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Coventry Cathedral - - 341986.jpg
Coventry's cathedrals, old and new
Grid reference: SP335785
Location: 52°24’29"N, 1°30’38"W
Population: 300,848  (2001)
Postcode: CV
Dialling code: 024
Local Government
Council: Coventry

Coventry is a city in the middle of Warwickshire. It is reckoned the 11th largest city in the United Kingdom and the second largest city in the county, after Birmingham, with a population of 300,848 in 2001.

Coventry stands 19 miles east of the county's largest city, Birmingham, and is further from the coast than any other city in Britain.

Coventry Cathedral is one of the newer cathedrals in the world, having been built following the Second World War bombing of the ancient cathedral by the Luftwaffe. Coventry motor companies have contributed significantly to the British motor industry, and it has two universities, the city centre-based Coventry University and the University of Warwick on the southern outskirts.


Coventry is an ancient city. It predates many of the large cities around it including Birmingham and Leicester. It is likely that Coventry grew from a settlement of the Bronze Age near the present-day city centre where Coventry's bowl shape and, at that time large flowing river and lakes, created the ideal settlement area, with mild weather and thick woods: food, water and shelter would have been easily provided. The Romans are not known to have come to Coventry itself but they did found a town at Baginton

|n Anglo-Saxon nunnery was founded in Coventyr in about 700 by St Osburga,[1] which could be said to be the town's beginning. The nunnery was later left in ruins by King Canute's invading Danish army in 1016.

Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his wife Lady Godiva built on the remains of the nunnery and founded a Benedictine monastery in 1043 dedicated to St Mary.[2][3] In time, a market was established at the abbey gates and the settlement expanded. The town was known in Old English as Cofentreow.

By the 14th century, Coventry had become an important centre of the cloth trade, and throughout the Middle Ages was one of the largest and most important cities in England. The bishops of Lichfield were often referred to as bishops of Coventry and Lichfield, or Lichfield and Coventry (from 1102 to 1541). Coventry claimed the status of a city by ancient prescriptive usage, was granted a charter of incorporation in 1345, and in 1451 became a “county corporate”.[4][5]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Coventry became one of the three main British centres of watch and clock manufacture and ranked alongside Prescot, near Liverpool and Clerkenwell in London.[6][7] As the industry declined, due mainly to competition from Swiss-made clock and watch manufacturers, the skilled pool of workers proved crucial to the setting up of bicycle manufacture and eventually the motorbike, car, machine tool and aircraft industries.

In the late 19th century, Coventry became a major centre of bicycle manufacture. The industry being energised by the invention by James Starley and his nephew John Kemp Starley of the Rover Safety Bicycle, which was much safer and more popular than the pioneering Penny Farthing. The company later became Rover. By the early 20th century, bicycle manufacture had evolved into automobile manufacture, and Coventry became a major centre of the British motor industry. The design headquarters of Jaguar Cars is still in the city at their Whitley plant and although they ceased vehicle assembly at their Browns Lane plant in 2004, they still continue some operations from there.

A 1972 Hillman Avenger Tiger, produced in Coventry

Coventry suffered severe bomb damage during Second World War, most notoriously from a massive Luftwaffe air raid known as the "Coventry Blitz" on 14 November 1940. Firebombing on this date led to severe damage to large areas of the city centre and to Coventry's historic cathedral, leaving only a shell and the spire. More than 4,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, along with around three quarters of the city's factories and more than 500 people were killed and hundreds more injured. Thousands of people were left homeless. The Germans coined the term "Coventrate" to describe the tactics developed for the raid.[8]

Aside from London, Hull and Plymouth, Coventry suffered more damage than any other British city during the Luftwaffe attacks, with huge fires devastating most of the city centre. The city was probably targeted due to its high concentration of armaments, munitions, aircraft and aero-engine plants which contributed greatly to the British war effort, although there have been claims that Hitler launched the attack as revenge for the bombing of Munich by the RAF six days before the Coventry blitz and chose the Midlands city because its mediæval heart was regarded as one of the finest in Europe. Following the raids, the majority of Coventry's historic buildings could not be saved as they were in ruinous states or were deemed unsafe for any future use, although several were later demolished simply to make way for modern developments.

Coventry city centre precinct

After the War, Coventry was largely rebuilt under the general direction of the Gibson Plan, gaining a new pedestrianised shopping precinct (the first of its kind in Europe on such a scale) and in 1962 Sir Basil Spence's much-celebrated new St Michael's Cathedral (incorporating one of the world's largest tapestries) was consecrated. Its pre-fabricated steel spire was lowered into place by helicopter. In 1967, the Eagle Street Mosque opened as Coventry's first mosque.

Major expansion to Coventry had taken place previously, in the 1920s and 1930s, to provide housing for the large influx of workers who came to work in the city's booming factories. The areas which were expanded or created in this development included Radford, Coundon, Canley, Cheylesmore and Stoke Heath.

Coventry's motor industry boomed during the 1950s and 1960s and Coventry enjoyed a 'golden age'. During this period the disposable income of Coventrians was one of the highest in the country and both the sports and the arts benefited. A new sports centre, with one of the few Olympic standard swimming pools in the UK, was constructed and Coventry City Football Club reached the First Division of English Football. The Belgrade Theatre was also constructed along with the Herbert Art Gallery. The 1970s, however, saw a decline in the British motor industry and Coventry suffered badly. By the early 1980s, Coventry had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. In recent years, the city has recovered with newer industries locating there, although the motor industry continues to decline. In 2008, only one motor manufacturing plant is operational, that of LTI Ltd, producing the popular TX4 taxi cabs. On 17 March 2010 LTI announced they would no longer be producing bodies and chassis in Coventry, instead producing them in China and shipping them in for assembly in Coventry.[9]

’Sent to Coventry’

The expression "sent to Coventry" describes refers to the city but its origin is unknown. In essence a man is "sent to Coventry" if his friends or colleagues agree to refuse to speak to him, but how the city of Coventy somes into it has long been a mystery.

One theory is that the expression is from the hostile attitude which the cityfolk had towards Royalist prisoners held in Coventry during the English Civil War: although their physical needs were catered for, the Royalist prisoners were literally never spoken to by anybody, so it is said, but without evidence.

The earliest appearance of the phrase was in 1777, in the correspondence of David Garrick.

Places of interest


The ruins of the old cathedral

St Michael's Cathedral is Coventry's best-known landmark and visitor attraction. The 14th century church was largely destroyed by German bombing during Second World War, leaving only the outer walls and spire. At 303 feet high, the spire of St. Michael's is claimed to be the third tallest cathedral spire in England, after Salisbury and Norwich.[10] Due to the architectural design (in 1940 the tower had no internal wooden floors and a stone vault below the belfry) it survived the destruction of the rest of the cathedral. The new Coventry Cathedral was opened in 1962 next to the ruins of the old. It was designed by Sir Basil Spence. The cathedral contains the tapestry Christ in Glory by Graham Sutherland. The bronze statue St Michael's Victory over the Devil by Jacob Epstein is mounted on the exterior of the new cathedral near the entrance. Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, regarded by some as his masterpiece, was written for the opening of the new cathedral.[11]

The spire of the ruined cathedral forms one of the "three spires" which have dominated the city skyline since the 14th century, the others being those of Christ Church (of which only the spire survives) and Holy Trinity Church (which is still in use).

Two of Coventry's "three spires"

Art gallery and museums

The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum is a major art gallery in the city centre. About four miles from the city centre and just outside Coventry in Baginton is the Lunt Fort, a reconstructed Roman fort. The Midland Air Museum is situated just within the perimeter of Coventry on land adjacent to Coventry Airport and near Baginton.

Another major visitor attraction in Coventry city centre is the Coventry Transport Museum (free-to-enter), which has the largest collection of British-made road vehicles in the world. The most notable exhibits are the world speed record-breaking cars, Thrust2 and ThrustSSC. The museum received a major refurbishment in 2004 which included the creation of a striking new entrance as part of the city's Phoenix Initiative project. The revamp saw the museum exceed its projected five-year visitor numbers within the first year alone, and it was a finalist for the 2005 Gulbenkian Prize.

Coventry was one of the main centres of watchmaking during the 18th and 19th centuries and as the industry declined the skilled workers were key to setting up the cycle trade. A group of local enthusiasts are in the process of setting up a museum in Spon Street.[6]

The city's main police station in Little Park Street also hosts a museum of Coventry's police force. The museum, based underground, is split into two sections – one representing the history of the city's police force, and the other compiling some of the more unusual, interesting and grisly cases from the force's history. The museum is funded from charity donations – viewings can be made by appointment.

Twinning; the "city of peace and reconciliation"

Coventry was the world's first 'twin city' when it formed a twinning relationship with the Russian city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) during Second World War. The relationship developed through ordinary people in Coventry who wanted to show their support for the Soviet Red Army during the Battle of Stalingrad.

The city is now also twinned with 27 cities around the world, including Volgograd. Amongst these are Dresden in Saxony, a city which like Coventry was devastated by wartime bombing, and Lidice in Bohemia which suffered massacre and destruction in 1942 by the German SS.

Coventry Cathedral is notable for being one of the newest cathedrals in the world, having been built following the Second World War bombing of the ancient cathedral by the Luftwaffe. Coventry has since developed an international reputation as one of Europe's major cities of peace and reconciliation,[12] centred around its cathedral, and holds an annual Peace Month.[13]

Arts and culture

The Godiva Festival

Literature and drama

  • During the early 19th century, Coventry was well-known due to author George Eliot who was born near Nuneaton. The city was the model for her famous novel Middlemarch (1871).
  • The Coventry Carol is named after the city of Coventry. It was a carol performed in the play The Pageant of The Shearman and Tailors, written in the 15th century as one of the Coventry Cycle Mystery Plays. These plays depicted the nativity story, the lyrics of the Coventry Carol referring to the Annunciation to the Massacre of the Innocents, which was the basis of the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. These plays were traditionally performed on the steps of the (old) cathedral, and the plays are believed to have been performed for both Richard III in 1484 and Henry VII in 1584. The Belgrade Theatre brought back the Coventry Mystery Plays in 2000 to mark the city's millennium celebrations: the theatre now produces the Mystery Plays every three years.
  • The Belgrade Theatre was Britain's first purpose-built civic theatre, opened in 1958. In 1965 the world's first Theatre-in-Education (TiE) company was formed to develop theatre as a way of inspiring learning in schools. The TiE movement spread worldwide, the theatre still offers a number of programmes for young people across Coventry and has been widely recognised as a leader in the field.
  • The poet Philip Larkin was born and brought up in Coventry, where his father was the City Treasurer.

Lady Godiva

Statue of Lady Godiva

Coventry is well known for the legendary 11th century exploits of Lady Godiva who, according to legend, rode through the city naked on horseback in protest at high taxes being levied on the cityfolk by her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia.

There is a Grade II* listed statue[14] of her in the city centre, which for 18 years had been underneath a much-maligned Cathedral Lanes shopping centre canopy, removed in October 2008.[15]

A later addition to the legend was that the residents of the city were commanded to look away as she rode, but one man did not and was allegedly struck blind. He became known as Peeping Tom. A bust of Peeping Tom looks out from a bridge that crosses one branch of the shopping precinct, and across the road from the statue of Godiva there is a clock where, at every hour, Lady Godiva appears on her horse while being watched by Peeping Tom.

Lady Godiva on horseback has become a symbol of the city. The local council use a silhouette version as an informal logo.


Coventry has long been a centre of motor and cycle manufacturing, dating from 1896. Starting out with some less familiar names such as Coventry Motette, Great Horseless Carriage Co, Swift Motor Company and more familiar names like Humber, Riley, Francis-Barnett and Daimler and the Triumph motorcycle having its origins in 1902 in a Coventry factory. The Massey-Ferguson tractor factory was situated on Banner Lane, Tile Hill, until it closed in the late 1990s. Although the motor industry has declined almost to the point of extinction, the Jaguar company has retained its corporate and research headquarters in the city (at Allesley and Whitley), and Peugeot still have a large parts centre in Humber Road. The famous London black cab taxis are produced in Coventry by LTI and these are now the only vehicles still wholly built in Coventry.

The manufacture of machine tools was once a major industry in Coventry. Alfred Herbert Ltd became one of the largest machine tool companies in the world. Unfortunately in later years the company faced tough competition from foreign machine tool builders and ceased trading in 1983. Another famous Coventry machine tool manufacturer was the A C Wickman company.

The last Coventry machine tool manufacturer was Matrix Churchill which was forced to close in the wake of a political scandal in which it was accused of supplying parts for a "supergun" to Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq.

Coventry's main industries include: cars, electronic equipment, machine tools, agricultural machinery, man-made fibres, aerospace components and telecommunications equipment. In recent years, the city has moved away from manufacturing industries towards business services, finance, research, design and development, creative industries as well as logistics and leisure.

Further reading


  1. Coventry's beginnings in the Forest of Arden Retrieved 29 September 2008
  2. Fox (1957), p. 3.
  3. The history of Coventry Cathedral on the cathedral's website Retrieved on 28 September 2008
  4. Home Office List of English Cities by Ancient Prescriptive Right, 1927, cited in Beckett, J V (2005). City status in the British Isles, 1830–2002. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 12. ISBN 0-7546-5067-7. 
  5. A History of the County of Warwick - Volume 8 pp256-263: the City of Coventry: Local government and public services: Local government to 1451 (Victoria County History)
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Coventry Watch Museum Project". Coventry Watch Museum. 
  7. "John Suddens, watchmaker". Retrieved 25 June 2009. 
  8. "BBC ON THIS DAY / 15 / 1940: Germans bomb Coventry to destruction". BBC News Online. 15 November 1940. 
  9. Lea, Robert (18 March 2010). "Manganese Bronze: Black cabs on the road to China". The Times (London). 
  10. Arthur Mee, The King's England – Warwickshire; Hodder & Stoughton, 1936
  11. Britten-Pears Foundation Retrieved 24 September 2009
  12. "Peace and reconciliation". Coventry City Council. Archived from the original on 15 March 2007. Retrieved 16 August 2007. 
  13. "Coventry Peace Month". Coventry City Council. Archived from the original on 16 March 2007. Retrieved 16 August 2007. 
  14. National Heritage List 1031589: Bronze statue of Lady Godiva – Grade II*
  15. "Godiva statue canopy comes down". BBC News Online (BBC). 29 October 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2008. 
  • Coventry's Heritage, by Levi Fox (1957)
  • Coventry: History and Guide, by David McGrory (1993) ISBN 0-7509-0194-2
  • A History of Warwickshire, by Terry Slater (1981) ISBN 0-85033-416-0
  • The Bombing of Coventry BBC Television (2009)

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Coventry)
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