Newburians led on exciting First and Second World War heritage trail around Market Place, Victoria Park and Northbrook Street
A group of curious locals enjoyed a fascinating excursion into Newbury’s rich wartime past.
The walk and talk were led by Jane Burrell, former curator of West Berkshire Museum, and Phillip Wood, chairman of Newbury District Field Club, on Tuesday, August 1.
The party met outside the Corn Exchange following a route via Victoria Park, Northbrook Street and St Nicolas Church.
The fully subscribed party first turned to view Bills restaurant, site of the former Plaza hall, and to the spot where a tank once paraded through Market Place in the First World War.
The Corn Exchange was a popular centre for entertainment in the Second World War, reguarly used by US troops after their ‘friendly invasion’ in 1942.
Servicemen used the space twice a week, including for baseball.
The Newbury String Players also performed here, as did famed American musician Glenn Miller — one of his last performances before his plane vanished over the English Channel in 1944.
The party then moved on to The Wharf to learn about Newbury’s former fire and ambulance station, situated close to where the public toilets are today.
The Newbury Volunteer Fire Brigade, established in 1879, was based here and bolstered by the Auxiliary Fire Service during the war, which consisted of 65 members, including three women — who were only permitted to work indoors.
Headed by Albert Miles, Newbury’s firefighters bravely supported other fire services in bombed out cities across the South.
Some lost their lives, including Mr Miles. Newbury’s emergency committee received letters of thanks from blitzed cities.
The fire tower housed an air raid siren and was used both by ARP wardens and for testing gas masks.
The group then crossed Victoria Park — spotting the former air raid shelter by the cafe — and cut across to the Methodist Church in Northbrook Street.
The old Methodist Hall was used by American servicemen, who decorated the space with murals — later painted over by church staff.
Police routinely dispersed female Londonders who loitered outside to see the soldiers.
The party continued through Northbrook Street, passing the forgotten Lewis gun emplacement outside Metro Bank, and heard the startling function of Newbury Bridge in the Second World War.
The bridge formed part of the GHQ Line, a complex network of defences safeguarding the country’s roads and waterways.
High explosives were allegedly planted beneath the bridge in case the enemy overrun the town.
The talk concluded at St Nicholas Church and Newbury War Memorial.
The heritage trails raise money for Newbury’s blue plaque scheme. This walk marked the second in a series of seven organised by John Gardner, supported by Newbury Town Council and the Corn Exchange.
Other upcoming walks include: Lost Churches and Chapels (August 8), Lost Pubs of Newbury (August 15), Northbrook Street and Speenhamland (August 22), Tudor Newbury (August 29), and The First Battle of Newbury (September 17).
Please visit https://cornexchangenew.com/event/newbury-walks to buy your tickets.