A message from the Chairman of
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral
THE COVENTRY CONCOURSfilled the Cathedral Ruins with classic and vintage vehicles during the sunny weekend of Coventry MotoFest in June. This Concours d’Elegance took as its theme a celebration of the life of Queen Elizabeth II with vehicles and motor cycles from the 1950s to the present day. Coventry MotoFest brought an estimated 20,000 visitors into Coventry city centre, to view motor vehicles that were on display everywhere you went. Many of them found their way to the Cathedral Ruins. Cars filled Broadgate, University Square, the Motor Museum outside display area, the top of Trinity Street and even the Council House frontage and lawns. Sections of the ring road were closed to make way for displays of motor bikes and superfast supercars.
Warwick Road was closed to vehicles and lined with catering stands (including lovely ice cream sellers!). Greyfriars Green staged Land Rover Experiences for both adults and for children. Performers entertained the crowds from the Jubilee Stage set up near Coventry Station, where you could also take a seat in a prototype of Coventry’s new Very Light Rail trams.
In spite of the fact that I have little personal interest in motor cars, I found MotoFest to be an amazing tribute to Coventry’s motor heritage. I was drawn by the sound of screeching tyres to the Drifting Arena, where the noisy excitement of 500 horsepower cars sending up clouds of burning rubber as they skidded round corners is something I will not easily forget.
As I grew up in the 1950s, Coventry was the UK’s “Motor City” and its high wages attracted workers from across the country. At the time of the Cathedral’s consecration in 1962, the weekly industrial earnings in Coventry were 24% higher than the national average. The 1970s then witnessed an extended period of regular industrial strikes. At the same time competing manufacturing facilities were being built and developed right across Europe, and right across the World.
In this situation the Coventry motor industry became uncompetitive and went into decline - taking the city with it. By the 1980s Coventry’s top 15 employers had reduced their labour forces by half. Coventry had once been a thriving one-industry city, but in the 1980s the local unemployment rate soared high above the national average. What a change from the boom town of the 1950s!
Coventry has reinvented itself since those days and today is flourishing once more. At Coventry MotoFest it was possible to look back with pride at many of the magnificent motors manufactured in Motor City.
Shining brightly in the summer sun, the Cathedral Ruins honoured the city's motoring heritage and hosted leading examples of Coventry motors in the Concours - Coventry's own harvest produce. The judges must have found it hard to award prizes, but their final results were: 1st Place - 1939 Daimler Dolphin(Adrian Clarke)
2nd Place - 1954 Sunbeam Alpine (Andy Cook)
3rd Place - Jaguar Mark 2 E-Type (Paul Vicary) Special Mention - 1937 Riley Kestrel (Jocelyn Martin) People’s Choice - 1939 Daimler Dolphin (Adrian Clarke) Children’s Choice - 1973 Jaguar Series 3 E-Type (Neil Lakin)
DR CHRISTOPHER COCKSWORTH, Bishop of Coventry, will move to take up the position of Dean of Windsor in November following the retirement of the present incumbent. Our Bishop is the President of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral.
St George’s Chapel, Windsor is a church known as a Royal Peculiar, and the position of Dean of Windsor is a Royal appointment. The Chapel’s full title is The King's Free Chapel of St George Within His Castle of Windsor, Windsor, emphasising its standing as a Royal Peculiar, that places the Chapel outside the jurisdiction of the institutional Church of England. The Dean (usually a former Bishop) is head of a college of priests, as is the case at Westminster Abbey.
There is a close relationship between the Dean of Windsor and the Royal Family. The outgoing Dean officiated at the funeral of the late Duke of Edinburgh in 2021 and gave the address at the thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey. At the late Queen’s funeral he delivered the committal in St George’s Chapel. Strange as it may seem, the Dean of Windsor takes precedence over the Archbishop of Canterbury when he is there.
The Royal Peculiars include Westminster Abbey and the Chapels Royal. I mentioned both of those with their own Coventry Cathedral connections in last month’s newsletter.
AN ARTICLE I read last week told me again the statistic that Coventry Cathedral is the British public's favourite building of the twentieth century as determined by a Channel Four/English Heritage poll.
With this and all the other accolades that today come the way of the Cathedral, what seems to be forgotten is the fiercely hostile reception that greeted the announcement of Basil Spence’s winning design for the building in 1951.
The competition assessors published the result in August 1951 and the first salvo of criticism was fired just four days later. Here is what two of the newspapers published on that day.
(Rev Artus quoted by the Sunday Dispatch was the Rector of Arley, and someone to whom reporters often turned when they wanted an honestly held opinion, rather than the more common inoffensively bland clerical comment. The Sunday Dispatch reporter mistakenly calls “The Golden Cross” the “The Golden Crown”.)
Hostile correspondence about Spence’s design continued for the next few years in the Letters To The Editor pages of both national and local newspapers, and the letters were often followed up with critical editorial pieces. Criticism of the Cathedral design was so widespread and pitched at such a level that more than three years went by before Basil Spence received his next commission.
The first Spence drawings that were published in 1951 were the architectural elevations forming part of Spence's submission to the architectural competition judges. 567 architects applied for competition entry papers, and 219 of them submitted entries. The two-dimensional architectural elevations that were shown to the public are rather technical and require some effort to understand if you are not entirely familiar with the format. Within a few months of the result announcement, those technical drawings were followed with paintings that showed both colours and perspective. The paintings gave a three-dimensional view of the building that did not rely so heavily on the viewer’s own imagination, and they went a long way towards calming the uproar.
Over the following three years Basil Spence travelled the country speaking to groups about his design. He was inundated with invitations, and spoke to groups two or three times a week. His reduced workload allowed him the time to do so. He later wrote – “In many places – Lincoln, for example – I found the atmosphere very hostile when I went in, but after I had told the whole story of the design, people came up and said they had quite changed their views. These explanatory talks, I am sure, helped to wear down the hostility to the design and brought people to understand its purposes……. But in my heart I knew that any amount of talking would not alter the design; the building would have to speak for itself.” ("Phoenix at Coventry", published 1962)
In May 1962 the building opened to the public. Visitors passed through the building in crocodile queues at the peak rate of 2,000 an hour. Tourists often queued for an hour to enter the building – not the best and most relaxing conditions in which to appreciate it. Journalists captured Graham Sutherland waiting his time in the visitor queue when he came to see his Tapestry in situ for the first time. He had not attended the Consecration Service.
Cathedral Guides reported visitor responses to be just slightly mixed. Eleven years after publication of the winning Spence design, there were still some visitors who were shocked at their first sight of a non-Gothic Cathedral. But, generally speaking, by the time the building opened the public reaction had moved on a considerable way from the bitter hostility of those first responses.
Twenty-six years later Coventry Cathedral received its highest commendation, when on 29th March 1988 the Cathedral was given Grade One Listed status on account of “its special architectural or historic interest”.
Today it is not unusual for Coventry Cathedral to receive awards. In recent years the awards have included Silver in the Large Visitor Attraction category from the West Midlands Tourist Board, and the top award in the Best Historic Attraction category of the Group Leisure and Travel Awards 2020.
I began by mentioning Coventry Cathedral’s top position in the ‘Favourite 20th Century Building’ Channel Four/English Heritage poll. The City of Coventry did extremely well in that poll because it can also lay claim to the runner-up.
In the poll Coventry Cathedral pushed Liverpool RC Cathedral (“Paddy’s Wigwam”) into second place. The architect of Liverpool RC Cathedral is Sir Frederick Gibberd, who was born in Coventry, lived in Earlsdon and was a pupil of King Henry VIII School.
If you enjoy this newsletter and are not yet a member of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral I invite you to join us today.
Members join so that they can support the ministry and buildings of Coventry Cathedral to help it continue speaking to future generations.
There is a membership application form on the Friends of Coventry Cathedral website and easy online payment facilities.
I invite you to join us.
ADVANCE NOTICE - The Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral will be on Saturday 30th September 2023. The day will include a talk on "Coronation" by Rev Canon Adrian Daffern, one of the authors of the Coronation Service of King Charles III.
If you have suggestions for the Friends to take forward, please let members of the Friends Council know. All contact details are in the list of members above. The Friends Council meets 4 times a year. If you would like to join the Council conversation, please let me know.
Cathedral Wedding Makes History
THE CATHEDRAL WEDDING celebrated on the 3rd June 2023 set a precedent when for the the first time in the Cathedral's history both bride and bridegroom were members of Coventry Cathedral Choir.
Master Crafters with Bill Bailey
IF YOU ARE still looking out (as I am) for the programme that Bill Bailey filmed in Coventry Cathedral, Sky Arts has announced that the launch of the series of three "Master Crafters" programmes has been postponed to Thursday 13th July 2023 at 8pm. Its original broadcast date was in May. Sky Arts can be viewed on Freeview Channel 11.
REV CANON KATHRYN FLEMING takes up her new appointment as Canon Precentor of Southwark Cathedral in a few weeks time. Her final Sunday service at the Cathedral is on 16th July 2023.
The Cathedral Churchwardens are collecting contributions towards a leaving gift. Contributions marked "Kathryn's leaving gift" and payable to "Coventry Cathedral" can be sent to my home address - 63 Daventry Rd, Coventry CV3 5DH
Amongst the archive photos taken by Arthur Cooper in the 1960s and rescued from a skip are photos of a man entering the Cathedral Chapter House door. He looks like an actor to me, but no one can name him.
Can you help?
John Hutton Cartoons – an update
THE HUTTON CARTOONS purchased by the Friends are currently in store in Coventry awaiting re-framing.
Upon delivery the cartoons were examined by a conservator, who advised that the removal from the frames be undertaken by a specialist paper conservator. The cartoons are drawn in white on black paper and on close examination you can see that Hutton created large sheets of black paper by gluing together smaller pieces. Hence the need for extreme care.
Specialist paper conservators are rare indeed. Sadly, because there are so few specialists, and each piece of their work can take many months to complete, delay is inevitable. I am pleased to report that a specialist conservator has been engaged, and we now await the outcome of her work.
Help to Ukraine
A SECOND AMBULANCEhas been delivered to Ukraine by Tony Cleary and a co-driver to help the civilian population under attack. Members of the Cathedral congregation contributed towards the purchase. Tony sings in Coventry Cathedral Choir.
The 2,000 mile journey across Belgium, Holland, France, Germany and Poland was not without incident. As they reached their journey’s end, a vehicle accident blocked the route and the traffic was diverted on to a minor road. Passing under a narrow bridge, there was a collision in the dark with an unmarked obstacle. Thankfully, the damage to the ambulance was repaired and the vehicle is now in use. The drivers needed boxes of painkillers and six weeks’ rest to recover from heavy bruising to the ribs.
The ex-NHS ambulance with 250,000 miles on the clock cost just over £6,000. Fundraising through JustGiving is continuing.