6.4.12

Coventry

Friday, 19 May 1881 - Coventry, England, UK

I will be exploring Warwickshire over the next few weeks. Right in the heart of England, It is one of her leading industrial counties. Indeed parts have been nicknamed “the Black Country” because of all the soot from the factories.

Broadgate in Coventry
(Kings Head Hotel on the left is where I am staying.)
My first stop is Coventry, an industrial town long before the Industrial Revolution. Coventry gets it’s name from a convent started here in the 700s by the Saxon lady, St. Osburg. In 1016 the not so great Danes, Canute and Edric, destroyed it. In 1043 Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his wife, Godgifu (Lady Godiva), rebuilt the nunnery as a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Soon people noticed Coventry had more to offer than just a monastery and a castle. The River Sherbourne running through the town was perfect for water mills. There was plenty of forest for lumber and fuel, along with nearby stone quarries and lush fields. It was near the old Roman roads Watling Street and the Fosse Way, making it perfect for trade. Coventry became a wool and textile center, famous throughout Europe for it’s dyers and their non-fading or “true” blue. The town grew to be the fourth largest city in Medieval England. Much of Medieval and Tudor Coventry still remain in the oldest parts of town.

The fortunes of Coventry have waxed and waned since the Tudor period. Coventry’s current (1881) population is 42,111. The nearby and once much smaller Birmingham is over ten times that size of Coventry with 456,221. Still Coventry is hardly a sleepy hamlet. When textile trade was ruined by cheap imports, Coventry turned to “high tech” making watches, clocks, sewing machines and bicycles. Indeed James Starley, who started the first bicycle factory here, is considered the father of the bicycle industry. He and his family has developed many innovations that revolutionized bicycles more than once.

Bicycles factories will lead to England’s first automobile plant in 1897 which will lead to airplane manufactruing in 1916. Unfortunately this will lead to Coventry being a prime target of the German Luftwaffe in World War II. 1,236 people were killed, 75% of the factories were destroyed and much of the wooden medieval buildings in the city centre burned. The damage was so great the word Koventrieren, “to Coventrate,” was added to both the German and English languages. The word means "to annihilate or reduce to rubble." Coventry will not only rebuild, but in an act of reconciliation, make Dresden, the German city that suffered a similar fate, it’s “Twin City” soon after the war.

Coventry Blitz
It’s my job to record not only the ancient parts of the city while they are still here, but also the Victorian additions. Walking through parts of town I feel like I’ve gone back in time. Erm...yes, I know I am back in time, but I meant back to the Medieval Age and not 1881. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Victorians love Medieval things and Coventry has been on the railway lines since 1838, making tourism another important industry in this period. I can see the draw. I’m already charmed by Coventry.

Coventry's old Tudor and Medieval buildings

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

Nice way to decorate your walls. I have never done that. My effort to beautify the walls in my house was to order big-sized canvas prints from wahooart.com, from images of western art. I use the same angel motifs in all of the rooms painted by different painters, such as this one by very interesting English artist Stanley Spencer, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT7K6.