Christmas Eve had been ushered in by a city ringed anew with fire. The Royal Exchange opposite, and Woolworth's beyond, were still burning, as were the much-loved Victoria buildings with their sequence of Aesop's fables carved in stone. The Market Place area - that remaining bit of city history - was an inferno, to be destroyed completely save for the miraculous preservation of the old Wellington Inn block." (p31/32)

The congregation and the City soon responded and as Holroyd says "Meanwhile, beneath the reeking pall of smoke, subdued Christmas celebrations went on; "Robinson Crusoe" was at the Place, Sargent conducted the Halle's "Messiah" at the Odeon...