Exploring the impact of the May 1916 Zeppelin attack

Zepp new“The Zepp passed directly over our house then turned to the left over the Canvas and across to Nunthorpe Hall where the wounded soldiers were. The first bombs were dropped there about half a minute or less after passing our house, which set the Hall on fire and all the patients had to be taken away by motor car.  A good deal of damage was done to the Hall but it was not totally destroyed.

A Miss Chapman (one of our lady clerks) of Nunthorpe Avenue was killed and her mother had an arm blown off.  A Mr and Mrs Avison in Price Street were killed and the house totally demolished.  3 houses were knocked down in Caroline Street and scores if not hundreds of houses seriously damaged roundabout there, thousands of windows being blown in.  Nunthorpe Road caught it very severely, particularly about Kettlewells the butchers and right up to St Clement’s Church which had a few, perhaps 40, small panes broken.  It is a proper wreck about there.”  (Extract from letter by Wilson Kirby, Holme House, 230 Bishopthorpe Road, to daughter Nellie, 3 May 1916).

Zeppelin route May 1916

Zeppelin route May 1916 (Courtesy York Explore).

Newspapers outline events of 2 May 1916 when York was first attacked from air. Our Local History Group wanted a worm’s eye view. What did the event feel like in our neighbourhood? How did people respond that night? And how did the city deal with the aftermath?

Additional sources were discovered: eye-witness accounts, school log-books, family archives, and records of York Citizens’ Committee. Pupils from Millthorpe and The Mount schools created and walked a trail, unveiling plaques to the nine who died in the attack.They – with Scarcroft Primary School – displayed work at our public meeting to commemorate the aerial attack.

Zeppelin deaths on WW1dead map

War dead from our area together with deaths from Zeppelin raid

“A German air raid was made on this part of York last night. Much damage was done in the neighbourhood of the school and the people are much alarmed. In consequence attendance at school has been disturbed.” (Scarcroft School log-book, 3 May 1916).


Zeppelin bomb damage in Upper Price Street, 1916

Zeppelin bomb damage in Upper Price Street, 1916

George and Sarah Ann Avison

George and Sarah Ann Avison of Upper Price St, killed in the raid

Avison family

The Avison family

We were able to make contact with descendants who provided family photos:







Avison painting 2

Shrapnel damage to painting still in the Avison family


Avison painting 3

Avison painting 1

Avison clock

Avison clock damaged by shrapnel

Norah Chapman

Norah Chapman

As well as nine killed there were some 40 injured, including 25 year old Norah Chapman, 6 Nunthorpe Avenue, who wrote on 8 May from York County Hospital to her friend Annie Ryder:

“My Dear Annie 

… my poor darling sister was killed in the air raid, my dear darling  mother has had her left arm shot off and I am very badly wounded at the top of my right arm, and 3 wounds in my back…The house is absolutely wrecked.

I should love you to come over & see me. You ask what you can do for me – well: the food here is rotten & we are not allowed to have any brought in, but we should like jellies as they are most strengthening.”




There was damage to homes. York Citizens’ Committee appointed an Air Raid Committee (ARC) to investigate and relieve distress arising from the air raid. A public appeal raised funds. If the ARC felt the owner was able to bear the loss, no contribution was made. If the owner was partly or wholly dependent on the property for subsistence a 50% contribution was made in some cases; 75% in others.

Zeppelin damage Bishophill 1

Zeppelin damage in Bishophill


Zeppelin damage in Bishophill

Zeppelin damage Caroline St

Caroline St

Zeppelin damage Nunthorpe Road

Nunthorpe Road










There were 149 applications for relief from the York Citizen’s Committee

No of cases Type of help Value
81 Household furniture, linen, bedding, apparel damaged/destroyed £659
37 Repairs: rebuilding damaged homes £635
2 Replacement of stock in trade £13
4 Allowances to widows & dependants of four men killed £230
2 Funeral expenses £44
3 Treatment in homes & medical expenses £55
2 Artificial limbs £25
8 Payments for removals & lodgings £34
4 Payments of wages £6

Locations of the claims

No of cases Street name
13 Kyme St
2 Newton Terrace
19 Caroline St
5 Victoria St
4 Nicholson’s Terraces
7 Price St
15 Nunthorpe Road
3 Upper Price St
12 St Saviour’s Place
Location of sufferers from Zeppelin raid on York, May 1916 (C) Crown Copyright Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey

Location of sufferers from Zeppelin raid on York, May 1916. (C) Crown Copyright. Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey

Later, at the end of 1918 York Town Clerk sent the Government’s Committee on War Damage a list of 224 York households who had suffered as a result of enemy action.

In 1924 the Royal Commission for Suffering and Damage by Enemy Action made recommendations as to distribution of around £5 million out of the first receipts of reparations allocated to the UK.


P1040974 - CopySUMMARY

Our small group of local people, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, was able to achieve the following to commemorate the centenary of the 2 May 1916 Zeppelin raid :

  • joint activity with schools, providing resource material for Zeppelin plaques, a trail and school assemblies. Invited to talk to a primary school class.
  • discovery and use of new historical sources, for example eye-witness accounts and school log-book entries
  • engagement with descendants of those affected by the Zeppelin raid
  • use of social media to publicise events, including live tweeting of the raid at @ZeppelinWW1Live, 100 years later
  • providing material for a York Press feature, and participating in an interview on BBC Radio York
  • presenting the results of our research at a public meeting attended by 80 people, and featuring displays by three local schools
  • commissioning a film record of our activity, to be available online
  • using online resources such as HistoryPin to map stories

(For details of how aerial raids were experienced elsewhere in Britain see: http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/podcasts/voices-of-the-first-world-war/podcast-12-zeppelins-over-britain)

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