Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Railings and sacrifice

click photo to enlarge
The casualties of the Second World War were many. Tens of millions of civilians died, as did millions serving in the armed forces. Cities, towns and villages were destroyed and damaged. Historic buildings, houses and workplaces fell to the indiscriminate blast of artillery shell and bomb. But for the populations under attack or occupation these were only some of the privations to be suffered. Food was in short supply. Every day the best and the worst of friends and neighbours was exposed by the stress of war. And unexpected small changes in routines, and in the appearance of surroundings, daily told of the struggle that was taking place across much of the world.

In Britain, from the outbreak of war, everyone carried a gas-mask. Sand bags were placed in locations that would be susceptible to blast damage, and lines of tape criss-crossed windows to counter the deadly flying shards that they would produce if a bomb burst nearby. If this didn't remind everyone that there was a war on, the arrival, in 1940, of gangs of men to cut down the iron railings that bordered house gardens, parks, public buildings and churches, certainly did. This measure was taken to increase the supply of the metal needed to make the weapons necessary to fight the war. It also had the psychological effect of making everyone believe that they, and their communities, were "doing their bit." However, one effect of this measure was to change the face of Britains towns and cities. Selected historic buildings were exempted from the order, but elsewhere the railings fell to the saw and blowtorch like wheat to the scythe. Towns and cities must have looked denuded. In the 1950s an urban myth went around that Winston Churchill had taken this action solely for the sake of morale, and that the railings had actually been dumped in the sea at Land's End. It was never true, but many believed it!

The church of St Peter, Fleetwood, Lancashire, a building by the noted architect, Decimus Burton, had its churchyard railings taken away during the war. Old photographs show them to be fine, sturdy shafts with foliate tops. For the six decades after the end of the war the church stood with only a low wall and the filled sockets of the old railings between its churchyard and the surrounding streets. Then, in 2005, as part of a wider refurbishment, new railings based on the original pattern, were installed. They look a fine sight, and give a visual "lift" to the building. I took this photograph of the church from one of the three corner entrances to the triangular churchyard. The remaining Victorian lantern holder seemed a good frame for the building, and I used a wide zoom lens at 22mm (35mm equivalent) to show the railings wrapping round the site. The camera was set to Aperture Priority (f8 at 1/160 second), ISO 100 and -0.7EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen