In May 2002, I began constructing our family website, the intention of which was to share the information about our family's genealogy that I'd gathered during the previous few years. I felt that I ought to pay homage to our hometown and include a page about Coventry, so I took my camera into the centre of town and took a few shots around the cathedrals and the archaeological dig in the old priory for inclusion on the webpage - and before I knew what had happened, I'd become hooked and wished to learn more about our city's history. Little did I realise that this one page would soon evolve into a website in its own right!
Before long, I'd started to take a lot more interest in the history and development of Coventry, and by the time I'd added a few more photographs and completely mapped out the route of the old city wall, the Coventry section of what had only been a family website became the main focus - and not surprisingly, the part in which most visitors were interested.
On the factual side, I'm very grateful to authors such as David McGrory, plus many others, for writing such entertaining and interesting books about our old town. It is mostly from these that I have learned about our colourful past, and it has enabled me to fill in some detail about each photograph that I've taken to make the website more meaningful.
Flatteringly, many other Coventry websites, including the council, have placed links to Historic Coventry. However, I have no official affiliation to any of these, and I don't have access to archives or official records, so although I will always attempt to help people who send queries and questions by email, this isn't my 'job' and I do have limited resources and time.
Finally, I would like to thank all who have contacted me with words of kindness and encouragement. The feedback has been astonishing and quite unexpected, but it has clearly demonstrated to me that it has been a worthwhile hobby so far...
1. How did Historic Coventry begin and what made you decide to start a site in the first place?
After learning a small amount of HTML (the language used to make a web-page) in around 2001, I wondered what I could do to put it to some use. For the previous few years I'd been researching our family history, so it dawned on me that a small website about our ancestors could be useful, and possibly attract the attention of relatives around the world who otherwise wouldn't have been aware of other branches of their family. As part of this early family website I decided I ought to include a single page about our home town. Most significantly, it was shortly before this that TV's Time Team, fronted by actor Tony Robinson, made two appearances in Coventry to discover more of the hidden remains of the Priory Cathedral of St. Mary. I had not previously taken a great deal of notice of our history - at school it had been a subject I just tolerated, but had never got enthused about - but suddenly I found myself yearning to learn more about our past. The most shocking thing to me, however, was to suddenly learn that we'd had three cathedrals in our city! I'd only previously been aware of our Old and New Cathedrals, and to find out about such a significant piece of our heritage lying buried so close to home for nearly five centuries seemed quite exciting. So, on my next visit to a bookshop I picked up two books about Coventry by David McGrory from the "Britain in Photographs" series. Although not detailed history books, they contained hundreds of photos of mainly pre-war Coventry, each accompanied by a detailed caption telling the significant history behind each evocative image. That was it - I was intrigued and totally hooked on local history, and as a consequence decided to expand my first page about Coventry in order to share via my website the pieces of history that I found interesting. Fortunately, from the wonderful feedback I got, many others also shared the passion.
2. How did you gather together the information for the Some History, Street Maps, City Wall and Gates etc. sections of the site?
Much of that information was gleaned from the many books that I've accrued over the years, plus a few maps, some of which were copies made by Coventry Archives at The Herbert. Most of the books I've collected so far have been from eBay, which can provide some real surprises at times. For the street maps specifically I used as many maps as I could find from various points in time, then I drew them by hand (or rather, mouse!) to match them all to the same scale on the computer. This same method also suited the research I did to replicate the exact original route of the city wall and mark it out on a modern map.
3. How was the Engraved Coventry section conceived?
"Engraved Coventry" was a natural follow-up to one of the site's most popular sections, "Now and Then", which seemed to capture each visitor's sense of nostalgia using old postcards and photographs to compare old Coventry scenes with their modern day counterpart. Before, and even for some time after the camera's invention, engraved prints and drawings were a popular way to illustrate the scenes of the day, and Coventry is lucky enough to still have a scattering of views that can be directly compared to those far off illustrated days.
4. Why did you choose Broadgate as a special section of the site? Furthermore, have you any plans to create more of these kinds of pages for other areas of Coventry?
Broadgate, more than any other single area of town, has been a focal point for the city's population for many centuries. In recent decades, particularly since W.W.II, it has gone through many changes, and each one has meant different things to each generation, who will have specific memories dear to them. I don't think any other area or street has generated more passionate views than Broadgate, so this will probably remain the only piece of Coventry to be given this special treatment for the website.
5. One section of the site I am interested in is Post War development. How did you gather together all the information and how long did it take to put together?
One of the principal sources of information I used for this was a booklet issued in 1945 called The Future Coventry. It was issued by Coventry Corporation to inform the population about the suggestions and proposals for the huge post-war reconstruction programme. It included images of possible futuristic house designs, a simplified proposal for the Inner Ring Road, areas for entertainment, civic activity and even an enlargement for the airport. It's quite an interesting exercise with hindsight to compare those early plans with the eventual outcome. As with most sections of the website, it usually involved a few weeks reading up on the subject and gathering together some suitable images for illustrative purposes, before putting it all together on a few pages. No section is ever fully finished though, and like with the city itself, the site gets revamped and bits added from time to time as new information and images become available.
6.The Your Memories section is relatively new to the site. What's been the feedback? How do you adapt people's stories into the site?
The feedback for "Your Memories" has been a wonderfully warm part of making this website. Once again, nostalgia plays a huge part, as it does in most areas of the site, and the stories that visitors submit to me for inclusion on the site always provoke evocative memories that other readers can easily associate with. From time to time I get emails from people with a Coventry background asking if I'd like to publish their story or memoirs, so it's usually not much trouble to organise the text they send me into a webpage format, and include any photographs they send - or if not, I'll try to find something suitable to illustrate their story.
7. In terms of the Discussion Forum, have you ever responded personally to a post? Also, do you look at the forum topics?
I regularly read many of the posts made in my Discussion Forum, and when I think I can make a suitable contribution I usually respond, too, although not as often as I'd like.
8. On Facebook, there is a group called Memories of Coventry, whose purpose is to display photographs of Coventry from years gone by. Have you had a chance to have a look at this yourself, and if so, have you any plans to incorporate this group into your site somehow?
The Memories of Coventry page on Facebook is a wonderful place for readers to post and discuss photos, and I've enjoyed looking through many of the pictures submitted. I've exchanged many emails with the lady who made that page, and who occasionally posts relevant links on the forum in order to alert members to some of the great images available on her site. Likewise, Memories of Coventry links back to my forum, so it's become quite a team effort.
9. Have you ever been approached by local organisations or groups who wish to work with you on the site?
No, not yet. I think any organisations who view it realise that my site is just a personal hobby, so they are happy to simply link to it and use or share the information within.
10. Have you any plans to extend the site into the social media space?
Since I added the Discussion Forum to Historic Coventry, it has effectively become its own "social media" site, so I don't envisage extending it to any other type of media space.
11. What's your opinion on the state (the look) of the city? Has it changed over time for the better or for the worse?
The word I'd use for much of the post-war redevelopments in the centre of the city is "tired". The original plans were, I'm sure, made in good faith, given the budget constraints of the day and the difficult task of trying to predict what future generations would require. However, the purposely plain architecture of the 1950s & 60s, where functionality was chosen above aesthetics, very much looks "of its time", and often doesn't sit easily with neighbouring modern glass and metal structures. Having said that, some isolated parts, like the Lower Precinct, have, in my opinion, been successfully spruced up, and form a pleasant area to shop. On the whole though, the piecemeal approach to redevelopments has caused a broken up, unflowing, incoherent look to parts of the city centre, which now really requires a complete planned overhaul rather than patching up little squares here and there. The current economical climate, however, makes that seem unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.
12. What's your opinion on the shared spaces which have been introduced across the city centre? Are they a good thing? Furthermore, have you any plans to add these changes to the site?
The jury's still out on this one! I've walked, cycled and driven across these areas, and each time I've done so slowly and cautiously because it's not always obvious who should be where or have priority. Maybe this extra caution proves that they're a good thing, but at the moment I don't know if statistics show this or otherwise. Although this particular subject is outside the scope of my historical information, it has been discussed on the forum by many members.
13. This may seem like a strange question but I would like to talk about the Ring Road. Many pictures taken prior to the Ring Road show lovely streets with local shops and hustle and bustle of townspeople. A lot of these streets were demolished when the Ring Road was built. What's your opinion on the Ring Road? Do you think they could have adapted a system which could have kept the streets intact? Has the Ring Road stifled development?
I think the vast increase in post-war car ownership made some kind of Inner Ring Road necessary, but with hindsight it has turned out to have a few flaws. In my opinion it is too small for the number of junctions it has, making the zones where cars move onto and off the Ring Road very short, and any hesitancy can be punished with a shunt - which I've seen happen! Poor driving discipline is often to blame though, and I personally get annoyed by the majority of drivers who stick to the left-hand lane, which blocks the entrance and exit to other cars entering and leaving the Ring Road. If everyone remained on the right until exiting it would be a lot safer! The small diameter of the road has probably also had rather a strangling effect on the city centre's development, too. Even just another quarter of a mile farther out would, I think, have alleviated much of the two problems spoken of. The clearing of old streets in readiness for the construction was obviously a painful experience for many, and admittedly this would only have been even more difficult if the ring had been larger, so there can never have been an easy answer to all of this. I don't think it could've realistically been constructed without any of the associated street clearance, however, unless almost unlimited money was spent raising the whole road well above ground level, or sending it completely underground - both of which would probably still have meant significant removal of many older properties.
14. What's your opinion on Cathedral Lanes. A source close to the council spoke of the Lanes being "a mistake". Do you have any memories as to the time when it was spoken of and constructed? Also, do you feel the removal of the tent has been a good thing?
In the mid 1980s the original concept of Cathedral Lanes was, as the name suggests, extremely different from what we ended up with. The plans were to replace the grassy slopes, which occupied the area of the former temporary shops, with some small lanes containing period style shops, which would've formed a pleasant intermediate route between the old and new Coventry - i.e. between the post-war Precinct area and the Cathedral Quarter. Apparently, the promise by investors of large amounts of money gave our city what we have now, and I think many citizens felt let down by that decision, especially as it totally spoiled what had once been considered almost a sacred area. The green and pleasant Broadgate had represented to many citizens Coventry's recovery from the ruins of a destructive war. Since then, in my opinion (and I believe it's shared by quite a few), the removal of that infamous "tent" and the recent grassing over of the top of Trinity Street has gone some way to redeeming that area of town, although I would personally like to see something a bit more adventurous than the currently slabbed Broadgate area, even if it's just some landscaping and small lawned patches.