A message from the Chairman of
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral
Chairman's E-News
 June 2023

AS I LISTENED to the Cathedral Choir during the Evensong dedicated in memory of John Rathbone it occurred to me that John was probably the last Coventry link with that famous BBC Christmas Morning Empire Broadcast in 1940 from the Coventry Cathedral Ruins.  
     Standing in the rubble-strewn Ruins, Provost Howard spoke those often quoted words: “We are going to try to make a kinder, simpler – a more Christ-Child-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife.”
     The only (rather foggy) photograph I have ever seen of that event appeared on the front page of the Midland Daily Telegraph on 27th December 1940.   On that photo, which is reproduced here, with the help of Mary Dale I have named those people we can clearly identify - Provost Howard, George Rathbone (John’s father), John Steane, Michael Rathbone (John's brother), Geoffrey Dale and John Rathbone (partly hidden).             (Can you identify any others?)
     John Steane later entered the teaching profession.   His music career developed in parallel, and he became a recognised choral expert whose music books, articles and reviews were widely published.   He later wrote privately about his experiences as a Coventry Cathedral chorister with the other boys pictured in the 1940 photograph .
     Steane wrote how after the Coventry Blitz of November 1940 the city centre remained closed for a few weeks but then…  “the call came that we were to be on duty to sing the Coventry Carol to the world on Christmas morning.  
     We stood under the open sky in the ruins, facing the tower and spire, which had survived almost intact.   The Provost spoke, finding (as he always did on such occasions) exactly the right words of seriousness and good cheer.  
     He introduced us: “as many of the Cathedral Choir as we could muster” (I remember that word).   And, fortified by a contralto and tenor from the BBC, we sang, and sang very well.   A recording exists in the Cathedral archive, a precious survivor from a memorable time”.      

PHOENIX at COVENTRY signed by Basil Spence, author.
The rare (signed) edition of the Cathedral architect's description of its construction has become a must-have for many members of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral.   From time to time through a network of personal contacts I have managed to find second-hand copies, then offered for sale in this newsletter.   There were just 500 copies signed by Spence back in 1962, but no one knows how many have survived the intervening years.
Ideal Christmas gift.   I would like to know if there are still members who wish to purchase a copy of the book, or if everyone is now satisfied.  If more are wanted then I am happy to carry on looking for copies.   The signed copies normally cost £60.    Please let me know if you would like me to continue the quest. 


DURING THE CORONATION Service broadcast from Westminster Abbey I spotted these four participants all of whom have links with Coventry Cathedral.
      In the centre picture we all know that Archbishop Justin Welby (right) was once a Canon of Coventry Cathedral.   He was on our Cathedral staff from 2002 until he moved on to be installed as the Dean of Liverpool in 2007.   Four years later he was enthroned as Bishop of Durham and in 2013 enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury.
     In the picture standing alongside the Archbishop is Canon Adrian Daffern, Chaplain Extraordinary to the Archbishop of Canterbury.   Adrian served as Precentor of Coventry from 2003 to 2010, a position that has since been phased out.   Longstanding members of the Cathedral congregation will recall light-hearted asides between Canons Daffern and Welby when either of them occupied the pulpit and the other was present.   I recall the engraving of Saint Osburga on the Cathedral's great west screen being used as an illustration in a Canon Daffern sermon - and his sotto voce description of her as the Patron Saint of Australian fast food!
     Canon Daffern served as Vicar of St Mary the Great with St Michael, Cambridge, and Rural Dean of North Cambridge until last year when he moved to Church House, Westminster as Cathedrals and Major Churches Officer.   He remains a Fellow and Tutor of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.   He was part of the liturgical team responsible for the Coronation Service.
     Martin Castledine, the Dean's Verger of Westminster Abbey, is pictured on the left.   When he joined the Coventry Cathedral verger team at the age of 16 years, he became the youngest Cathedral verger in the country.  He moved on from Coventry to Southwark Cathedral where he rose to the post of Deputy Head Verger during his nine years there.   
     In 2003, after two and a half years as Head Verger at Winchester Cathedral, he was appointed to Westminster Abbey, regarded as the top verger’s post in the country.   I can usually spot him in procession when there is a televised occasion from the Abbey.   For his work in organising the ceremonial processions at the start and end of the funeral service of our late Queen he was awarded the Royal Victorian Medal.
     Finally, on the far right is a former Head Verger from Coventry Cathedral, Jon Simpson.   Jon was previously Deputy Head Verger at St Paul’s.   He was then Head Verger at Coventry Cathedral for just a year before leaving to take up his present appointment as Serjeant of the Vestry of The Royal Household and Head Verger.   He serves the Chapel Royal based at St James's Palace.
     Those are the four people with Coventry links whom I spotted at the Coronation.   They were all taking part in the service, but please let me know if you spotted others with a Coventry link but whom I missed, whether in procession or in the congregation.

A CORONATION STORY:  Did you know that in 1953 on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, a black cat, named Matins, belonging to one of the Abbey clergy had to be removed from her coronation throne, where he was found to be curled up asleep?
to Megan Daffern

Two weeks ago the Chapter of Wells Cathedral announced the appointment of the Rev. Dr. Megan Daffern as Canon Chancellor of Wells Cathedral.    Megan is currently Acting Dean and Director of Studies in Theology at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.  


THE  CATHEDRAL  ARCHIVES  has in its collection DVDs, CDs, cassettes and VHS tapes that all relate to the Cathedral and its ministry.   What it does not have is any equipment of its own on which to play or view them.   Whenever there are enquiries about these items the enquirers are asked to provide their own equipment to access them.
      As more and more of us are using online streaming to provide our viewing and listening, I wonder if any members have redundant equipment that they are willing to donate to the Cathedral Archives?   What is sought are the players to make available the CDs or DVDs or cassette tapes or VHS tapes.
      If you have equipment that you no longer use and you would like to help,  please get in touch with Dianne Morris (Archivist) whose email address is -  [email protected]


During May the UK Urban Tree Festival Week would have passed me by if I had not been asked to record the story of the John Lennon Memorial Oaks     planted along St Michael's Avenue by Yoko Ono in 2005.              Other trees growing in the Cathedral grounds also have stories to tell, so here are some  

Plane Facts

THE ORIENTAL PLANE Tree growing in the middle of the Chapel of Unity lawn was planted as a result of the lessons read at the Cathedral’s 1962 Consecration services.   The same lessons were read again last month at the Consecration Anniversary Service.
     In the 1962 congregation was Ralph Verney, the brother of the then Diocesan Missioner, Stephen Verney.   The Gospel at the first Communion service told the story of Zaccheus, who climbed a sycamore tree for a better view of Jesus and found that Jesus invited him down to share a meal.   The Archbishop of Canterbury used the story in his sermon to show how Zaccheus, the little man, was made new.
     Afterwards Ralph wrote to the Cathedral asking whether a sycamore tree might be planted in the grounds as a symbol of the uplifting of the little man.   Even before the Cathedral could reply, Ralph started his own enquiries into how he could purchase a tree if the Cathedral agreed.   He discovered that the sycamore tree mentioned in the Bible story translation was not the English sycamore tree with which we are all familiar, but was a much rarer species known as an Oriental Plane Tree.   The Oriental Plane Tree has distinctive, spreading branches that are easier to climb than the more upright English Sycamore.   Ralph managed to trace a living example of the tree.


Mr Verney’s request struck a chord with the Cathedral staff.   On 17th December 1962 a cutting taken from an Oriental Plane Tree was planted in the Chapel of Unity lawn by the Earl of Bradford, who was the newly-elected President of the Timber Growers’ Association. (PHOTO by Arthur Cooper courtesy of Coventry Digital)   The cutting came from the only known example in England at that time of an Oriental Plane, and that tree was growing on the Earl’s estate at Weston-under-Lizard, Staffordshire.   In the photo Provost Williams leans forward (on the left), and Canons Edward Patey and Simon Phipps stand behind the group.  Assisting the Earl is his predecessor President, Sir Richard Proby.
      The Earl of Bradford's tree is the tree you see today in the middle of Unity Lawn.   The Oriental Plane Tree (Platanus orientalis) is known for its longevity and for its spreading crown.   In autumn its leaves turn to blood red, amber, and yellow.
      The story of Zaccheus (meaning “pure, innocent”) is told in the Gospel of Luke.   He was a chief tax-collector at Jericho, and is remembered for his faith in climbing a sycamore tree to see Jesus, and on account of his generosity in giving away half of all he possessed.   A descendant of Abraham, he is an example of Jesus's mission to bring salvation to those who are lost.   In those times tax collectors were despised because they were usually corrupt.   They were deemed to be traitors as they worked for the Roman Empire, and not for their Jewish community. 
An Invitation     
  • If you enjoy reading this newsletter and are not yet a member of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral I invite you to join us today.    
  • Members join to support the ministry and buildings of Coventry Cathedral so that it will continue to speak to future generations.
  • You will find a membership application form on the Friends of Coventry Cathedral website.


ADVANCE NOTICE - The Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral will take place on Saturday 30th September 2023.   There is room on the Friends Council for new members and new ideas.   If you have suggestions to help why not bring them to us?   
The Friends Council meets 4 times a year.   Its work is important as the Friends seek to keep alive the message of  Coventry Cathedral, so that it will be received by future generations.   Please get in touch with me if you would like to help.       


REV. DR. OLIVER SCHUEGRAF was installed as a Canon Theologian of Coventry Cathedral on 25th May 2023, the 61st anniversary of the Cathedral's Consecration.    Oliver is the Chair of the German Board of the Community of the Cross of Nails.   He is familiar to many members of the Friends as some years ago he worked in Coventry on the Cathedral staff.   He is the author of the book "The Cross Of Nails - Joining in God's Mission of Reconciliation" published by Canterbury Press.

REV CANON KATHRYN FLEMING   (Canon for Worship and Community) has been appointed Canon Precentor of Southwark Cathedral, and will take up the appointment in the summer.

LINC AND ZAHRA was the name of the winning balloon in the Coronation Virtual Balloon Race reported last month.   Fundraising to support work with disabled children in Transylvania, Romania, the race raised £525 from entrance fees and an additional £1500 from donors who were inspired to give when they heard about the Race.  St John's Church, Sibiu, Transylvania houses a Coventry Cross of Nails.  Coventry Cathedral congregation has supported the work since 1994.  £2000 a month is the fundraising target.
Jane Williams (right) presented the first prize to the winner.

As deaf as Beethoven
LAST MONTH I mentioned the presentation baton given to Harold Rhodes, the second Cathedral organist to be appointed following the 1918 re-founding of the Diocese.   Rhodes was only in Coventry for 5 years, so I am not surprised that none of the Coventry Cathedral singers from that short period have left behind any account of the 'Rhodes years'.
     Ken Fell, a longstanding former member of the Cathedral congregation still remembered by many of us, was a Cathedral chorister before the last war.   In the Cathedral Archives is a recorded interview with Ken where he relates some of his memories of those days.   He was a chorister at the time Harold Rhodes arrived, but Ken’s only comment about him is that even when Rhodes arrived everyone knew that he was only in Coventry for a short time until the Winchester Cathedral vacancy arose.  
     Ken joined the Cathedral Choir in 1921 when Walter Hoyle was the Cathedral organist and choirmaster, and he has much more to say about Hoyle.   Importantly, Hoyle was the organist in 1918 at the re-founding of the Diocese.   Like Rhodes he had a music reputation that made him a widely respected figure right across the Midlands.   He held the Coventry position for 29 years.
     Before coming to Coventry, Hoyle was an articled pupil of Dr D J Wood at Exeter Cathedral.   In Exeter he was the organist at St. Petrock’s Church.   In 1898 he was in competition with 226 other applicants for the position at St Michael’s Church, Coventry and he stayed here until 1927.   He made his home in Manor Road, close by Coventry Station.   While in Coventry he was the music master at King Henry VIII School as well as at the High School for Girls.   Sadly, as time passed he had little option but to retire because he became increasingly deaf, and it became too difficult for him to continue.  

1912   St Michael's Church Choir, Clergy and Churchwardens.
     Hoyle's music repertoire for the St Michael’s Festival Society and for Coventry Cathedral Choir was both adventurous and innovative.   The Musical Times (1st April 1902) in an article about past musicians at St Michael’s Church, included the following.
     “Walter Hoyle, who is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, has continued the Sunday evening and Bank Holiday organ recitals instituted by his predecessors, two of whom have been appointed to important cathedrals.
A perusal of the service-lists shows the ambitious nature of the music sung and played at St Michael’s, and which, we are assured, reflects great credit on Mr Hoyle and the members of his choir.”
     Ken Fell joined the Cathedral Choir under Walter Hoyle at the age of 10 years, and in time Ken was made the Senior Chorister.   He recalled the measures that were necessary at church to cope with the growing deafness of the organist.
     “During the service I had to look after the organist, Walter Hoyle, who was increasingly deaf.   I had to make sure that his music was open at the exact starting places.  
     There were numerous mix-ups because of this.   The Provost’s Warden was Mr John Collier (a former Choral Clerk himself).   He used a system of hand signals to stop the organist if he went wrong.
     The organist found it hard to tell when to start playing.   It was not unknown for him to turn over two pages and to start playing the wrong setting for the Magnificat.   The senior Chorister then had to shoot across to the organ and sort him out.
     Water Hoyle was a good music teacher in spite of his deafness.   On occasions Dr Osmond from Holy Trinity would come across to help out.   There were times when the three choirs of the Cathedral, Holy Trinity and St Mary’s (Warwick) would combine for a concert or for a Festival.   Dr Osmond conducted these big occasions and Hoyle played the organ, because his deafness made conducting difficult.”
Ken Fell’s memories are taken from one of the “Peoples’ Story” series of archive recordings that were arranged by members of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral.
If you have photos, letters or other memorabilia to add to Ken's memories, I would love to hear from you.   There are very few papers about Cathedral life before the Blitz.

Members’ Gifts
     HERE ARE FOUR quite different Cathedral-related items donated by members of the Friends to the Cathedral Archives in the last month.
     1   CANON EDWARD PATEY was part of the Cathedral staff team at the time of the Consecration in 1962.   He wrote a series of very readable books answering the questionings of young people, and he appeared regularly on radio and television where questions of faith were considered.   Pictured on the left is the order of service for his Installation as Dean of Liverpool on 16th May 1964.

     2   The December 1964 issue of TIME magazine showed the Coventry Cathedral tapestry on the cover of a magazine that featured “Christian Renewal”.

     3   “Tips For Padres” was a bestseller in its day, and the Cathedral Archives now has a reprint copy.   It was written by a staff member, “The Sporting Parson” - Rev Everard Digby, who was a curate at St Michael’s Church for three years in the early 1900s.   He was extraordinarily popular with Coventry people.   He managed St Michael’s Mission in Whitefriars Lane, and built up a huge and active Christian Brotherhood in one of Coventry’s most deprived districts.   He left Coventry to join the British Army as a Padre.   The book was written to give practical help to potential Padres for whom there was otherwise very little training guidance available.

     4   The story of the destruction of Coventry Cathedral in the Blitz of November 1940 is now told in the “Commando” comic book series shown below.

An earlier Newsletter reported the award of an OBE to a member of the Coventry Cathedral Choir – TONY CLEARY.   The Investiture has now taken place.
TONY shares his thoughts and reflections.

What a shock! To find the important looking envelope in that morning’s post.   Pausing only briefly to remark to myself that the imprimatur ‘IMMEDIATE’ appearing in bold capitals on the front was something of an oxymoron, given that it was clearly franked Second Class postage.
  “I am commanded to inform you…” Goodness, how grand.
     So, I was to be appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire.   Which suggested OOBE to me.   No matter, I would not reject it.   Too excited, and of course proud.
     The Royal Mail caused the household some consternation by going on strike, thus threatening not to deliver the necessary passes to Buckingham Palace.   A  flurry of urgent emails and a re-assuring “Don’t worry, the police know who you are”, followed almost inevitably by a rail strike.   So, a hired limousine and driver, and arriving by the skin of our teeth after enduring blockages on the M40 and seemingly endless roadworks on the approach to London.
     Palace personnel amazingly well drilled and courteous to a fault.   Military figures all looking like Victorian sea captains carrying swords and medals.   Some sort of hook pinned onto the jacket lapel to avoid the Royal Finger drawing One’s own blood.   Taking our places at the entrance to the Throne Room, being reminded to advance to a spot level with the Princess Royal, sharp 90 degree turn to the left, forward and stop, head bow, 5 minutes chat allowed, reverse, turn right and leave.
     Conscious that the gentleman immediately following me is a professor with a brain the size of a planet.   Recognised for his work in stem cell research.   Something about founding the Anthony Nolan institute.   Surely he is more deserving than I?   We all shuffle forward – an honoured crocodile.
     My turn. “His Honour Anthony Simon Lissant Cleary. Services to Family Justice” announces a uniformed person. Concentrating on the footsteps to take.   Unsure who is the more bemused, me or Princess Anne.   “No doubt” she says, smiling, “you’ve been waiting for this for some time”.   What does she mean?   No doubt I look as deranged as I feel.   “No, it’s all been something of a shock” I stutter in response.   Only later do I realise that she must be referring to the gap between the publication of the honour upon the Queen’s birthday and the day of the Investiture, 6 months later.
     “You must carry on”, she insists.   No doubt unaware that His Majesty’s Judges are obliged to step down at 75.   I try to explain, but my 5 minutes are running away.   How do I recount my many years as a family solicitor, 35 years on the Bench and my membership of committees overseeing ground changing legislation, the Children Act and all that?   I don’t, instead I tell her that I invented a procedural work, The Family Court Practice, and edited it for 29 years, recruiting a team of top flight lawyers and judges as my authors.   “I have been standing” I tell her, “on the shoulders of giants”.   The hardest part was composing an annual Introduction for each of those 29 years.   I think that she is faintly amused.
     And it is over.   Ushered out to a table on which there is a collection of small black boxes. MBEs, BEMs and mine, the OBE, handed over in what appears to be a spectacles case.   “Congratulations” I hear again, from a smiling official. Carmel on one arm now, and Dominic on the other, we exit down majestic stairs into a quadrangle where official photographs are being taken.
     “Hold it up” commands the enthusiastic man in charge.   Look this way, now that.   Starting to feel the bitter cold on this mid-December afternoon.   At last back to the heated Limo.   Off to a grand afternoon tea.   At Claridges.
Help needed at Events
The Cathedral events team is recruiting volunteer stewards for duty at the following events.   If you would like to help at the day and time, please email Asha whose address is  [email protected]
Saturday 3rd June   A Night At The Opera.     A classical concert.
     Help welcoming, selling programmes, wayfinding, on hand for emergency evacuation.   6:30pm brief, 6:45pm doors, 7:30pm start
  Friday 23rd June   Ceilidh In The Ruins  (or New Cathedral if soggy)
Help welcoming, checking tickets, wayfinding, have fun and join in the dances!   6:45pm brief, 7pm start, 9pm finish
        Saturday 15th July   A Midsummer Night’s Dream.   Theatre in Ruins.         Help welcoming, checking tickets, wayfinding.   5:45pm brief, 6pm doors, 7pm start

June Organ Recitals
Each Monday between 12.30pm and 1pm there is a free organ recital on Coventry Cathedral Organ.  The full programme is available on the Cathedral website.    https://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/worship-music/choirs-music/organ-recitals 
  Martin R Williams  
  63 Daventry Rd, Coventry CV3 5DH  

P.S.   I share a selection of my birthday cards.


Copyright © 2023 The Friends of Coventry Cathedral, All rights reserved.
The Friends of Coventry Cathedral was founded in 1934. It is an independent Charity No. 1061176 registered in England and Wales, with an annually elected Council.
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