::           Opening The Town Hall Tower 17.11.2012          

The Latest History (1945-1967)

The 2nd World War didn't cause any damage in the Mid-Market block and when in May 1945 first settlers flocked to Świdnica the tower had remained unchanged for over two centuries. It seems that during this period no large-scale renovation works were carried out with the exception of small necessary repairs. However, the decades passing undoubtedly influenced technical condition of the tower. In spite of modest number of data which a lot of residents of Świdnica still remember it allows for partial reconstruction of its technical condition as well as its history until the moment of disaster.

The settling of the town by Polish settlers didn't particularly change the way the tower was used. Like before the 2nd World War the tower was referred to as the dead relic of former times. In the memoirs of persons who came to Świdnica after 1945 there can be found consistent statements that the tower, until it collapsed, wasn't used at all. From time to time banners hung on various occasions appeared. One such photograph with the date „1966” on the occasion of the Millenium survived.

Let's look on the tower in the last years of its existence. There is no problem to enter the tower. In the first post-war years there wasn't any restriction to access the tower as nobody guarded the entrance. Anyway, the majority of monumental buildings in Mid-Market block experienced this for example the neighbouring Town Hall from which documents from municipal archive were appropriated. It was closed later and despite the fact that it wasn't accessible for visitors it was possible to come to an agreement with its administrator and as a result enter the building. The residents of Świdnica remembering this period consistently emphasize that technical condition of the tower wasn't the best. The same refers to the entire old town whose monumental substance in the 40s, 50s and 60s wasn't completely looked after concurrently limiting to the demolition of what according to the then decision-makers wasn't suited for renovation.

We are heading upstairs using supposedly very creaky and highly beaten-up wooden stairs. As the remaining wooden elements – the entire staircase with ceilings which are also wooden, not to mention the cupola's truss – are not in the best technical condition. Timbers which support ceilings of individual floors are embedded, however a lot of them is rotten or charred which is the evidence of not very precise renovation works carried out in the tower after the fire of the 18th century. On the other hand we can admire the paintings as the paint coating was preserved in relatively good condition, here and there breaking through with ornaments painted gold. The exterior of the tower is less impressive as seen on the photographs from this period. Neglected and dirty Wewnętrzna Street, which leads to the tower, clearly visible chipped plaster on east and south elevation of the tower as well as half torn wooden door leading to the viewing terrace don't give better impression.

When – at the end of the 50s and beginning of the 60s the renovation works of theatre and adaptation works of the Town Hall Tower's rooms were carried out, the renovation of the tower itself was included in cost calculation and the range of works to be carried out probably due to the cost of such investment. Basically, the only works carried out in that period were the permanent maintenance of the clock supervised by clockmakers from Świdnica - Henryk Wiśniewski and Edward Durał. They both must have been high-class specialists as the clockwork caused that the clock measured time precisely. In such a condition the tower survived until the 5th January 1967 when it collapsed.

The counting down of its last days started at the end of November 1966 when the town authorities obliged to utilize subsidies granted by theVoivodship National Council decided to carry out demolition works of a part of buildings located at Wewnętrzna Street at a fast rate in order to broaden it.

The demolition works started on the 13th December 1966 without any initial researches on statics of buildings adjacent to the tower. Buildings by 4 and 6 Wewnętrzna Street, the fragment of old buildings on the west side of the tower as well as the building neighbouring directly with it – no. 11 were supposed to be demolished. The latter was supported by three arches located above Wewnętrzna Street which – as it turned out later – performed not only the functions of support for townhouses but also transported some loads from the tower. However, Wojewódzkie Przedsiębiorstwo Robót Elewacyjnych, Porządkowych i Produkcji Pomocniczej with the seat in Legnica didn't know about it.

From the entries made in building site logbook it resulted that demolition works were carried out without any technical documentation; construction site inspector was neither appointed. It is difficult to provide better evidence to confirm human ignorance and stupidity. On the 3rd January 1967 the building site manager inserted in the building site logbook the following information: „the walls are seriously endangered and as a result of this I demad that further decision is made as far as concerns continuation of the works”. Like previous alarming entries the entry in question didn't interest anyone and at least no further actions were undertaken. Anyway, it was too late to help. The tower lost its support as both the walls of townhouses adjacent to it and three arches transporting loads from the tower had already been demolished and the building itself started to lose its stability.

Now we will transfer to the past (not so remote however). It is the 5th January 1967. At 2.50 p.m. the manager of demolition works by Wewnętrzna Street is nervously dialing the municipal architect's phone number. Something wrong is happening! On the tower's shaft there appear scratches and cracks and there can also be seen plaster falling off the tower. The police are coming to secure the area concurrently evacuating the residents from neighbouring houses and chasing away the crowd od rubbernecks. Nobody knows what to do. Somebody hit on the idea to stamp the tower's shaft on which the scratch is more visible. It is a wrong decision because, as further researches show, it could only accelerate the collapse of the tower. Fortunately, there wasn't enough time for its implementation because it would probably end up with fatalities if the tower collapsed on builders. The bottom part of the shaft bulges outside and there appears a huge crack from the Gothic arch upwards at the height of the first floor. Only steel bowstrings surrounding the tower's shaft can save the tower. However, it is too late to undertake such actions. At 3.15 p.m. a quarter bell rings for the last time. It sounds symbolically, like memento for human stupidity and carelessness. It is possible that resonance from the bell's sound caused that the crack of the tower increased and several dozen seconds later the tower, as collapsed along its vertical axis, slides down partially on the passage of theatre, the building of the Town Hall and warehouses of the County Union of District Coopeatives „Samopomoc Chłopska”. It slides down majestically, slowly and without crashing. The disaster is accompanied only by the muted sound similar to that of a distant gun shot …

Mieczysław Jasek, poet from Świdnica, wrote later in his poem that the tower „knelt down in heroic gesture”.

A lot of residents from Świdnica couldn't believe the size of disaster and became convinced only by the lack of dominant in the landscape of Mid-Market block.

The disaster didn't bring any fatalities. Almost immediately an investigation was started although the fact of a scandalous incompetence as far as concerns the works carried out at Wewnętrzna Street was attempted to be concealed. As quick as a thought the removal of ruins started – excavators, bulldozers and dump trucks were used. This hurry in „sweeping under the carpet” pieces of evidence caused that nobody cared for protection of the elements of stonework and the tower's equipment. Hour- and quarter-bell, clockwork and dials as well as sparse amount of stonework ended up in the museum. The then director of the museum Franciszek Jarzyna informed in one of his reports that „All actions were undertaken to save and protect those fragment of the tower which could present historical value and be used in the reconstruction process in the future. Smaller elements, and there are plenty of them, will temporarily be placed in the warehouse of the theatre and bigger parts (copper cupola, etc.)- in municipal warehouses under close supervision”. However, we don't know how many protected elements there were. While judging by what has been left until today not many, including the cupola and stonework which in the later years disappeared from municipal warehouses.

The ruins were removed rapidly and transported to the dumping ground by Bystrzycka Street. It took 1,5 month to clear the area and the cost of works carried out amounted to 200 thousand zlotys.

While hushing up culpable negligence which led to disaster the authorities attempted to find some rational justification. In the first place it was suggested that the tower was undermined by water despite the fact that further researches showed that underground waters are even deeper than superficially seated foundations of the tower. The District Public Prosecutor's Office which officially initiated legal proceedings remitted it basing on the technical opinion of special commission from Wrocław presided over by professor Jan Suwalski from Wrocław University of Technology. It was affirmed that „the result of the collapse of the Town Hall Tower was its bad technical condition”. Afterwards, they were discussing the issue of water from cracked pipeline. Several years after the disaster it was persistently maintained that „demolition works carried out indirectly influenced the disaster”. (the letter of Zygfryd Sikorski, director of the Department of Spatial Economy and Environmental Protection of the Municipal Office in Świdnica to „Słowo Polskie” from October 1973). Archaeological researches conducted in the 80s and 90s explicitly affirmed that the cause of the collapse of the Town Hall Tower was the violation of its stability by demolishing walls of townhouses and arches supporting it.

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