Sunday 5 September 2021

A Day in Coventry

 First we must make a correction to yesterday's blog. When we arrived we could see no signs to say which sections were A, B,C or D nor anything to deter casual arrivals from mooring wherever they wished and was free. However, this morning we discovered that markings had been sprayed onto the wharf-side but have already become very indistinct. In particular, looking towards the sun they disappear altogether. Whilst this does tend to suggest that the whole idea of reserving the entire basin is still in the experimental phase, it would be good if the signage could be made more apparent. we were definitely not he only people not to miss the signs - we asked several of those already moored moored only to get the response that there were none!

We had a slow start to the day as we planned to go the cathedral for their 10:30 main service. Google estimated 11 minutes but we think that it ignores the time taken to climb the steps of the dual carriageway overbridge!

Having left in good time we were still quite early although by no means the first to arrive. There were eventually in the region of a hundred in the congregation - not bad given the time being taken to recover from the COVID restrictions. A small choir led the singing but we still had to do so through our masks. The service was led  by the Canon Pastor and the Dean preached - and excellent sermon which pulled no punches about the need to face up to the work that needs to be done to achieve complete inclusion - until all are included, none are included.

After the service we took a look at a small display of items from a Methodist collection of modern religious art, currently on show around the cathedral and four other churches in the district. Several of the items on display in the cathedral have some specific connection, including one by Graham Sutherland who created the huge tapestry on the wall behind the high altar. This was painted in 1947 in response to seeing photos of the recently freed Belson concentration camp.

In the afternoon we went in different directions. Christine walked back to the city centre to visit the Herbert Art Gallery, next to the cathedral. Quite a bit of the space was closed as they prepare for the Turner Prize ceremony and exhibition starting at the end of the month. 

(await further update . . . )

Mike, however, wanted to follow up on the ground some research he had done over the last couple of days about one of the industrial sites beside the canal as we came in yesterday, one of the few not yet converted into housing.

This was the site of the Coventry Ordnance Works, developed at the very start of the 20th century and especially to create the very largest of guns which were later deployed in the First World War. The scale of the machinery involved is clear from the size of the remaining production shed. Government contracts before and during the war were very lucrative but everything came to a sudden stop as soon as Armistice was declared. Large numbers of the workers were given notice to leave, often with just two weeks to pack their bags as many had come from right across the country,

The first part of the site to be developed was at the end of a short road named Ordnance Road - this and a row of houses still stand and was where Mike began his exploration. There are several terraces built quickly to house workers - some in brick and some very poor quality wooden cottages. The latter soon disappeared but it is salutatory to note that those in brick, very small by today's standards, have remained and are part of a very multi ethnic community in the Foleshill part of Coventry.

At the end of Ordnance Road is what was one of the original entrances to the works. Behind is an area which has long since seen a succession of small businesses which come and go, often leaving behind quantities of waste.

Walking along these streets around the works Mike was struck by the huge number of faith centres, covering many different religions and variations within them - Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and others, some having a clear connection with the parts of the world from where groups had originally emigrated. This one, housed in a former industrial offices/workshop seems to be a Black Pentecostal church (or are there two?) but it was the loud music coming from inside that first caught the attention.

Smith Street had several entrances into the main part of the site - just a gap in the line of housing. The large former factory towards the end of the right side of the street is now a mosque and Muslim Cultural and Education Centre.

At the end of the street is one of the few pieces of evidence that Mike had expected to find (it is clear on a Google aerial view) - a very short section of railway track embedded into a cobbled street at one of the gates into the largest workshops. The Foleshill Railway was built specifically to serve this site and the nearby Courtaulds site (now housing) as well as a brick works on Sutton Stanton Road. It connected to the main line between Coventry and Bedworth. Shipped out from here were some of the largest and most effective gun barrels that were sent to the battlefields in 1914-1918.

When Mike eventually reached the main production shed that had originally sparked his interest when seen from the canal, he was disappointed that he could not find any vantage point better than the above to view it. Perhaps we will get a better photo tomorrow on the way out.

We have not been able to find clearly the history of this site in the second half of the 20C and now. After 1918, the original Coventry Ordnance Works was quickly merged with other companies as they all struggled to cope with the impending Depression years. Eventually the site ended up as part of a newly formed English Electric Company but closed in 1925. In 1936, it was re-commissioned as part of the rearmament ;programme and built gun mountings. After the war it focussed on providing equipment to the Navy. In 1969 it was sold to an automotive company who wanted to expand from tie site nearby. We have yet to discover what the present day situation is. A November 2020 image on Street View shows the end of the building with a large banner advertising it to let - today only the 'To' remains!

On the way back Mike passed a Muslim Resource Centre, providing courses for local people. It is worth considering whether any of those four topics would even figure on he radar of most white, middle class parts of the country! Certainly, there were numerous taxi cars parked in the surrounding streets and a former street corner tyre business supplied primarily to the taxi market. At the moment it is also serving a a Vaccination Centre - important as Coventry has a comparatively low vaccination rate.

Passing once again the end of Ordnance Street (to the right of the picture) Mike noticed a gap in the houses. Checking with old OS Maps he found that this was where the Foleshill Railway crossed the main road, now invisible other than for this otherwise unexplained gap. Continuation on the other side of the road, behind the camera, will probably be obliterated as this is rapidly being buried under the housing developments of the Courtaulds site.

On one street corner stands both a large, new mosque and on the opposite side a Catholic Repository (not open today - Sunday!) - just two examples of the multi faith nature of the community.

A little further on is this Polish Catholic church.

The technical college in the city centre gradually evolved into what is today Coventry University. However, the need for vocational courses remained which are now provided by this huge Coventry College. (Thought: do people who go to university not have a vocation? Perhaps that explains . . . )

Finally, Mike spotted this unusual end of terrace house - well at least the porches over the doors seemed out of character. Even the oldest available OS maps show a pub at this spot. Equally surprising is that a Street View image from 2012 shows it still trading as The Three Shuttles pub. By 2015 there is scaffolding surrounding it and the conversion was complete by the next year.

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