Pioneering Arts – Sadler’s Photos of the Cathedral

Following the success of the first two exhibitions, this third phase of Photo Miners’ exhibition of the photographs of Richard Sadler has been launched at the Old Grammar School. This covers photographs of the construction and consecration of Coventry Cathedral.

The first exhibition was Pioneering People: Sadler and the City and showed photos of Coventry people in the post war period. The exhibition ran during February and early March. The second exhibition Pioneering Industry: Sadler and Courtaulds ran from March to April.

This exhibition, held to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral, celebrates the time when the cathedral was new. The exhibitions present unseen images of the Sutherland tapestry being offloaded and moved to the cathedral, of it being hung before the internal space was complete. We see the Ramsey-Hoskins nativity scene, now partially lost, making its first appearance. We also see previously unseen images of early mystery plays performed in the ruins.

Richard Sadler was Coventry Cathedral’s first official photographer. In 1961 he was appointed by Provost Williams to record the final stages of construction and the completed Cathedral architecture.

The official launch of the exhibition took place on Tuesday 26th April. Unfortunately, the invited speaker, Professor Louise Campbell from Warwick University, was affected by Covid, so her place was taken by Martin Williams, Chairman of the Friends of the Cathedral.

Martin told us the story of the Cathedral from the destruction of the Old Cathedral in 1940. The first designs were by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and were presented in 1944. However, Scott’s design was rejected by the Royal Fine Arts Commission, and so in 1950 a competition was held, open to any architect from the British Commonwealth, to find the most suitable design for the replacement cathedral. Out of over 200 submissions the designs of Basil Spence were chosen.

Spence’s designs aimed at telling the story of the Cathedral through art and he collaborated with artists from the start of the design. Spence met several of the artists he commissioned during service at the front line during the War. His vision was of light and glass and the stained-glass commissions, the largest glass commissions ever, were completed well before the building was completed.

Chenine Bhathena, the Creative Director of City of Culture, reflected on the Year of Culture programme an the parallels with the Cathedral and its art. The launch event was also attended by Richard’s wife.

The exhibition runs until Tuesday 31st May at the Old Grammar School, Hales Street from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. from Tuesdays until Sundays.

A the end of the exhibition all of the photographs will find a home in the City Archives.

Martin Williams meets his younger self – photo Jason Tilley

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