This week I am wandering to the city where I grew up. Coventry, in the Midlands, is a city with a long history. It is where Godiva rode the streets naked, where the original Peeping Tom first looked at what he shouldn’t, where kingmakers, nobility and powerful abbeys once ruled together. It’s where the phrase ‘true blue’ was coined, said to refer to a particular type of blue dyed cloth made in the city during the middle ages, which held its colour very well. Coventry was also a major stopping post on the way to London, so prisoners of rank, including Mary, Queen of Scots, were held here for a time before being transferred to the Tower for execution. During that time, no-one would speak to them for fear of being seen as a sympathiser, hence the idea that no-one speaks to you when you’ve been ‘sent to Coventry.’
In the 1930’s, three acres of some of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe were razed to accommodate new, wider streets and modern businesses. At the time, it was denounced as an act of vandalism in the press. Then the Second World War came, and much of the remaining town centre was destroyed in a single night of bombing on November 14, 1940, codenamed Moonlight Sonata by the Luftwaffe. There are theories that Churchill was aware of the bombing before it happened, but chose not to alert the city as it would have signalled that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code, so the city was sacrificed ‘for the greater good.’ However, these claims have never been proven.
After the war Coventry city centre was rebuilt, with modern architecture covering most of what remained. However, there are still little pockets of history hidden away, and Ford’s Hospital is one of them.
Built in 1509 as an almshouse for women, the hospital was badly damaged during the 1940’s blitz. Restored in the 1950’s, it is now seen as one of the finest examples of its type in the UK. When attempting to rebuild Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the designers came to Ford’s Hospital to understand Elizabethan doorways (thanks, Wikipedia!).
So on a recent trip home, I went for a wander through the town centre, taking the alleyway down by what was once Habitat and is now just a shop selling tat, to find myself outside the hospital. It’s still in use, a modern (and fairly sympathetic) extension extending the original living quarters. The little garden on the side was green and well-tended, while Christmas lights sparkled in the ancient inner courtyard. And I took these photos, to share with you.
Thanks for joining me on another Wednesday Wander! 🙂
Thank you 🙂 It’s an interesting city, when you peel back the layers.
I’d love to travel abroad, but these kind of posts are the closest I’ll probably ever get. Thanks for sharing it.
It’s part of the fun of blogging, getting to interact with people all over the world. I love reading posts about other places as well 🙂
Great post. I love discovering little pockets of history in the most unlikely places, and I love your pictures.
Thanks Suzanne – Coventry is a real city of layers. It has a bit of a bad rap, but I think it’s a fascinating place 🙂
Both my brothers moved there, but I’m ashamed to admit that we haven’t taken the time to visit and explore the place properly.
Perhaps a trip in the future… 🙂
Fascinating. I’ve only ever been to Coventry for a funeral….. You’ve inspired me to go for a happier visit sometime!
Oh, thanks Louise – that’s really nice of you to say. And Coventry does have some quite wonderful history tucked away – I think it’s the only episode of Time Team ever where they decided to stay an additional day, as the archaeology was so good. 🙂
A lovely old building, Helen. I’d often wondered… but never looked… why we get ‘sent to Coventry’, so thank you for that 🙂
Well, that’s the story I heard growing up in Coventry – whether there’s another version I don’t know. As you can imagine, being ‘sent to Coventry’ never worked so well on the playground when I was young, as everyone would say ‘but I’m already here!’ 😀
I can just hear a group of children saying that too 🙂
What an interesting post and lovely photos to go with it 🙂
Thanks Esther – it’s an interesting place. I’d love to go inside…
I find this amusing as my health insurance company’s name is Coventry. Now I am wondering whether or not I should be concerned about their claims management service.
Haha – I’m sure you’ll be fine 🙂
Gorgeous. Want to see.
The story of the bombing, that is so heartbreaking. Did you know that the horrific bombing of Dresden in 1944 (thousands of civilian deaths, another beautiful historic city utterly destroyed) was in part an act of retaliation for Coventry? On the other hand, the Luftwaffe and the RAF traded off Oxford for Tübingen – they made a deal that each would leave the other’s beautiful medieval university town alone, which is why they still stand today. And they couldn’t have done that with Coventry and Dresden and London and Berlin and… War sucks.
But now I will stop ranting, and instead enjoy the beauty of your pictures. I’m so glad the hospital was restored.
I did know that – just awful, isn’t it? I had also heard that Hitler was a lover of architecture, which is why they did the deal to spare Oxford and Tubingen, plus tried to avoid many other landmarks when bombing. However, they blew out the medieval cathedral that night in Coventry – the ruins still stand, roofless, as a memorial. The day after, the priest went in and picked up two of the burnt roof timbers which he then made into a cross. They are still there, with the words ‘Father Forgive’ etched into the wall behind. Quite a simple and poignant reminder.
War does suck.
But thank you for your kind words, I’m really glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂
The Frauenkirche in Dresden was left to stand as a memorial ruin for many decades, as well. But it was rebuilt recently (in the last 20 years or so). I think that’s a sign of hope, setting a counterpoint to the insanity. And having a worldwide community like we’re have here, now – conversations that literally span the globe – is the best thing we can do to make sure this never happens again!
Absolutely! The Cathedral in Coventry was rebuilt, but next to it, so the two buildings are joined – this happened in the 1950s and the new building is a quite extraordinary example of the design style of that time, including sculptures by Epstein, plus glasswork and tapestries by other contemporary artists.
And yes, keeping communication open is the best way to combat ignorance and misunderstanding, that’s for sure 🙂
Now I *really* want to go to Coventry. It’s going on the itinerary of my bucket-list-trip-to-England!
Wow, I love that you want to go to Coventry! It’s not seen as so much of a visitor destination here, especially compared to other places, yet there’s so much history there. I’m thrilled that my little blog post has made you want to visit 🙂
Fabulous post, Helen! Love your Wednesday Wanderings! 😁
Thanks Ali! And thank you for sharing, too xx
Even here in Australia we know about Coventry and Lady Godiva! I enjoy your posts about England and it’s historic buildings and stories, and I read them enviously, as I would love to have grown up surrounded by history like that. So many stories! The hospital is a beautiful building and appears to have survived the years well. And War does suck for many reasons, always more negatives than positives. Always. Yet, our governments still sign on for it.
Wow, loved this post too Helen. I used to play a game called Coventry as a kid – similar theme to the phrase – but I didn’t know that’s what it meant. Awesome. Learn something every day.
Thanks Sacha 🙂 As I said to Sue, I don’t know if there’s another explanation, but that’s the one I heard growing up in the city.