Industrial city in the West Midlands, England, on the River Sherbourne, 29 km/18 mi southeast of Birmingham; population (2001) 303,500. Principal industries are engineering and the manufacture of electronic equipment, machine tools, agricultural machinery, synthetic fibres, aerospace components, telecommunications equipment, and vehicles, including London taxis and Masey Ferguson tractors.
Leofric, Earl of Mercia and husband of Lady Godiva, founded a Benedictine priory here in 1043. In 1451 Coventry was constituted a county by Henry VI, and this privilege continued until 1842; under the provisions of the Local Government Act of 1888 the distinction was revived, and the place declared a county borough in 1889. A centre of armaments manufacture during World War II, the city was the target of a massive German air raid on 14 and 15 November 1940 in which 550 people were killed, and over 60,000 buildings were destroyed.
Coventry cathedral, incorporating the ruins of the old cathedral destroyed in an air raid in 1940, was designed by Basil Spence and consecrated in 1962; Belgrade Theatre (1958); the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum; Museum of British Road Transport; the nearby University of Warwick (1965); Coventry University (1992), formerly Coventry or Lanchester Polytechnic. Every three years the city hosts one of the four surviving mystery play cycles performed in England. Under the Phoenix Initiative, a project to mark the millennium, parts of the city centre will be rebuilt to provide public open spaces.
Coventry appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Coventreu. A Saxon convent may have been established in an early British settlement here, thought to have been destroyed in 1016 when the English chieftain Edric invaded the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. The Benedictine monastery established by Leofric and Godiva was erected on the same site. The first extant record of the legend of Godiva and her ride through the city appeared about 150 years after the death of Leofric in 1057. During the English Civil War, Royalist prisoners captured at the Battle of Preston were held in St John's Church. The citizens, who supported the Parliamentarians, refused to speak to them, giving rise to the saying ‘sent to Coventry’ when a person is outcast from communication.
The city has long maintained a reputation as a manufacturing centre. Before the 15th century Coventry had established itself as the focus for the wool trade and cloth industry in the Midlands. In the late 15th and the 16th centuries the city was known for its caps and bonnets, and for a particular blue dye (hence the saying ‘true as Coventry blue’). From the 17th to the 19th centuries the manufacture of clocks, watches, and silk ribbons was important. Bicycle
manufacture began in 1870; the last two major manufacturers, including Raleigh, left in the 1950s, but an adult BMX-type bike is still produced. The first British production car was built here in 1896.
Buildings damaged in World War II but subsequently restored include St Mary's Hall, built as a guild centre between 1342 and 1414 by the Trinity Guild; Ford's Hospital, founded in 1509, and a fine example of Tudor architecture; and Bond's Hospital, founded in 1506. The steeple of Christ Church, dating from about 1350, was the only remaining portion of a former Franciscan monastery, and the only part of the modern church to survive an air attack on 10 April 1941. The origin of Holy Trinity church is not known, but it is thought that it became the priory church in 1259.
Of the 12 original medieval city gateways, only the Swanswell or Priory Gate and Cook Street Gate remain and have been restored. Fragments of the old city walls still remain near Cook Street Gate.
Redevelopment of the city
The centre of Coventry sustained considerable damage during World War II, and comprehensive redevelopment of the city's commercial, cultural, and civic facilities subsequently took place. A pedestrianized shopping precinct was developed, a civic theatre opened in 1958, and commercial buildings and industrial areas were built away from the civic and cultural centre.
On the east side of the porch is Jacob Epstein's statue St Michael overcoming the Devil. The west wall of the cathedral is made of glass; designed by John Hutton, it depicts angels and Christian figures.
The nave is inset with a series of long windows, each strikingly different, while the massive baptistry window, by John Piper, is intended to represent the Love of God flowing into the world. Behind the altar hangs Graham Sutherland's tapestry Christ in Majesty made at Felletin, in France, and measuring 23×11 m/75×36 ft. The font consists of a boulder taken from a Bethlehem hillside. Among the side chapels is one dedicated to Christ the Servant, and intended to serve industry. Also connected to the cathedral, and administered jointly by Anglican and Free Churchmen, is the Chapel of Unity.
The cathedral's fabric and furnishings were contributed by churches and individuals from all over the world. In 1964 the cathedral sponsored a fund for the rebuilding of a church hospital in Dresden, destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945, while German students have played a major part in the International Centre established in the ruins of the old cathedral vestries. Benjamin Britten composed his War Requiem for the consecration ceremony.
Coventry lies on the main line from Birmingham to London. It also has a canal connection to the Trent and Mersey, and Oxford canals. Coventry airport was established in 1936.
Coventry was the birthplace of the actor Ellen Terry in 1847; Frank Whittle in 1907, co-inventor of the jet engine; and the poet Philip Larkin in 1922.
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