On New Years Eve we suddenly decided that on the 2nd of January 2014 we would head down to Coventry, and have a good day out. The weather was fantastic, the city is amazing, and we did just that…
Status: City of Coventry District, West Midlands (historically Warwickshire), City, England
Travel: Stagecoach Bus (Southport – Preston), Virgin Trains (Preston – Coventry)
Eating & Sleeping: Preston Station Cafe, Coventry Transport Museum Cafe
Attractions: St Michael’s Cathedral, Coventry Cathedral, Holy Trinity Church, Transport Museum, Whittle Arch, Millennium Square, Council House, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Canal Basin etc
The first thing we noticed on the approach to Coventry is that there are three very prominent spires rising up out of the city. We knew what one of them was, but the other two remained a mystery until we arrived.
The station is around 15 minutes walk away from the main centre of the city.
The first spire is of the ruined Christ Church, of which only the spire remains. Originally named Greyfriars Monastery (built around 1300) King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, so much of it was destroyed, aside from the main spire. In the 1820’s it was rebuilt, and renamed. The new church, Christ Church, only lasted 100 years, as a German Air Raid during World War II destroyed the rest of the building, leaving only the spire standing.
It’s a fantastic site, and the sun enhanced the lovely brown colour of the stonework. It’s a shame this building was destroyed, but it stands as a reminder of the virtues of peace.
There are quite a few shopping streets and shopping centres between Christ Church and the main city centre, but don’t let this put you off, there is a lot to discover, and a lot of history.
In one of the squares as you come out of the shopping areas coming from the train station, there is a statue of Lady Godiva, a woman from the 11th century, who legend tells used to ride around Coventry naked on a horse, to try to get her husband to reduce the taxes he levvied on his tennants. For this reason, she is presented naked in the statue.
Another part to the legend is of a “Peeping Tom”, a man named Tom who used to watch her riding around, and was then suddenly struck blind or dead, depending on different accounts of the legend. I hadn’t heard of this before, but Gemma had and I found it quite interesting, if a little bizarre. There are a number of sculptures of her on the horse, including one in Maidstone Museum in Maidstone, Kent. There are also various paintings of the scene, with one in the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery elsewhere in the city.
Moving down from the statue, we walked down a street literally full of Banks, every bank you can think of was there, and Gemma said that it absolutely must be called Bank Street, and rushed down to look at the sign. It was actually called High Street, strange! This area was built at the end of the war, as the city centre lay in ruins, as a large shopping precinct that was separated from the traffic. This pioneering idea was the first of it’s kind in Europe, and the brain child of Donald Gibson (1908 – 1991) the man tasked with designing a new city centre.
At the end of “Bank Street”, we found the very impressive Council House, dating back to 1917. It’s a fantastic building, taking up the whole block. There are some statues up the wall on the outside, and at the east end there is a small clock tower. The stonework (beautiful red sandstone) is the same colour as the spires in the city and really complements them. Sticking up behind the building on the left you can see one of the two remaining spires, which I will get to in a minute…
This is the part of the city I had most wanted to see today. Sat very close to the Council House, just past it in a small garden, is the ruined shell of the original Coventry Cathedral, St Michaels. It’s another sad victim of World War II, with another German raid having destroyed the roof, interior and a lot of the outer walls. I genuinely felt a little sad walking around the old building, so full of beauty, artwork and detail, to be destroyed so suddenly.
The Cathedral was built between the 14th and 15th centuries, and until 1918 when it was given Cathedral status it was one of the largest parish churches in England (the largest being in Hull). It was on the 14th November 1940 that the fateful raid sealed it’s fate.
At the very back of the building, in the ruined nave, is a wooden cross, consisting of two pieces of wood across each other. This is a replica of the original, which is kept on the steps leading down to a hall beneath the Cathedral. It was built by Jock Forbes, a stonemason from the Cathedral who saw two wooden beams lying in the ruins of the building, in the shape of a cross. He tied them together, and it has been a symbol of the Cathedral ever since.
A cross made out of three nails from the roof of the old Cathedral was also made, and can be found in the new Cathedral. Over 160 of these were later made, and one was sent to Berlin and stands in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was also destroyed in the war, by Allied Bombers. This cross of nails has become a recognised symbol of reconciliation around the world, and stands as a memorial to all war victims, and promotes peace.
There is one significant part of the building that did survive however…
By some miracle, the 295 feet tower (the tallest building in the entire city) survived the blitz, and is in very good condition, and is the 2nd of the three spires. As soon as we spotted the door enabling you to gain access we just had to climb it, and after a quick visit to the Tourist Information Centre at the base to buy tickets, we started to ascend.
180 Steps later, you are treated to a full 360 degree panoramic view over the rest of the city. It’s a stunning view and there is just so much you can see from this height.
This is the 3rd spire in the city, and the one you saw earlier behind the Council House. It belongs to Holy Trinity Church, the parish church of Coventry. Dating from the 12th century, the tower stands 237 feet tall, vastly smaller than the old Cathedral tower.
The church was restored in the late 1600’s, and the spire was restored in 1826. The building looks fantastic, and fits in with the other buildings in the area, such as the Council House and the old Cathedral. It is directly across the road from the Cathedral, and most places in the city you can get a good view of the two spires dominating the skyline together.
Looking from other angles at the top of the Cathedral Tower you can see the Transport Museum, the University, the entire ruined shell of the Cathedral, off to the train station, and even the cities of Birmingham and Leicester in the distance, around 25 miles away. Information boards tell you what you are looking at and point out landmarks in the area.
Attached to the ruined Cathedral, by a canopy that links up to one of the outer walls, is Coventry’s new Cathedral, built after the destruction of St Michaels.
Construction began in 1956, and completed in 1962. It is designed to show off 20th century architecture, and the best view of it comes from the top of St Michael’s Tower. The spire atop the roof (the metal one) was lowered down by helicopter. The whole building is a monument to the spirit of the citizens of Coventry during the Coventry Blitz in World War II, and the remains of the original Cathedral also stand testament to this.
Inside the new Cathedral is a massive open space, full of detail. It’s quite awe inspiring, and it’s nice that the two buildings are linked, standing side by side looking towards the future. We were going to have a look around the new Cathedral but it is quite expensive to enter so we moved on, but what we saw from the visitors entrance is very impressive, and worth a look.
I took this picture at the back of the two Cathedral’s, and it shows how they join together, and together they look pretty magnificent if you ask me. Old and new stand side by side, showing how the city has moved, and modernised without forgetting it’s heritage.
Although the historic city centre of Coventry was sadly devastated by the Blitz, some of the old buildings do survive, including this nice little street, covered in cobbles, with some nice old wooden buildings at the end.
Keep an eye out for the plaques on different building walls around the city, that tell you which are the oldest buildings, and when they were built, such as “10 and 10A Hay Lane” which is a 16th Century timber merchants house that has had a brick front added in the 19th century.
Some of the finest examples of old buildings to look out for include St Mary’s Hall, shown above, built between 1340 and 1460, which contains parts of a 12th century Castle in the South Wall. A lot of this building survives and is furnished in the same stone as the Council House, and is located behind it.
There is also the remains of the City Walls from the 14th century and if you go past the Transport Museum there are a few gate houses that were part of them.
After looking around the two Cathedral’s, we moved on to the Transport Museum, which is situated in Millennium Square, which you can see in the picture. The Museum is only one half of the square however, and the rest of the square is something quite special.
Built to celebrate the Millennium in 2000, the square featured a large time zone clock, and a large amount of Capital Cities around the world (as well as 26 twinned with Coventry) are listed, and blue lights mark the path of the zones at night. Unfortunately it is currently in storage, as it wasn’t set into the pavement, it rested on top and many feared it was a Health and Safety hazard. The city council have promised it’s return, but that was near the start of 2013, and there is still no sign of it… The only remaining part of the clock are the circular plaques on the pavement that bear the name of various capital cities.
The twin arches that rise above the square are the Whittle Arch’s, a tribute to Sir Frank Whittle (1907 – 1996), the inventor of the Jet Engine in the Rolls Royce factory based in Coventry. Underneath the arches stands a statue of him, and pictures him watching the first test of the Jet Engine.
Around here is a much smaller replica of the Time Zone Clock in the main square, and you can press buttons on it to make small bulbs light up for each city.
On the right you can see the Transport Museum. It looks quite small from here, but inside it is the most fabulous museum I have been in for a long time. There are 12 full exhibit halls, show casing old horse and carts, to penny farthings, to old Humber Motors, to the Thrust II engine (which held the world land speed record from 1983 – 1997) and the Thrust SSC, which took over the Land Speed Record from its predecessor, becoming the first car to break the sound barrier.
In some of the other exhibitions you can walk through a street set during the Coventry Blitz, and witness the horror for yourself, and then pass through to look at various Jaguar’s including the famous E-Type. Coventry was the hub of vehicle manufacturing in the UK, and was famous for it. There are old style Fire Engines, Police Cars and many other vehicles. We spent a good couple of hours walking around the exhibits, and looking at the history of various different cars, trucks and buses. Take a step back through time, and experience it for yourself. It was the end to a pretty perfect day in Coventry, and a fantastic way to kick off our 2014 trips. Check out the museum here, and the best bit about it is that it’s totally free!
That was it for us in Coventry, but there are many other attractions not featured on the pictures above, including the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, that has been open since 1960. It is behind the Old Cathedral, in an impressive modern building. Also in the city is the Canal Basin, not far behind the Transport Museum. The river Sherbourne also flows through the city, and is on the other side of the city centre.
Coventry is a fantastic city, and one I am proud to say is part of my home country, thanks to it’s dedicated War Time spirit, and for promoting peace throughout the world, something for which it is internationally known.
It has great transport links, with direct Virgin trains services from London through the city to Birmingham, and continuing on to Preston, Lancaster, Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as Cross Country train services going direct to Bournemouth and Manchester. Local services connect it to all local towns and cities, and the Virgin Trains services stop at Birmingham International Airport on the way through to Birmingham, which provides flights to many international destinations.
The M6 (For Birmingham, North of England and Scotland) runs around the city, and the M69 (For Leicester and the M1) also starts nearby. There are a few other motorways in the area, connecting Coventry up to all corners of the United Kingdom.
We had a fantastic day today, with great weather, great views and a great experience. I urge everyone to visit Coventry, as there is something for everyone there, and you won’t regret one minute of it.