A street in time: Roundhill Park in the Second World War
Updated: Jan 13, 2021
Roundhill Park at Southdown is a late 1930s housing estate and an example of the communities that were abruptly planted by the council on the southern hills of Bath in that era.
By 1939 some 72 council houses had been completed around a cigar-shaped green on land that was once used to graze cattle. The same year, Britain declared war on Germany. Now this fledgling community would have to adapt to the challenges of the Second World War with rationing, blackouts, bombings, and people called away to fight.
Thanks to resources such as the British Newspaper Archive it is possible to step into the history of the estate. Welcome to the wartime community at Roundhill Park.
Image of Roundhill Park © Google 2021
Dig for victory
Early into the war, German submarines attacked merchant ships carrying imports of food to Britain. This resulted in the British Dig for Victory campaign calling on people to grow enough food to keep themselves fed. Bath City Council began to award prizes for the best vegetable gardens on the council estates around Bath. In January 1941 the garden of Mr T Evans of 7 Roundhill Park won him a set of gardening tools and a certificate of honour.
The council also considered turning land at Roundhill Park into allotments but concluded that there was insufficient demand as the allotments at neighbouring Whiteway had not all been taken up.
The threat of air raids brought the need to cover windows and doors with thick curtains, cardboard, or black paint to stop any escaping light from guiding enemy bombers to the city. Fines were brought against Bath residents who broke the rules and these people then suffered the indignity of being named in the Bath Weekly Chronicle and Herald.
Just a month into the war, William Gunning of 70 Roundhill Park got fined 5 shillings, his name appearing among a long list of other Bathonians who had allowed indoor lights to be seen from outside. The following month, Sidney Randall of 47 Roundhill Park was caught out and fined the same amount. Maybe it was just a matter of getting used to the blackout rules, as these are the first and only names from Roundhill Park to be recorded for this breach.
Around the city, communities formed fire watching and first aid groups in anticipation of emergencies inflicted by air raids.
A public meeting held at Southdown Infant School in February 1941 resulted in 30 residents signing up to be Roundhill Park fire watchers. Calling themselves the Good Neighbours Club, they collected a fortnightly subscription from houses on the estate and used the money to buy stirrup-pumps, ladders, first-aid and anti-gas equipment. They also set up a Distress Fund ready to help any residents who might be victims of air raids. Mr H Eades of 9 Roundhill Park was appointed Fire Leader and had the task of training fire teams for the estate.
In August 1941, a meeting was held at Roundhill Park to teach the volunteers how to deal with a gas attack using anti-gas equipment. Mr A R Harding taught the lesson in a room in his house. Members learned how to use anti-gas ointment on the skin and a bicarbonate of soda wash on the eyes, to treat someone having been splashed with poison gas.
Servicemen and women
This was a time when almost every street had residents serving in the armed forces. A couple of names from Roundhill Park stand out in particular. In 1940, Peggy Adlam of 8 Roundhill Park was serving as a volunteer with the Territorial Auxilliary Service - the women's branch of the British Army. And in 1944, Mrs J Griffin of 10 Roundhill Park received the sad news that her husband Joe Griffin, a private in the Parachute Regiment, was missing in action. He had been among the first to land in the heroic Battle of Arnhem which saw British forces suffer heavy losses.
The Bath Blitz
In April 1942 the Roundhill Park community experienced the horror of bombs landing on their estate. A number of homes were hit and damaged so badly that they had to be demolished. An air raid shelter was built at Roundhill, but by then a lot of Southdown residents had taken to sleeping in the fields of nearby Englishcombe for safety. The Bath Blitz resulted in an acute housing shortage and in 1944 the Town Clerk called for the lost houses at Roundhill Park to be rebuilt.
The city of Bath was allocated 600 temporary homes that could be assembled from prefabricated materials. The council contemplated erecting some of these on the green at Roundhill Park, but this idea was opposed by residents. One of the last acts of the estate's fire watchers group was to insist that the green be left as space for children to play.
The aftermath of the war
The war ended in September 1945 and Britain began the process of rebuilding its economy and paying off debts. Times were tough, few people had much money and the rationing of some staple foods continued into the 1950s.
Yet there were some 'positives' for the community at Roundhill Park as well. The war effort and with it, the formation of groups such as the fire watchers, had helped to knit the community together. Moreover, the houses that the council had built here were of decent quality, paid work was available, and the Labour government introduced the National Health Service and Welfare State. Over time, Southdown would grow larger and the developing shopping centre at Mount Road would acquire a better range of shops to supply residents' needs.