Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Sent to Coventry

"Being sent to Coventry" - It's an English phrase meaning being ignored or treated coldly. I wonder, though, whether it's used in Canada/USA or elsewhere? Anyway, Coventry is only about 5 miles from where I live so I went on a day trip...

Coventry, population of 300,000, 95 miles (153 km) north west of London and further from the coast than any other city in Britain. Not, perhaps, the first place you would head for if on holiday in the UK but it has a fascinating history and is, I would argue, worthy of a day trip. (You can escape from the hoards of tourists swamping nearby Stratford-upon-Avon (home of Shakespeare) and Warwick Castle.) On the face of it Coventry is a regular modern British city. Surrounded by a ring-road, the centre is full of the ubiquitous shops that make it hard to distinguish one British town from another. Mainly constructed in the 1960s (I'll explain why later) Coventry once boasted Europe's first large pedestrianised shopping precinct. It now looks dated, tired and dreary.

1960s urban vandalism

These two pictures were taken from the same spot facing in opposte directions. Coventry messes with your head!

Originally a 15th Century Prior building

Coventry is steeped in history. There has been a settlement here since the bronze age (that's a long long time ago my North American friends :)) The Romans and Saxons built settlements here and the Danish King Canute attacked the place in 1016. (again for the benefit of anyone living in North America – that's a date NOT a time) Lady Godiva (of Peeping Tom fame) built a Benedictine Monastery in Coventry in 1043. In the middle ages Coventry was one of Britain's largest and most important cities. The city was a stronghold of the Parliamentarians (Cromwell's side) during the 16th century English Civil War and this is, perhaps, the origin of the phrase “being sent to Coventry” as captured Royalist troops were housed in the parish church of St. John the baptist in Coventry and the local population were so hostile to them that the army coined the phrase – allegedly. 

St. John's - used as a prison in the 17th century

During the Industrial Revolution Coventry was a centre for watch and clock manufacturing. When that moved to Switzerland the skilled workers of Coventry turned their hand to bicycle manufacturing which in its turn developed into the motor industry. By the early 20th century, Coventry was home to Rover and Jaguar. Of more interest to readers of a blog which is supposed to be about motorbike travel, Coventry was home to the Singer Motorcycle company.

In 1904 they developed a range of more conventional motorcycles which included 346cc two stroke and, from 1911, side-valve models of 299cc and 535cc. In 1913 they offered an open-frame ladies model. In 1909 Singer built a series of racers and roadsters and entered several bikes in races, including the Isle of Man Senior TT in 1914. In 1912 a Singer becoming the first ever motorcycle to cover over 60miles (97 km) in an hour. Singer stopped building motorcycles at the outbreak of the First World War. (And I thought they just made sewing machines.)

So, with all that motor history it's no surprise that Coventry boasts a Motor Museum....

1920  - 500cc Rover motorcycle

Thrust 2 - world landspeed record 633 mph 1983

Thrust SSC first vehicle to break sound barrier - 763 mph

Lots of classic bikes

But most importantly the Coventry Motor Museum is home to this...

1927  500 cc Rudge - cost £60!

In 1928 Stanley Glanfield embarked on a world tour on this bike and side car. 18,000 miles in 8 months passing through 16 countries and 4 continents. Now that's adventure motorcycle travel.

And if that wasn't enough I also knew that Peter and Kay Foward's Harley was resting up for the winter in Coventry. I'd been lucky enough to hear Peter talk about his RTW trip and it truely has been a staggering achievement. For over 10 years now they have been travelling the world and have taken this bike to every country. I believe that he recently had a new engine put in but had kept the old one "in case any new countries were created". Looks like he's going to have to put that engine back in and head to South Sudan!

This Harley has been to EVERY country in the world

Did you notice the Sinclair C5 in the background. A RTW trip on a C5 , I wonder......

But without doubt Coventry is most famous for what happened on the night of 14th November 1940. That night the Nazi Luftwaffe bombed the city centre. Much of the city was destroyed, including all but the outer walls and spire of St Michael’s Cathedral (built in the 14th century). In just ten hours of unrelenting bombardment, 500 German aircraft dropped more than 500 tons of explosives and nearly 900 incendiary bombs on the city. In total, over 4000 homes were destroyed, along with one quarter of the city’s factories. Approximately 550 people were killed, and a further 800 injured. The 14th  November attack was later seen as the single most concentrated attack on any British city during the war.
The outer wall and Spire

"Inside" the Cathedral

Rubbish weather but you get the idea

Coventry - city of peace and reconciliation

There is some controversy over the bombing of Coventry. Some historians claim that the UK Government (and Churchill in particular) knew that the city was going to be bombed (because they had de-cyphered coded messages with their Enigma machine) but didn't/couldn't do anything as it would alert the Germans to the fact that the British had cracked the code. I'm not sure how true this is, but it certainly raises an interesting point.

Coventry was the world's first 'twin city' when it formed a twinning relationship with the Russian city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) during the 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. This developed after the war as Coventry took the unprecedented and brave decision to seek reconciliation not retribution over what had happened. The city twinned with Dresden and 26 other cities around the world and has since developed an international reputation as one of Europe's major cities of peace and reconciliation, centred around its cathedral.

Coventry is a much maligned place. It has a fascinating, rich and important history but I bet you hardly anyone living in Britain has been there. And if all of that isn't enough for you. Coventry football stadium will be hosting some of the Olympic games' football matches in the summer of 2012 – so book your holidays now! (You're welcome to stay at my place.)

In other news, I've been busy getting ready for Africa. I've got my carnet de passage which I've checked and double checked. Malaria tablets are packed and ready to go (I've gone for Doxycycline – one a day but you can scuba dive with them, unlike Larium). I've updated my travel insurance - £130 for 6 months through Navigator Travel. I'm covered for motorbike travel, repatriation and all the other extras you'd expect. I've booked in to do 3 weeks voluntary teaching in a township in Cape Town. I start on Monday 7th March. I've even booked the bike in for a service at BMW Atlantic in Cape Town. I've bought myself a new tent and cooker (I left my old ones with the turtle people in Baja) and I've got my sleeping bag and mat which I posted back home from Baja.

I also bought a filter water bottle. I managed to travel from Alaska to Panama without once getting sick and I'd like that to continue. Other things I've picked up include a new pair of motorbike winter gloves. I don't expect it to get cold in Southern Africa (except in Lesotho) but I didn't want to only have one pair of very light summer gloves.

I guess that's it for now. I shall try to update my blog weekly (or should that be weakly) when I'm in Africa but I'm guessing broadband won't be so easy to come by so there may be fewer photos than before. I fly to Dubai on Tuesday and will add something there and then it's on to Cape Town.....

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dom, Good luck on the next leg of your travels. We will be with you in Spirit and who knows maybe in person sometime in the future. Love David and Jill