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Britain > West Midlands > Coventry

A city that rose from its WWII ashes


Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Transport Museum
Herbert Art Gallery
Godiva Festival
It's thought that Coventry evolved from a Bronze Age settlement, but the city's age doesn't really show. Most of its buildings were destroyed during the Second World War. Not even the cathedral was spared. Most of it was reduced to rubble, with only the tower, spire and outer walls remaining. On the positive side, the subsequent rebuilding project was able to take advantage of contemporary construction and design techniques. The replacement cathedral turns many an eye with its modernist style; it's not traditional, but it has the same sense of grandeur as anything any Medieval architect ever dreamed up. The decoration is just as bold, with huge tapestries and sculptures adorning the walls.
The ruins of the old cathedral are still standing today, next door to the new building. They've been converted into a garden of remembrance, so Coventry never forgets what happened in the war. The spire is still the tallest structure in the city.
The surrounding area is known as the Cathedral Quarter, and it contains one of Coventry's few remaining medieval structures: St. Mary's Guildhall. Its artworks and recreated interiors tell the stories of the building's many centuries as the most important place in the city. King Henry VI held court here during the War of the Roses, and Mary, Queen of Scots was once imprisoned within its walls.
A completely different side of Coventry's past is on show at the Transport Museum. Companies from this part of the country played a huge part in the development of motor transport, so it's appropriate that this is home to the largest collection of British motor vehicles in the world. There are more than 240 cars, 100 motorcycles and 200 bikes. The vehicles cover a vast range of owners and purposes. Some of them were used by royalty, and some have held the land speed record. A local favourite is the bus that the Coventry city football team used after their FA cup victory in 1987.
Another notable exhibition space is the Herbert Art Gallery. Its ground floor features a wonderfully modern courtyard, covered by 500 square metres of glass. The various galleries include sculpture, natural history and "Art since 1900". Guest exhibitions are also regularly borrowed from London's biggest museums.
The capital's best performers come here too. Their usual destination is Warwick Arts Centre, inside Coventry university's campus. Its various venues hold over 3000 events every year, from theatre to music. There's a restaurant here, a café, two bars and plenty of shops. Combined, this is the biggest arts centre in the UK outside of London.
The main event on the city's cultural calendar, however, is held elsewhere, in the War Memorial Park. It's a three day music festival that's completely free to attend. Over 100,000 people do so, every year. It's called Godiva Festival, and it's the biggest free music event in the Midlands.
The name comes from Lady Godiva, a famous figure from Coventry's past. She was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, wife to a rich landowner who imposed heavy taxes on the city's residents. She took pity on the townsfolk, and begged her husband to lower his levies. He was a cold man, and his only response was that he was as likely to lower taxes as she was to ride through town utterly naked. Godiva, though, took him at his word - and that's exactly what she did. At her request, every single city resident stayed inside, with barred windows. Everyone, that is, except a single man called Thomas, who couldn't resist a glance. According to legend, he was instantly struck blind. His name is still remembered through the phrase "Peeping Tom".
Visitor Information
Coventry Cathedral Information Centre, Cathedral Tower, Coventry, CV1 5AB. Tel: 024 7622 5616
Coventry Transport Museum Tourist Information Centre, Millennium Place, Coventry, CV1 1PN. Tel: 024 7622 5616

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