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  3. Life in 1930s Bristol
A black-and-white photograph of people in coats and hats looking at fruit and vegetables in a marketplace.

Life in 1930s Bristol

1930s Bristol was a vital shipping city. Its docks and ports would present key targets to the Luftwaffe during The Blitz

Discover more about Bristol in the 1939 Register

Built on the Southern bank of the Severn Estuary, at the point where the rivers Frome and Avon converge, Bristol has been an important seafaring port for centuries. After several years of decline, toward the end of the 1930s the city began to receive and manage more ships, transporting and routing equipment and supplies to where people or industry needed them most.

With concerns that war was imminent, Bristolians were invited to attend a huge “National Defence Display” hosted on the nearby Downs in July, 1939. A series of demonstrations by the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Red Cross showed how each service would deal with the aftermath of a German attack. Crowds saw demonstrations of how fires were extinguished, gas decontaminated and searchlights and anti-aircraft guns used to defend against air raids. The display culminated in the dropping of a ‘bomb’ on a replica house.

Crowds saw demonstrations of how fires were extinguished, gas decontaminated and searchlights and anti-aircraft guns used to defend against air raids. The display culminated in the dropping of a ‘bomb’ on a replica house.

Bristol residents were issued with gas masks and Anderson air raid shelters in 1939 in order to protect them from German air raids. The Council had agreed to install the shelters once war was declared, but many families chose to get started early, digging their own 3 foot-deep pits and assembling their own.

A sepia-toned photograph showing the University Tower in Bristol. A road in front of it has two cars upon it, and a woman strolls with an umbrella.
University Tower, Bristol. Image: The Wentworth Collection/Mary Evans Picture Library

Work was also well underway on building the fleet of aircraft Britain would need to defend against an invasion. The British Aeroplane Company (BAC) factory at Filton had been expanded to cope with the increase in demand, becoming the world’s largest manufacturing unit. Up to 3000 local people were employed in the plant, assembling aircraft like the famous two-seater Beaufighter.

Up to 3000 local people were employed in the plant, assembling aircraft like the famous two-seater Beaufighter.

Like other English cities that had been identified at risk of attack, Bristol sent many of its children into the countryside where bombing would be much less likely. The first three days of September saw crowds of school children at Bristol Temple Meads railway station, waiting for the trains that would carry them into Devonshire and other rural areas.

A black-and-white photograph shows the back of a row of dilapidated houses and their small gardens. Two very young children stand by one of the doors.
Two children standing in the back garden of their terraced slum house in Byron Street, Bristol. Image: Mary Evans Picture Library

Away from work and the War, the men and women of Bristol loved to dance. The Bristol Evening Post carried listings for dozens of dance teachers and classes, along with late night sessions at the Coliseum Ballroom. The paper even ran its own Ballroom Championships, with a series of heats in Bristol, Exeter, Cardiff and Gloucester, throughout February and March, culminating in the grand finals ball at the Victoria Rooms.

Main image: A study in light and shade at the fruit and vegetable stall of Bristol Market, England. Image: Mary Evans Picture Library

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