Friday, 22 August 2014

WWII Bombs in Nottingham : discovering local history whilst mapping

Last Saturday I showed 2 visitors how I mapped addresses (more on this later).


Infill housing, St Cuthbert's Road, Nottingham NG3

One little vignette stood out.


We were walking down St Cuthbert's Road in the area called Sneinton Elements, and the house numbers were a little peculiar at the bottom of the road. Most of the road was terraced houses, but the last terrace was number 10 followed by a detached house at 8, a gap and then finally number 2 which was at the end of a terrace on the main road, Carlton Road. As I wanted to make sure I captured this particular group of numbers I took a few photos. A chap came out of one of the houses wanting to know, not unreasonably, why I was taking pictures of his house.

He was sure I was doing it for money. I explained a bit about OpenStreetMap, and tried also to satisfy him that I mapped as much for my own interest as anything else. As an example I said I was interested what had happened to the original houses 4-8. The answer was unexpected: they'd been destroyed by a World War II bomb.

I knew about some of the bombing in Nottingham, but not very much. At this point we were away. He was deeply interested in local history and could explain a lot about the neighbourhood, even though, as he explained, he was not local. In fact his family came from Hyson Green (about 2 km away) and had perhaps lived there for several hundred years.

I have this sort of heartening exchange now and then when I'm out mapping. Every time I'm still surprised just how interested people are in these things, and how much knowledge they have. In many ways my own interests in these things are a significant motivator for my own involvement in OSM. Of course I dont expect someone in their '70s to necessarily want to get down to the nitty gritty of editing, but I think it does show that map and/or local history geekiness are much more widespread than one might think.

The other thing of note is probably something which is disappearing: my interlocutor had a really precise sense of locality.

 photo scan0059.jpg
Locations of WWII bombs in Nottingham
Image from Nottstalgia forum
Original source and image rights unknown.
I promised my visitors to do a little research arising from this conversation. So here are a few links to material on the bombing of Nottingham during WWII:
  • Wikipedia has a decent overview.
  • Oral history transcribed by the BBC
  • A discussion on a local forum (source of the map above).
The London Blitz has recently had nice digital resources developed to show where bombs fell during the war. The Bombsight project of the Imperial War Museum development team included a significant proportion of OSMers. I've regretted that it was never extended outside London: my mother's family were bombed out just before Christmas 1940, and my grandfather was fire watcher in Liverpool for most of the war. There's lots more old maps left in the National Archives: yet another reason why we are working towards OpenHistoricalMap as a platform to make digitising such data easier.

Once again the link between mapping, old maps and local history had reasserted itself.

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