Sunday, December 09, 2012

Maps of aerial bombing of the City of Manchester during the Second World War

These maps have long been sought after and generally thought not to exist for Manchester. However, a large folio of annotated Ordnance Survey county series maps showing the location of all bombs dropped and the damaged caused to buildings during the Second World War have been unearthed. The maps contain a lot of detail, including the type of bomb and the date it was dropped. Accompanying the maps are a large set of index cards detailing the properties effected and the damage caused. The maps and index cards were prepared by the City Architects Department in the Manchester Corporation as part of their management of the city during the war.

I first came across the maps as part of ongoing research about 'Mapping Manchester' in December 2009 when they were held (or perhaps 'lost') within working files of the Planning Department in the Town Hall Extension. Now they have been transferred to Manchester Archives and are available for inspection by the public. (Their archive reference number is GB127.MISC/1192.)

I have been working with Kevin Bolton and David Govier, in Manchester Archives, to get the whole folio of bomb damage maps properly digitised and made available online. This digitisation was undertaken recently as a voluntary project by the University of Manchester Library, with the assistance of Donna Sherman in the map library and the experts in the Rylands Deansgate CHICC group doing the photography. You can browse all 47 sheets of the bomb damage maps in exacting detail through the Library's LUNA website. (There are also several hundred of other historic maps of Manchester available now on LUNA, including many nineteenth century street maps and a range of Ship Canal plans.)


Given the original Ordnance Survey base maps rather annoyingly split the city centre of Manchester across four separate sheets it can be hard to get a sense of the overall pattern of bomb damage in the core area. Consequently, I decided to get the four central sheets stitched together to create the synthetic map image shown above (and available as a pdf download). The stitching together of the images of the four map sheets was expertly done by Graham Bowden, who works in the University's Cartography Unit. The edge matching across the sheets is not perfect, however, as the original maps have warped and stretched over the past sixty years and so are no longer exactly rectangular.

The key for the bomb annotations shown on the map is as follows:

  • Red circle: fire bomb
  • Blue circle: high explosive bomb
  • Green circle: land mine
  • Solid red shading: building demolished
  • Red hatching: structure partially damaged
It is also important to note in looking at the map above that the apparent lack of any bombing or damage over the River Irwell in Salford and Trafford is due to the nature of data collection and not reality on the ground. These maps were produced by the Manchester Corporation and therefore only detailed damage within their jurisdiction. Salford suffered quite significant amount of bombing in the Second Word War.

These maps are a fascinating historical artefact and potentially a useful source for understanding the immediate physical  impact of the war on Manchester and the longer-term influence this had on post-war urban development in the city centre.

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