Bomb damage at Filbert Street

Leicester City In The Second World War: Filbert Street Bombed

John Hutchinson's weekly series continues with the story of how Leicester City adapted to the challenges of the Second World War.
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Despite the huge difficulties which faced Leicester City in the summer of 1940, the Club was nevertheless in a position to compete in the 1940/41 season.

However, 10 weeks into the season, Filbert Street was bombed by the Luftwaffe. The gas works area close to Filbert Street had been targeted by the Luftwaffe before war broke out.

This was the third time bombs had been dropped on Leicester. A daylight raid on the morning of Wednesday 21 August, 1940 had demolished houses in Cavendish Road in Aylestone, killing six people.

The second raid on 14 September, 1940 had killed four people in the Northfields area.

The last game to be played at Filbert Street before it was bombed was a War Time South Regional League game against Mansfield Town.

Five nights later, on the night of 14 November, 1940, the football ground was hit. This was the night when 449 bombers devastated Coventry, killed 568 people, ruined their Cathedral and shocked Britain.

Leicester was on the flight path of that raid. At 1:35am, a single bomber dropped a string of 17 high explosive bombs in a line from Hinckley Road and Fosse Road South, towards the Cattle Market, Filbert Street and Grace Road (which was also damaged). Two people were killed. The mortuary was at the Tigers ground. The injured were taken to a First Aid Post at Granby Halls.

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Sep Smith
Sep Smith

Former forward Sep Smith provided a first-hand account of the bombings.

The 12th bomb hit Filbert Street, severely damaging the Main Stand, which housed the gymnasium, changing rooms, board room, offices toilets and kitchen. There was also damage to the roof and to the seating areas.

Woodwork and seating absorbed much of the blast, preventing damage to nearby housing. The pitch was undamaged but was covered with splintered woodwork. 

The directors’ minutes in the Club’s archive indicate that, two days later, the directors called an emergency meeting to consider how best to deal with the damage inflicted by the enemy action.

At the meeting, the directors estimated that the cost of the damage, calculated on the basis of pre-war values, was £15,000 (£987,000 in today’s money).

They decided to claim compensation, although they knew that no payment would be received until after the war, subject to funds being available.

The board then agreed that it would be necessary to carry out temporary repairs to protect the company’s assets and to permit the Club to continue playing football.

Consequently, a list of essential repairs was authorised. Light and water was to be restored in the kitchen, toilets, gymnasium, ladies’ room, board room, offices and passage.

Repairs were to be made to the stand roof, the gymnasium, the visitors’ dressing room, the board room, the office, the kitchen, the ladies’ room. The door leading to the back of the stand and to the players’ entrance was to be made safe too.

To help pay for this, an appeal was to be made to the FA for a £1,000 loan. In 2001, the late Sep Smith, an England international and a Leicester City star for 20 years, told us about the night that Filbert Street was hit.

He recalled how he walked through the streets when the planes were flying overhead to bomb Coventry and that he could hear the bombs being dropped there and see the night sky lit up as Coventry was hit.

He confirmed that the Main Stand was hit and that the dressing rooms were badly damaged, as was the board room. He also recalled a detail not mentioned in the minutes, recalling that the bomb also wrecked the two billiard tables, as well as the area where the directors sat on matchday. He said that the rest of the ground was not damaged.

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Bomb damage at Victoria Park Pavilion
Bomb damage at Victoria Park Pavilion

Victoria Park Pavilion was later hit by the Luftwaffe.

This was lucky, because subsequent research has shown that an unexploded bomb fell on Bede Island, on the opposite side of the canal from the football ground.

Sep also remembered how about 20 German prisoners of war were brought in to patch up the damage at the ground, and how he used to talk to them while they were working.

Three nights after the directors’ meeting, on the night of 19 November, 1940, there was a much heavier bombing raid on Leicester.

An estimated 30 bombers dropped an estimated 650 high explosive and incendiary bombs, mainly in the areas of London Road Station, Highfields and Evington Valley Road.

Up to 550 homes and 11 industrial premises were destroyed or severely damaged, 108 people were killed and 208 were injured.

There was also a single plane raid the following night when one of the two parachute mines dropped destroyed one end of the Victoria Park Pavilion, which 56 years earlier had been used by Leicester Fosse as their home base.

Despite the bombing of Filbert Street and the subsequent damage to the city of Leicester, it is to the credit of the Club that just over a fortnight after the bomb damage to the ground, Leicester City staged a home game against Walsall, in front of a crowd of 600. The match was a 1-1 draw.

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