Coventry, a center of the British textiles trade ever since the Middle Ages, also has a long tradition in the motor and aeronautical industries, for which reason it was targeted by the German Luftwaffe early in the Second World War. A massive bombing raid in 1940 left the city center almost completely destroyed. Of the old Cathedral nothing but a few fragments remained. They are now incorporated into the new Cathedral built after the war, an acknowledged masterpiece of modern architecture. The rebuilding of the city itself, with fine open squares, wide streets and pedestrian zones, is an excellent example of contemporary town planning.
Coventry grew up in the 11th century under the protection of a monastic house founded by Leofric, Earl of Mercia. Tradition has it that the Earl's wife, Lady Godiva, interceded with her hard hearted husband on behalf of the people of Coventry, for relief from the heavy taxes he imposed. He in turn agreed to lighten his demands, if she rode naked through the streets of the town. This she did, the grateful citizens steadfastly refusing to peer from their windows, with the single exception of "Peeping Tom" who later recounted the story. By the 14th century Coventry's woolen industry had already established a reputation for its trade fairs; soon it prospered further, developing into a major textile center. In the 17th century however, the economy began to decline, a process which continued until engineering, in the shape of sewing machine, bicycle and motor manufacture, brought about a revival of its fortunes in the mid 19th century.
The traditional center of Coventry, Broadgate, has been replanned as a spacious square, with a statue of Lady Godiva (by W. Reid Dick) in the center. Broadgate House, at the southwest end of the square, has a clock on which Lady Godiva appears on the stroke of the hour, with Peeping Tom at a window above.
Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church, at the northeast corner of Broadgate, has one of the three slender spires which are Coventry's best known landmarks. The spire of Holy Trinity, constructed in 1166, is 327ft/99.7m high. The church, in Perpendicular style, has very beautiful windows, a stone pulpit of about 1470 and interesting tapestries woven for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Priory Row, close by, is a charming little street of attractive half timbered houses. Behind Holy Trinity rise the new Cathedral and the ruins of the old.
The Old Coventry Cathedral, originally one of the largest parish churches in England (Perpendicular; 1373-1433), was elevated to cathedral status only in 1918. After the bombing only parts of the external walls survived, together with the slender, 303ft/92m-high spire, still a glorious example of Late Gothic embellishment. At the east end, a cross fashioned from two charred beams is a poignant symbol and reminder of the devastation. The sacristies were rebuilt after the war with the help of young German volunteers.
St Michael's Cathedral
A tall, canopied porch on the north side links the old cathedral ruins with the modern St Michael's Cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence and erected between 1956 and 1962. At the southeast end, on the outer wall of the nave, to the right of the entrance, is a bronze by Jacob Epstein, "St Michael subduing the Devil". The nave itself, 420ft/128m long and orientated north-south, can seat a congregation of 2,000. The walls are built in zigzag fashion, the offset concrete panels alternating with windows facing towards the altar. The vast concrete ceiling is broken up by the diamond pattern of its ribs.
Taking the place of the usual west end is a huge glass screen, engraved with figures of angels, saints and patriarchs by John Hutton. Its effect is to create a striking visual link both with the old cathedral ruins and the people going about their business in the streets of the town. Another most impressive feature of the interior is the baptistery, with a font hewn from a rough stone block brought from Bethlehem, and a great stained glass window, the Sunburst Window, by John Piper, centered on the radiant sun which symbolizes the Holy Ghost. The ten stained glass panels in the walls of the nave, designed by Lawrence Lee, Geoffrey Clark and Keith New, are set at an angle so as to be fully visible only from the Choir. In their spectrum of colors, from yellow through red to blue and violet, they symbolize the journey of man from birth through death to resurrection. Geoffrey Clarke's "Cross of Nails" behind the altar is made out of three medieval nails from the ruined cathedral, yet another powerful symbol, this time of reconciliation. At the north end hangs a huge tapestry (75 x 38ft/23m x 11.6m) in glowing color showing Christ in Glory surrounded by four beasts mentioned in the Revelation of St John. Designed by Graham Sutherland, it was woven near Aubusson in France.
The Chapel of Unity is intended to represent accord between the Church of England and the Free Churches. The mosaic floor was a gift from the Church of Sweden; the stained glass windows came from Germany.
St Mary's Hall
One building fortunate enough to survive the bombing of Coventry was the 15th century St Mary's Hall immediately south of the cathedral, headquarters of the Merchants' Guild since 1342. The Great Hall (1394-1414) has impressive oak vaulting and a tapestry believed to depict Henry VII's visit to Coventry in 1500.
Caesar's Tower in Coventry (13th century; adjoining St Mary's Hall) was rebuilt after war damage.
The most interesting of Coventry's surviving half timbered buildings is Ford's Hospital in Grayfriars Lane, an almshouse for five poor married couples. Founded in 1509 it was restored in 1953.
Of Coventry's Grayfriars Monastery, destroyed in 1539, there survives only the beautiful steeple, now incorporated in Christ Church. The dormitory and cloister of the Whitefriars Monastery have been restored and house a local museum. Bablake Old School (1560) is also worth seeing.
The picturesque Bond's Hospital, a half timbered almshouse for elderly men was founded in 1506.
A small section of the town walls of 1356 has been preserved between Cook Street Gate and Swanswell Gate, the only two of the town's original twelve gates which survive.
Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
As well as works by native British painters, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum has sections on local social and folk history, the early stages of industrialization in the Coventry area, and documents on the history of Coventry itself.
Jordan Well, Coventry CV1 5QP, England
Museum of British Road Transport
The British Road Transport Museum provides a fascinating account of the history of road transport in Britain.
Collections include Edwardian landaulettes, royal limousines, cars of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and the world famous Tiatsa model series.
Hales Street, Coventry CV1 1PN, England