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Kent Messenger

Images of Canterbury

Images of Canterbury

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Ninety minutes was all it took to change the face of Canterbury for ever. In one terrifying raid in the early hours of 1 June 1942, a large part of the city centre was destroyed or badly damaged.

As planners began to outline their vision for post-war development, the rows began — and sometimes it seems as though they have never stopped. The people with the power to change the city’s future stepped away from the bombs and into a minefield.

We must be grateful that the more fanciful plans never came to pass. Some schemes, for example, envisaged new roads cutting a swathe through the city centre to improve traffic flows; and if that meant the demolition of sound (and attractive) buildings, so be it.

Such was the scope of early blueprints that some guardians of our past feared they would achieve what Hitler had failed to finish; the destruction not just of part of our history but of the city’s character, too. But the planners believed they had logic on their side.

Perhaps the most robust explanation of their actions was given by John Boyle, Town Clerk for 30 years from 1942-72, who often voiced his belief that what was done was done for the best — or, at least, with the best of motives.

And the city fathers did, indeed, try to be visionary: planning for the growth in traffic they knew would come; accommodating a bigger bus station and a multi-storey car park within the city walls for everyone’s convenience; knocking down ‘slums’ to build brighter, warmer homes; improving, in their view, that which needed improving.

Their beliefs seemed to fit in with the spirit of the age. Out with the old; in with the new. A unique chance to sweep away the worst of centuries past and build a brave new Elizabethan world. And, in truth, not every building that survived the war — intact or barely damaged — was worth saving.

Some were dark and grim (at best nondescript), industrial or commercial, whose passing was not much mourned.

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