Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Coventry

Coventry Cathedral - old and new
Coventry was the epitome of modern Britain in the 1960's. The centre of the booming car industry with Triumph, Rover, Daimler, Hillman, Humber, Jaguar, Land Rover and Riley just some of the local industries. It had been devastated by wartime bombing but had been redeveloped with panache. The new cathedral was celebrated across the UK as a distinctive symbol of regeneration and reconciliation. Francis Amos, the Director of Planning, guided the modernisation of the city and was regarded as the inspiration behind much of the redevelopment before moving to Liverpool.

Coventry had the best rugby team in England, a grammar school that would be classed as outstanding by Ofsted had it been operating then. In the late 1960's Lanchester College in Coventry was one of the top venues for bands, even the supergroup Cream played their first gig at Lanchester and most of the top artists played there during the era of progressive rock.

The collapse of the car industry in the late 1970's was the beginning of Coventry's long decline as one of Britain's coolest cities. Coventry was poleaxed by the economic policies of the Thatcher years and this was most famously captured in the sublime song Ghost Town by the two tone group, the Specials. The lyrics by Gerry Dammers, educated at Lanchester College, summed up the devastation of industrial decline that afflicted much of urban Britain leading to copycat riots in the summer of 1981. The haunting trombone and reggae beat made it a number 1 hit and it was voted record of the year by all the musical journals.

This town (town) is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs have been closed down
This place (town) is coming like a ghost town
Bands won't play no more
Too much fighting on the dance floor

Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
We danced and sang, and the music played in a de boomtown

This town (town) is coming like a ghost town
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf
This place (town) is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Can't go on no more
The people getting angry


I hadn't visited Coventry until I met my wife who had been brought up there by her Scottish parents. I passed through it in the 1990's on regular trips to Warwick University but we have seldom been back since. On the drive back from London at the weekend we decided to pay our respects. We visited her old family home close to the War Memorial park and then drove to the centre where it was easy to find parking in the shopping centre, which was bustling with weekend shoppers.

Like so much else the centre had been redeveloped but the Lady Godiva statue remains in the centre of the square, a symbol of childhood shopping trips. We visited the Holy Trinity Parish church and the cathedral. The first time she was taken to the cathedral by her mother, she recalled looking through the great glass screen etched with angels; it brought tears for fond remembered times. On our tour round the cathedral we ran into the Canon and were greeted with kindness and enjoyed a lively conversation about the part that the cathedral had played in reconciliation, not only with Germany but with troubled communities around the world. She encouraged us to use the charitable cafe for a fine healthy lunch before continuing our journey north.

We had been pleased that there seemed to be a new energy around the University of Coventry, the latest incarnation of Lanchester College. It enjoys a growing reputation and Coventry seems to be on the mend; recent figures show that the West Midlands is beginning to enjoy a revival as jobs prospects have improved and Londoners search for affordable housing. We returned to the M6 and survived a journey home with no hold ups until reaching the never ending congestion on the M74 leading into Glasgow.

Lady Godiva in Broadgate

War memorial park

Born in 1948, a good year all round
Coventry Cathedral Tapestry
Angels on the great glass screen

Ruins of the old cathedral

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