Sir Richard Moon; Railway Pioneer 1814 – 1899

Sir Richard Moon

From his home at Copsewood Grange, high on a bluff overlooking the road to Binley, Sir Richard Moon could see his trains as they approached Coventry.

It was said that any driver who showed too much smoke on the run into the city would later find himself sternly ticked off for wasting coal.

Waste was an obsession with Richard Moon and he would not tolerate it in his company, the London and North-West Railway. As its chairman for almost thirty years from 1861, he turned the L&NWR into Victorian England’s premier railway. By 1885 it employed 55,000 men and was the world’s largest joint stock company.

His gifts as a clear-thinking manager and his eye for talent in others earned him a place among the pioneers of the railway age. Yet he is little known today and remains one of Coventry’s more mysterious and intriguing Victorians.

In his own time, Moon was feared and hated by many of those who worked for him. The photographs show an austere martinet whose thin-lipped smile betrayed few signs of human warmth and charity.

His ruthlessness was legendary. A clerk who turned up for work at the company’s Euston offices on a summer Saturday in flannel trousers was summarily dismissed and not even directors were immune from the icy blast of Moon’s displeasure.

For years the chairman patrolled his railway network with a fierce and restless energy, turning up at remote country stations at dawn to see that all was as it should be, correcting station announcers on their pronunciation as he passed through, looking for waste and sloppiness everywhere.

Those journeys, often made alone, turned him into a bogey man who was all-seeing and all-knowing. As The Times, in its obituary of him in November 1899, put it, ‘the hardest of hard workers and the sternest of stern disciplinarians.’ A man, it went on, who was utterly incorruptible, but was also ‘one of the most terrifying personages in private business’.

The elder son of a Liverpool merchant, Moon joined the family firm after attending, but not graduating from St Andrew’s University, and before long found himself in the exciting new world of the railways.

By 1847, still only in his early thirties, he was a director of the London and North-West Railway, a recent amalgamation of a number of railway companies, operating several lines, including the London & Birmingham. And in little more than a decade he had clawed his way to the top, brushing aside competitors with no more thought than swatting a fly.

Under Moon, the L&NWR produced dividends of hitherto unimaginable dimensions for its shareholders, but also managed to stay in the forefront of innovation.

He ploughed its vast profits back into power signalling schemes, flying junctions and a host of other engineering projects, some of which are still part of today’s railway infrastructure. It was Moon who turned the small town of Crewe into the major railway hub of the twentieth century. And there is a street there named after him still.

In 1879, at the height of his power, he bought Copsewood Grange, built seven years earlier for James Hart, a Coventry ribbon manufacturer.

Why Coventry? Neither Moon nor his wife Eleanor, daughter of a wealthy Cumbrian ship owner, had any connections with the city. But a glance at a map would show that it lay at the mid-point of his railway empire. And things like that mattered to Sir Richard.

Autocrat though he was, personal aggrandisement was not Moon’s style. He had wanted to turn down the baronetcy offered to him in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee honours of 1887. Only the distress of his family persuaded him otherwise.

After his retirement four years later, the forbidding Sir Richard seems to have mellowed a little. He still took an interest in railways; with a local Welsh landowner, he was joint founder of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, opened in 1896.

There were personal interests. He loved the gardens at Copsewood Grange and won prizes for his chrysanthemums. He also had the best collection of railway maps in private hands in the country.

He invested in the attempts by Coventry industrialist Joseph Cash to invent artificial silk and there was even local philanthropy too. He laid the foundation stone of a new vicarage in Stoke and gave money to Stoke Church for a pulpit and to the nearby National School.

He died at the Grange on 17 November 1899, little more than a month before the dawn of the century he had done so much to herald, and was buried at St Bartholomew’s Church, Binley, accompanied by masses of his beloved chrysanthemums.

Peter Walters

SirRichardMoonCartoonMore about Copsewood Grange

A Hero in Your Street?

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The Coventry Society has published unique information enabling everyone to discover if a serviceman who died in the First World War lived in your street, or even in your house.

Much has been made of the devastating Blitz of World War 2. However, from a population of 110,000, over 2000 Coventry men left to fight in the First World War never to return home to their city.

Coventry Society member Vince Hammersley has created an on-line A – Z street index giving details of Address, Name, age, date of death and parents or wife of Coventry men who died in the First World War. It also contains the location of a grave or memorial, medals where known and Regiment, squadron or ship. This will soon be followed by a map of the City with all those streets where a loss occurred shown graphically to demonstrate how the grief affected every part of our City.

It is hoped that this newly produced information will assist local historians, family researchers, communities and schools to discover more about the lives that were cut short and the affect upon wives, mothers, parents, siblings and the community in their area.

Many records were destroyed by fire in WW2, so the list, which currently contains nearly 1200 entries, is incomplete but will grow as further information presents itself. It is hoped that following discussions with the Royal British Legion that the format for this project could be rolled out across the country, enabling many more to take an interest in this event which has now passed into history after 100 years.

Although, thankfully, it is not possible to walk in their shoes, it is still possible to walk on their streets and to remember their sacrifice.

Follow this link to see if there was a hero in your street!

Vital Cities not Garden Cities

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The Coventry Society had a challenging and fascinating presentation on Monday 14th January 2019 from Architect John Prevc. John was a member of the Future Spaces Foundation which was set up to promote a new vision for the future of housing in the UK.

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The Government and many others seem to be fixated on the concept of Garden Cities as the policy direction for future housing development in the UK.

The concept of Garden Cities dates back to Ebenezer Howard in the Victorian era. It was originally proposed as a response to the overcrowding and industrial pollution of rapidly expanding Victorian London. Howard aimed to combine the best the city and the countryside had to offer, creating holistically planned new settlements. These would provide high-quality and – importantly – affordable housing, as well as employment opportunities and a thriving community.

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The concept led to the development of a generation of New Towns and New Cities in the post-war years.

Even now the Government, all major political parties and a number of other agencies are promoting plans for three 21st century Garden Cities of around 15,000 homes each, incorporating large areas of open space and parkland. The first new project is already under way at Ebbsfleet in Kent and plans for the second Garden City, in Bicester in Oxfordshire, were announced at the end of 2014.

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The spirit of Arcadia conjured up by Garden Cities is an attractive one but it cannot solve today’s housing problem. The low density of development associated with garden cities brings with it increased reliance on motor cars with increased pollution. The lack of employment and services associated with the lack of a critical mass makes it impossible for these communities to be economically sustainable.  The amount of land needed to solve the housing need in this way would cover the countryside with development.

John and the Foundation argue that we need to learn the lessons from Garden Cities and New Towns and apply them to our 21st century problems, rather than replicate Victorian solutions to a different problem.

The current shortage of new homes has been a major contributor to a UK house price bubble that saw inflation adjusted prices rise 86% between 2000 and 2007 while the annual home-building rate rose only 19%. These numbers are clearly not sustainable.

However building these houses at low densities in Garden Cities is not a practical solution to the housing crisis. It would cover an enormous amount of the available land and would take a generation for the new communities to become established. You would need 67 Garden Cities of 30,000 population to address the projected shortage of one million homes in London and the Home Counties over the next 25 years!

Instead John suggested that increasing density around urban cores and on strong public transport corridors, close to medium size towns is a more appropriate solution.

However the report does not argue for higher density in isolation from other changes. It argues for intense functional greenspace embedded into developments and protecting the green areas on the edges of cities. Embedding nature at all scales and vertical levels of a building, a street and a city brings a vital connection into everyday lives.

The Foundation’s ultimate ambition is to create vital places in the heart of towns and cities where people can live and work and which deliver economically and environmentally sustainable urban spaces, offering residents access to employment, public services and shopping. Higher density settlements are also more effective in generating mixed communities, social integration and safety and this is what we should aspire to.

“Living more densely means you have to design better. You need to think about things like views, green spaces, insulation, sound-proofing and so on in much more detail than in low-density developments.”

The Vital Cities report can be read here. 

St Valentine’s Day Festival at St. John’s

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With romance in the air at this time, St John the Baptist Church in Coventry City Centre will be celebrating the life of the patron of courtly love, with four days of music, recitals, readings, exhibitions and services from Thursday 14th – Sunday 17th February 2019.

Every day sees a rare chance to see our famed relic of St Valentine on show in St John the Baptist chapel.

There will also be a chance for engaged and married couples to get their rings blessed by the rector, Father Dexter Bracey.

Saturday includes refreshments on sale on the Hall, readings by acclaimed Coventry poet, Paul A Palmer and a concert at 3pm.

Opening times are as follows:

Thursday 10am – 1pm & 4pm – 6.45pm

Friday 9am – 2pm

Saturday 9.30am – 4pm

Sunday 11.15am – 2pm

St John the Baptist Church
Fleet St
Coventry  CV1 3AY.

More information on www.stjohnthebaptistcoventry.org.uk
Enquiries by text only on 07757 942420.

3,307,996 – That’s a Lot of Tractors

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The February meeting of the Coventry Society is a talk from local speaker, David Walker, on the subject “3,307,996 – That’s a Lot of Tractors”.

David Walker is a former Massey Ferguson employee who has researched and written about the history of the factory in Coventry.

David’s talk will provide an unparalleled insight into what it was like to work in the service department of the world’s largest tractor manufacturer during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Joining Massey Ferguson at Coventry as a technical author in 1966, David went on to become heavily involved in all aspects of supporting the company’s products, carrying out everything from writing the service manual for the MF 1200 tractor to providing technical advice to its dealers, issuing service bulletins and troubleshooting on territory as a regional service manager.

Monday 11th February 2019 at 7.30 p.m.

at the Shopfront Theatre, City Arcade.

Covsoc events are free for members. Visitors are very welcome and asked to make a voluntary donation of £2 towards the cost of refreshments and venue hire.

Non members are welcome to book a free ticket for this event here. 

Copsewood Comes Back to Life

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CovSoc committee members with the Lord Mayor of Coventry, Councillor John Blundell, the Lady Mayoress, new residents and staff of Morris Homes

After many years of campaigning and considerable restoration problems, Copsewood Grange was formally re-opened by the Lord Mayor of Coventry on Friday 25th January 2019.  The building was restored by Morris Homes. 

As well as re-opening the building the event also saw the unveiling of a Blue Plaque revealing a little of the history of the building.

Blue plaque on Copsewood Grange
Copsewood Grange – built 1872 for James Hart, ribbon manufacturer. 1879 bought by Sir Richard Moon, chair of nearby London NW railway. Later, Peel Conner, GEC, GPT, Marconi. Restored by Morris Homes 2018. The Coventry Society

There is more information about the history of Copsewood Grange and our campaign to save it here.

As well as the Grange, Morris Homes have also restored the Lodge.p1130436If you are considering purchasing a flat at Copsewood Grange, or perhaps just want to take a look, there is more information here.

 

 

Stop relying on the Big Boys!

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It might be a long-held ambition to build the City Centre South scheme on land currently occupied by Bull Yard, Shelton Square, the City Arcade and Hertford Street but judging by the lack of interest among multi-national companies (highlighted in last Thursday’s weekly paper), isn’t it time to come up with a better plan? Businesses that have traded there for years need a secure future and surely a new face for these perfectly adequate buildings could and should continue to benefit traders and shoppers alike. The scale is right. Car parking on top of the shops is still a revolutionary concept that’s stood the test of time. Rent can be maintained at a sensible level.

New builds inevitably attract exorbitant sums. More than thirty traders have suffered the insecurity of tenure for years. How fair is that? Just look how the area has been allowed to run-down. We need a new vision. One that can be made a reality well in time for City of Culture 2021. It’s high time we saw some small wins in the city centre rather than kidding us along that the grandiose ambitions of multi-nationals can be realised.

Cabinet member for jobs and regeneration Jim O’Boyle recognising there is a downturn in the retail sector across the country said: “Negotiations between the developer Shearer Property Group and potential investors is taking more time than envisaged.” The truth: the City Centre South scheme has been on the stocks since 2012 – for more than SIX years.

Anyone with an ounce of imagination might surely realise the potential for a re-vamped quarter of small speciality businesses. Here they are established and trading well with a loyal customer base. What does Cllr O’Boyle want to do? Throw them out to turn the land over to this apparently unreachable massive new development for the ‘Big Boys’. Does it make sense? Of course not. It’s a great pity that important decision makers like Cllr O’Boyle don’t have a retail background. He might take a more realistic approach to the dilemma of City Centre South. So come on, time to get round the table and start talking to locals for a change.

Read more about the current state of City Centre South in the Coventry Observer.