Yesterday morning I was sat at home in Derby, working through my father’s photographic archive. I happened to scan this photograph of Exeter Cathedral, dated 1951. Even though I know the Cathedral well, it took me some time to recognise it. I think this was because of the covering over the West window. I’ve since seen another photograph of the Cathedral taken on VE day which also shows this covering. My guess is that it may have been related to the bomb damage the Cathedral suffered on 3-4 May 1942 as a target of the Baedeker raids. While the Nazis usually targeted sites of military, economic or strategic value, these raids specifically targeted culturally or historically important sites. Much of Exeter city centre was destroyed but the Cathedral survived relatively intact, with the main damage being restricted to St James’ Chapel on the South side.
I took the second photograph a few hours later after my eldest daughter had successfully driven her first car (and me) 220 miles down the motorway to her home. You can, of course, no longer park directly in front of the Cathedral and the mature tree on the left of the picture is long gone. The stonework around the entrance seems to be much cleaner than it was, probably due to a combination of hard work by the cathedral stonemasons and lower air pollution. Otherwise, in a city that has seen many changes since the 1950s, the 600 year old Cathedral comfortingly looks much the same as it did 65 years ago.