Who was Richard Lee?

RichardLee
Richard Lee

Lots of Coventry schools and civic buildings are named after famous people. Some are well known and obvious to us: Cardinal Newman, Sidney Stringer and President Kennedy School are all named after well-known people. But who was Richard Lee? Richard Lee Primary School is located at The Drive, in Wyken.

Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, writes “Recently while tracking down the various works of public art around the city I found out that a statue of a Dove of peace was located in the grounds of Richard Lee Primary School, which was built and opened in 1950.

“The statue is still there among some bushes. It was sculpted by Walter Ritchie of ‘Man’s Struggle’ fame, the two relief statues on the side of the Herbert Museum. The original 1950’s school buildings have been replaced with a brand new school building, but sadly not everyone knows who Richard Lee was! ”

The Reverend Richard Lee was a Coventry City Councillor and Alderman. He played a major part in rebuilding Coventry and especially its schools after the war.

Richard Lee was born in 1873 in Mexborough, Yorkshire. In 1902 he became a congregational minister and in 1914 he became a Unitarian Minister in Bury, Lancashire. He was a pacifist throughout the First World War. In 1918 he became leader of the Free Religious Movement, in Dundee. After the ‘Great War’ in 1919 he wrote “What everyone should know about the Great War” and “Lenin versus Lloyd George”.

Lee was a pioneer of the Labour Party in Durham and Northumberland and associated with Keir Hardie, the founder of the British Labour Party.

Between 1922 and 1928 he was a Unitarian minister in Glasgow and became a member of Glasgow City Council in 1924.

Then in 1928 he moved to Coventry to be Minister of the Great Meeting House (Unitarian Church) in Great Smithford Street (subsequently relocated to Holyhead Road). In 1932 he was elected to Coventry City Council, and in 1945 he was made an Alderman of the City Council.

He was an active worker in the peace movement, being national executive of the Peace Pledge Union and a member and officer of other similar organisations.

Lee had two daughters, Mrs Una Chistholm and Miss Richenda Lee who became a teacher at Whitley Abbey Comprehensive School. It was his daughters who commissioned the sculpture after he died in Birmingham Hospital, on Sunday 30th April 1950, aged 77.

While Richard was on the City Council Education Committee, they commissioned Walter Ritchie to do various works of art for the different new schools being built after the war. Lee and Richie soon became personal friends.

The sculpture commissioned for the new Richard Lee school in Wyken appropriately depicts a dove issuing from the hand of God. It is on a pole 4 metres high with a stone around the base bearing an inscription – Alderman Richard Lee 1873-1950, the pacifist after whom the school is named, together with a quotation from the Sermon on the Mount. Today the sculpture is hard to see, being hidden by the bushes and undergrowth.

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Sculpture by Walter Ritchie at Richard Lee School

Walter Richie made a wooden image of the dove before it was cast in metal. This wooden dove can be seen in the Belgrade Theatre stairwell; the hand is still in the collection of the Walter Richie estate.

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Walter Richie wooden sculpture in the Belgrade Theatre
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The sculpture today. Hidden by vegetation.

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