Congratulations Coventry

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As the announcement was made on Thursday evening that their city had been chosen as the United Kingdom’s next City of Culture - ahead of the other contenders, Paisley, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Swansea - the people of Coventry were understandably jubilant. We will now watch with interest as they plan their programme of events for 2021, with those who organised the bid hoping to “change the reputation of the city” and emulate the success of Hull, the current UK City of Culture, where it is estimated that the local economy has been boosted by tens of millions of pounds and attracted £1 billion of new investment. In the meantime, here are a few facts about the Midlands city.

Coventry is the ninth largest city in England, with a population of 320,000.

Famous sons and daughters include jet pioneer Sir Frank Whittle, poet Philip Larkin, pop impresario Pete Waterman, actor Nigel Hawthorne, actress Sarah Siddons, author Lee Child, athlete Dave Moorcroft.

Lady Godiva, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, was a benefactor of several monasteries in the 11th century. The famous legend about her states that her husband agreed to remit the heavy taxation on the people of Coventry if she would ride naked through the town on a white horse.

In 1981 Highfield Road, then the home of Coventry City, became the first all-seater stadium in English football.

The phrase “sent to Coventry” originated during the English Civil War, when captured Royalists were imprisoned in the city - a Parliamentary stronghold.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Coventry became one of the three main centres of watch and clock manufacture in England.

Life in the city and the surrounding countryside provided the inspiration for George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” (1871). The author (real name Mary Ann Evans) lived and went to school in Coventry.

In the Middle Ages, cloth coloured by a dye known as “Coventry blue” became fashionable. This is where the saying “true blue” comes from.

Chuck Berry’s chart-topping record “My Ding-a-Ling” was recorded live at the Locarno ballroom in Coventry on 3rd February 1972.

The air raid on Coventry on the night of 14th November 1940 lasted for 11 hours and involved 500 Luftwaffe bombers dropping 500 tons of high explosive, 30,000 incendiaries and 50 landmines. Coventry lost its great medieval church of St. Michael’s, the only English cathedral to be destroyed in the Second World War, its central library and market hall, hundreds of shops and public buildings and 16th-century Palace Yard. More than 43,000 homes, half of the city’s houses, were damaged or destroyed, and the official death toll was 554. The ruined cathedral has now become a symbol of peace and reconciliation. 

In the late 19th century, with the invention by James Starley and his nephew John Kemp Starley of the Rover safety bicycle, Coventry became an important centre of bicycle manufacture. By the early 20th century, bicycle manufacture had evolved into motor manufacture, and Coventry became a major centre of the British motor industry.

The “Coventry Carol” dates from the 16th century and was traditionally performed in the city as part of a mystery play.

Photograph: Coventry Canal Basin. Paul Woloschuk

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