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Noel-Baker Gardens Gallery
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Greenham Common
Greenham Common Gallery
Castle Park Bristol
Castle Park Gallery
Bristol : Castle Park
A general view    A memorial site

Castle Park is a small stretch of green space in the centre of Bristol. It is one of the city’s newest parks, and as the name suggests it was the site of Bristol's large medieval castle, destroyed by an Act of Parliament in 1650. Cluttered with houses, shops and light industry, the area was severely damaged during the Blitzes of the Second World War and largely cleared apart from the ruins of St Peter and St Mary le Port churches. Clearance was controversial, as a number of distinctive Tudor buildings, including the celebrated Dutch House, were arbitrarily pulled down by salvage teams in the middle of the war.

After the war, the city considered the future of the area. There was a debate as to how best to remember those civilians who had died during the bombing. Several newspapers argued that there was a need for ‘some living tribute to the memory of those who gave their lives to save civilisation from jungle law.’
(Evening Post, 19th March 1946) As was often the case in the country at that time, it was argued that a memorial should ‘take the form of a useful project of permanent value’ such as a multi-purpose building for youth organisations, literary societies, arts clubs, etc.’ (Western Daily Press, 30th March 1946.)

One suggestion given consideration was that ‘some worthy relic of the city’s bomb damaged buildings should be preserved as a ruin’. In due course, the shattered remnants of St Peter’s Church – now at the heart of Castle Park – and the tower of St Mary’s Church were set aside for this purpose, The city fathers being anxious not to incur ‘too great an expenditure’, nor to embark on a project that would take many years to complete, a lesson learned from the prolonged and agonizing negotiations to situate the Cenotaph to the Great War.

Apart from the addition of the numerals ‘1939’ and ‘1945’ to the City’s Cenotaph in Colston Avenue, the War Memorial Committee decided that ‘consideration of the various proposals should be deferred’ while hoping that publicity in the local press ‘will result in the opinion of the general public being ascertained.’
(Notes of the War Memorial Committee, reported in Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 30th March 1946.) Castle Park, its two ruined churches, was the eventual outcome of this decision, though it was not until the 1990s that attention was given to how exactly the ruins should be contextualised and presented.

An ambitious programme of recovery and re-presentation during the 1990s led to the transformation of the park, Cars were cleared, archaeological remains revealed, artworks liberally dotted across the area. A thoroughfare in the city’s shopping centre it is well-visited by pedestrians and cyclists, though few seem to realise its historical roots as a ‘peace park’. Most of those who left reminiscences on a BBC website recalled picnics and funfairs but little else.

A memorial site
In addition to the two ruined churches, the Park has accumulated small memorials and mementoes over the past decades. Most surprising, given the paucity of memorials to the Spanish Civil War in the UK, is a small plaque attached to a footing of one of the churches that remembers three Bristolians who joined the international Brigade and died in Spain fighting against the Fascist armies of General Franco.

Nearby is a Peace Grove of Japanese cherry trees that were planted in 1986. Bristol’s deputy Lord Mayor helped a survivor of Hiroshima plant a tree adjacent to the ruins of St Peter’s Church on 9th August 1986.

Other peace-related objects have accumulated on the site; a tree has been dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank, a small copse of five silver birch trees have been planted as a tribute to those who served and died during the D-day Landings in Normandy in 1944; each tree is identified after one of the five beaches. Planted on 5th November 1995, the Garden of Peace was opened by Lady Pamela Hicks, patron of the Bristol and District Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association. The stones used for the plaques were bought back from Normandy.

Although few Bristolians associate this green space with ‘peace’, it has on occasion been a space of political intervention. In April 2003 the outline of a white figure was painted on the cycle path that runs through the Park; the words ‘Gulf’ painted alongside. Not far away, at the Bristol Cenotaph, a black child-size coffin was left on the steps of the monument. Surrounded by bouquets and loose flowers, the political intention was clear from inscriptions and labels that stated
‘For those that got in the way of oil’.

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