The shrapnel-scarred facade of Bath’s old Labour Exchange has always been regarded an unofficial memorial to those dark days of April 1942 when the city suffered a terrible aerial bombardment from the Nazi Luftwaffe.
It is the only building from that time that still bore the scars of war and the evidence of three dreadful days and two nights when bombs rained down upon a city Hitler had ear-marked for destruction.
Along with other historic places like Exeter and York, Bath had been chosen from the German Baedeker travel guide as a reprisal for the RAF’s bombing of Lubeck and other historic towns in Germany.
In Bath a group of people have campaigned for some permanent memorial to those terrible days and have established an on-line Bath Blitz Memorial Project. They had also managed to get the old exchange building Grade 11 listed.
Members of the project were present at the unveiling of a special heritage plaque that will now be attached to the exterior of the battle-scarred building which has been cleverly redeveloped in a multi-million pound regeneration scheme.
Development management firm Rengen took the lead on the regeneration of the former Labour Exchange building, James Street West, after securing planning permission for a mixed use scheme of student accommodation and commercial space.
The scheme, which was a Joint Venture with the building’s owners Bath & North East Somerset Council, includes 78 student rooms over three new floors and 4,000 sq.ft. of commercial space on the ground floor.
Throughout the project Rengen worked closely with English Heritage, Bath Heritage Watchdog and the Bath Blitz Memorial Project to ensure the development enhanced the local environment and protected the historical character of the building.
Unveiling the plaque, Rengen’s Chief Executive Officer, Iestyn Lewis, said “We are thrilled and feel a great sense of privilege to have been involved in this scheme to redevelop the former Labour Exchange on James Street West.
“It was our intention right from the very beginning of this project to both protect and preserve the historic bomb damaged façade for future generations as well as giving the building a new lease of life.
“Having lived in the city, I was always mindful of the significance this building held in the community and that it stood as a reminder of the struggles and sacrifices of a previous generation.
“This innovative scheme, which came with many logistical difficulties, has enabled us to bring a very rundown building back into beneficial use, as well as safeguarding its historical importance and ensuring its place in the city’s future.”
I asked Brian Vowles from the Bath Blitz Memorial Project how pleased he was that the building was now taking on official memorial status with the plaque’s unveiling.
All construction work at the former Labour Exchange building was carried out by local firm IKON. The company moved on to site at the end of 2015 with demolition work starting soon afterwards.
The student accommodation will be operated by Empiric Student Property who bought the building in a deal worth £7.65 million.
Bath & North East Somerset Council will retain ownership of the ground floor. Furniture retail specialists Nisbet are due to occupy the commercial unit.
Rengen has been involved in a number of high profile schemes in Bath, including the redevelopment of the Widcombe Social Club and the former Radway Service Station at Wellsway. Rengen is also taking the lead on plans for a new headquarters for the Bath Sea Cadets.
The company, a subsidiary of property consultancy and engineering firm Iesis, provides global property services such as project management, quantity surveying, and structural and civil engineering.
You can find out more about the Bath Blitz Memorial Project via http://www.bathblitz.org/
The two photographs showing the aftermath of the Bath Blitz – used in the interview with Brian Vowles – came from http://www.bathintime.co.uk/