A message from the Chairman of
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral
At St James’s Cathedral, Townsville, Queensland: Princess Alexandra places a cross, constructed from a part of Coventry Cathedral, into the foundation stone, in 1959. (Illustrated London News original caption)
Links with Townsville
THIS STORY BEGAN last year when I came across the above photo that accompanied an article in the London Illustrated News of May 1963.
The reference to Coventry Cathedral intrigued me, so I wrote to the Dean of Townsville Cathedral to ask him about the connection. The Dean, Dr Kenneth Lay, put me in touch with Lorraine Kennedy, one of his congregation with a particular interest in the church’s history. Between us Lorraine and I have put together the story of the link, and for the first time I learned details of this Australian connection.
I found an edition of the Coventry Evening Telegraph in 1958 that published this photo of Provost Williams presenting Princess Alexandra with a Coventry Cross of Nails. The photo caption does not provide any additional information.
1958 was quite a significant year in Coventry. In 1958 Princess Alexandra was in Coventry as the representative of the Queen at the Official Opening of the newly built Retail Market. In that year Provost Williams first came to Coventry and was installed as Provost of Coventry at a service in Coventry Cathedral Ruins. A year later Provost Williams launched the Coventry Cathedral International Fellowship sharing the newly-written Coventry Litany of Reconciliation with Christians around the world. The Community of the Cross of Nails later grew from the International Fellowship network.
In 1959 both Bishop Cuthbert Bardsley and Princess Alexandra were in Townsville, Australia on separate occasions. The Parish Notes of St James’ Cathedral describe their visits: “Two important visitors to the Cathedral on succeeding weeks have added interest and distinction to an already distinguished history of the Mother Church of the Diocese. The first was the Bishop of Coventry on the 20th August, touring Australia on behalf of the Church of England Men’s Society. Before his well-attended meeting of men in the Theatre Royal that night, the Bishop came to the Cathedral to address the women of the Diocese arranged by the Mothers Union. About 400 women attended this meeting to hear a most inspiring address. At the request of our Bishop a retiring collection was taken up for Coventry Cathedral at which £41/6/6 was subscribed.
Then the Bishop of Coventry proceeded to the blessing of the Stone to commemorate the completion of the Cathedral, a simple and effective service that welds a link between the Dioceses of Coventry and North Queensland. It was a very happy occasion. The second visitor was the charming Princess Alexandra on Saturday 29th August.
The Princess presented a Cross made from nails recovered from the Coventry Cathedral after its destruction by enemy bombs in 1940. This will be incorporated in the Stone blessed by the Bishop of Coventry. Gracious, natural and interested, the Princess gave to us all that charm about which much has been said and written so truly about her attractive personality.”
Last year in October 2022 the St James Cathedral held a series of events to celebrate its 130th anniversary.
I summarise the history in brief. St James’ Anglican Church became a cathedral in 1878 when the Diocese of North Queensland was created. It was decided at an early stage to build a new cathedral church and this was to be achieved in phased work that allowed time for fund raising in between the stages. The main building work took place in 1887-92, and the second phase took place in 1959-60, which was the period during which the visits of Princess Alexandra and Bishop Bardsley took place.
On 12th June 1960 the final foundation stone that incorporates the Coventry Cross of Nails was set in place by the Primate of Australia and this marked the completion of building work. The consecration of the church as the new cathedral took place on 24th June 1978.
THIS MONTH'S NEWSLETTER is later in the month than usual as I am currently away from home on holiday in New Zealand.
The UK press does not usually include a great deal of foreign news from this part of the world, so you may not appreciate that there is currently a State of Emergency in New Zealand North Island following the worst weather related disaster of flooding in the history of the country. Multiple landslips mean that the travel disruption will take many years to resolve. Our own arrangements have not escaped disruption.
(L to R) Martin & Jane Williams, Barbara and Paul Oestreicher.
A visit to North Island was on our schedule so that we could visit personal friends, who included well-known friends of Coventry Cathedral, Paul Oestreicher and Barbara (see photo) at their home in the capital, Wellington. They both send their greetings to everyone at Coventry.
The other New Zealand storm that we have encountered has been the political storm following the resignation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. It has made me realise that the UK is not the only place where extremist views receive wide publicity.
In my rush to distribute last month’s newsletter before my flight I managed to transpose numbers and include the wrong date for the visit to Coventry of King Henry VII. The correct date was 1451 – which was close, but wrong by 100 years! for which I apologise.
The Pancake Bell
SHROVE TUESDAY falls on the 21st February this year. I do not know what you like but my preference is for a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar on my pancake. But have you ever heard of the Pancake Bell?
In Coventry on Shrove Tuesday there was for many years the tradition of pancake bells that rang out around midday (or a little earlier) at three of the city’s ancient churches - St John’s Church, Holy Trinity Church and St Michael’s Church.
The early Christians went to confession on Shrove Tuesday and were “shriven” – that is, absolved from their sins. In the first place the church bell was rung on Shrove Tuesday to call people to confession. As time went by the sound of the bell became associated with the making of the pancakes that by tradition precede the Lent fast. It meant that for some people the sound of the bell became the signal to stop working for the day. In theory, they ceased work in order to make pancakes. In practice, as the years went by the sound of the Pancake Bell simply heralded a public holiday for the remainder of the day.
The Pancake Bell tradition was dropped towards the end of the 19th century. As far as I can tell, it is not known what brought the Pancake Bell practice to an end at St John’s Church, but it is recorded that at Holy Trinity the bell ringer, Mr Eburne, forgot to ring the Pancake Bell one year. As nothing was said about his oversight, he never rang it again and his successors did not revive the custom.
At St Michael’s Church the Pancake Bell tradition came to a sudden end when the bells were removed from the tower at the start of the 1885 restoration. By the time the bells were made ready to ring years later, the custom of the Pancake Bell had been forgotten.
While I am writing about bell ringing customs, there was another bell ringing peculiarity at St Michael’s Church, and that was the “Pudding Bell”. On Sundays during the 19th century a bell was rung shortly after the conclusion of Mattins. People said that this Pudding Bell was rung to tell the people who had remained at home that the church service had ended, and that the churchgoers could be expected home shortly. In other words, it was time to get Sunday lunch ready!
That explanation does seem highly improbable, however, and other explanations of the Pudding Bell have surfaced from time to time. Some people have said that the Pudding Bell was rung to let St Michael’s worshippers know that there would be an early Evensong at 3.30pm. Others have said it was simply the continuation of the practice of ringing a Prayer Bell that had originated during one of this country’s past wars. During World War I, for example, there were prayer bells rung regularly across the country.
Come and join the new Cathedral constitution!
The 28 day consultation period for the new Coventry Cathedral constitution has ended. The results are sent to the Charity Commission, and the commissioners will shortly set the timetable for implementation.
When the new constitution starts, the old Cathedral Chapter will disappear and a new Cathedral Chapter set up in its place. You are invited to help form the new Chapter by joining the Cathedral electoral roll if you are eligible.
A simple process. The application form for the electoral roll is online. Just Google “Electoral Roll Application Form”. Complete the form and send it to Coventry Cathedral, 1 Hill Top, Coventry CV1 5AB. That is all you have to do to empower yourself. Paper application forms are available from the Cathedral offices.
I explained previously that each UK cathedral is having to change its constitution and register its details with the Charity Commission. The new Coventry Cathedral constitution is now moving forward and should be in place before the end of the year.
A NEW LEAFLET is being prepared for non-English speaking visitors to Coventry Cathedral. There was a good response to the appeal for volunteers to translate it, but more help is needed.
If you know of someone able to translate a simple leaflet into German, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Hindi, and maybe Ukrainian or Russian or another similar Eastern European language please get in touch with Carla, who looks after the Cathedral's facilities for visitors.
Carla can be contacted by email at [email protected]
COVENTRY CATHEDRAL GUIDES often talk of the spiritual power of our building. The Cathedral building is a huge teaching aid at many levels about the Christian faith. And if the Guides explain its meaning to tourist visitors, who is to say how many tourists will hear the message and become pilgrims?
It was specifically as a pilgrim that the
soon-to-be King Edward came to Coventry Cathedral
as the Prince of Wales on pilgrimage during July 1934.
That year his father, King George V, declared the establishment of a scheme of pilgrimages to cathedrals during the first two weeks of July 'to raise funds for the unemployed in distressed areas”. The Prince of Wales chose Coventry Cathedral for his pilgrimage.
Provost Howard had arrived in Coventry the previous year. The Provost spoke strongly in favour of the Cathedrals Pilgrimage scheme, declaring that it would not only render a useful piece of social service, but would also “show the cathedrals in their true light as centres of all that is charitable and Christian in the life of England.”
A million “Pilgrim Tickets” were issued at 2s 6d each (12.5p) and they were sold in shops and cathedrals all over the country. Each pilgrim bought a ticket, and on any day between 1st and 15th July made a personal pilgrimage to any one of the thirty cathedrals that took part in the Pilgrimage Scheme. When he reached his chosen cathedral he placed his ticket in a box, ready to be counted when the scheme ended.
After the counting one quarter of the money represented by the tickets given at a particular cathedral was sent from the central fund to that cathedral to enable it to help the local unemployed. The remainder of the fund was administered centrally for the help of the unemployed in “derelict and distressed” areas generally.
In 1934 the country was still struggling to recover from the effects of the Great Depression. There was almost 20% unemployment across the nation as a whole, which means that in some areas the rate of unemployment was far greater. This was before the days of the Welfare State, and unemployment benefits were almost non-existent. Poverty meant absolute poverty.
On 1st July 1934 the King and Queen attended a special service in Westminster Abbey to inaugurate the Pilgrimage Scheme (pictured left).
In Coventry the Prince of Wales met with civic officials in St Mary’s Hall. There was time for an official photograph with members of the City Council (at the head of this article) before Prince Edward walked across Bayley Lane into St Michael’s Cathedral through the south porch (now converted to the Haigh Memorial Chapel).
Bayley Lane was packed with excited sightseers (photo above). The Prince was accompanied by Provost Howard and the Bishop of Coventry (Dr Mervyn Haigh), and his equerry, Major J R Aird. Also present were the Mayor of Coventry and Lord Leigh.
If you would like to volunteer as a Coventry Cathedral Guide and help to create new pilgrims, please get in touch with Jackie Skipp, the Volunteer Coordinator.
Her telephone number is 024 7652 1243 and
her email is [email protected]
Cathedral volunteer boost
THE BENEFACT TRUST has made a grant to Coventry Cathedral that will enable the Cathedral to recruit more volunteers. This will include the appointment of a volunteer speaker available to give talks about the Cathedral to outside bodies.
The grant has part-funded the part-time Volunteer Coordinator, and also enables the Cathedral to create new posts in support of liturgical administration. It also supports the appointment of a new Property Manager.
The Dean, the Very Revd John Witcombe, said: “We are incredibly grateful for the support of Benefact Trust in the life of Coventry Cathedral, to enable us to sustain and develop our mission. “Our particular history as a ruined and rebuilt cathedral offers fantastic opportunities, especially to use our story to influence and shape the lives of our many and diverse visitors, who make the most of our building for creative and imaginative worship.
SWISS COTTAGE LIBRARY in London is a listed building that has a lot in common with Coventry Cathedral. To start with it was designed by Basil Spence. Building work started in 1962 and in November 1964 it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth.
The Library made headlines recently with the announcement that it has been re-fitted to make it as near to carbon neutral as possible. The work will be finished next month.
Outside the building are 238 Spence’s landmark “fins” such as we see in the Chapels of Industry and Unity, but the Library was losing heat and becoming too expensive to run. The work means that heat loss will be cut by 50% with new insulation in the walls and the roof, advanced lighting, insulated windows and new carbon-free heating systems.
The challenge for the local authority was its policy to hit carbon neutral as soon as possible, managing its listed buildings in a way that both respects their heritage as well makes them fit for a post-carbon world.
The project was funded by a £1.4million grant from a fund set aside to decarbonise public buildings and Camden Council contributed a further £3.2m. A decarbonisation scheme is more expensive than simple like-for-like replacements, but the benefits of the work include a saving of over £31,000 in annual running costs, and a saving of approximately 140 tons of CO2 emissions per year.
The work guarantees the future of Spence’s library building for a further 50 years.
6:00pm-8:30pm Tickets £22/£15
To take advantage of FRIENDS SPECIAL PRICES for Coventry Cathedral Chorus concerts please order them from Jill Pacey who is the singer responsible for direct ticket sales. Her email address is [email protected]