A Coventry made timepiece fit for a King

Samual Watson clock
Samual Watson Astronomical Clock in Windsor Castle.

King Charles II didn’t much like Coventry. In 1662 he ordered the demolition of Coventry’s city walls as punishment for the city’s support for Parliament during the Civil War and the humiliation of his father King Charles I.

Charles I had tried to enter Coventry, with the intention of gaining access to the large armoury in the city. But after laying siege to the city with cannon fire he did not manage to gain entry, and had to move on.

So Coventry was in the new king’s bad books and was paying for it. The city even had to pay for every cartload of stone blocks taken away from the city wall.

King Charles II
King Charles II

Despite his dislike of Coventry, the King had a penchant for Coventry workmanship and in particular for clocks made by Coventry born clock maker Samuel Watson. He commissioned Watson to make two of them, the second of which still survives. It is the most amazing timepiece, an astronomical clock incorporating planetary motion.

The clock has four large dials and one small one in the centre. The top left-hand dial is the planetary dial and shows the earth in the centre, and the five known planets at the time and the sun. Each ring revolves around the earth, the planets turning in their own orbits. The top right-hand dial is the lunar dial and shows the sun and the moon revolving around the earth, so the moon keeps her illumination face always towards the sun.

The bottom left-hand dial is the Calendar and Solar Cycle Dial and shows the motion of the nodes, when the earth, the sun and the moon will take place predicting eclipses, the long hand revolves once a year showing the day and month of the year for the first three years on the first outer rings and with the leap year on the fourth outer ring. The bottom right-hand dial, the Dial of the Golden Numbers has a long hand revolving once in nineteen years and indicates the Metonic cycle.

The small dial in the centre tells the day of the week and the time, but with only one single hand!

It took Samuel Watson from 1683 – 1690 to complete the clock but by the time he had finished it King Charles II had died.

Later the clock was bought by Queen Mary II of William and Mary fame for Kensington Palace. But she did not like the wooden long case clock frame that it was in, so another case was made and the original case had a different clock workings put in it and is now part of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum collection. The royal clock is in the Queens collection in Windsor Castle.

Samuel Watson (1635 – 1710) lived and worked in Coventry and was Sheriff of the city in 1686. In 1690 he moved to Long Acre in London and called himself ‘Mathematician in Ordinary to his Majesty’. He was also an associate of Isaac Newton, for whom he made two other astronomical clocks. His other inventions included the “five minute repeater” (a clock which strikes the hours and then the number of 5 minute periods since the hour) and also the stopwatch.

Samuel Watson made many clocks and watches between about 1640 and 1710 and many survive. We would love to see the city host an exhibition of Watson clocks, bringing together the Herbert longcase and the Windsor clock for the first time in 330 years. This would be a worth event for our City of Culture Year in 2021 and would celebrate a great citizen of Coventry who we have forgotten as well as an industry that the city was famous for.

The Bishop and the Sculptor

Bishop H. W. Yeatman – Biggs, first post-reformation Bishop of Coventry

2018 was the centenary of the designation of St. Michael’s as a Cathedral. Of course it had been a Church for a lot longer, since the Normans built it as a Chapel to the Castle in the eleventh century.

It’s interesting that as early as 1818 St. Michael’s was regarded as a National Monument which would require extra funds for its upkeep beyond the local parish. This was especially important as it was one of the largest parish churches in the country.

There had been some local pressure for a separate Coventry diocese beginning in 1860 and in 1908 the Bishop of Worcester, H. W. Yeatman – Biggs, constituted St. Michael’s as a collegiate church or ‘pro-cathedral. But the First World War interrupted the process, and it was not until 1918 that the Bishopric of Coventry was formally created by Act of Parliament and St. Michael’s Church was elevated to Cathedral status. Bishop H. W. Yeatman – Biggs himself became Coventry’s first Bishop since the Reformation.

But unfortunately Bishop Yeatman – Biggs was only Bishop of Coventry for four years and died at the age of 77 in 1922.

Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman was born in 1845. He added the name Biggs by Royal License when he inherited the family estate via his mother when his elder brother died in 1898.

After his death he was buried in the Cathedral and a bronze effigy was commissioned. It was made by Hamo Thornycroft a very famous sculptor of his time.

Thornycroft had creaated many famous memorials, including one of the British statesmen W. E. Gladstone, a bronze made in 1905. Other public statues around the country including Alfred the Great, Oliver Cromwell, General Gordon, Alfred Lord Tennyson and a Sower in Kew Gardens.

Hamo studied with his parents and learned a lot about classical sculpture before going to the Royal Academy of Arts. He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Academy in 1876 with his statue ‘Warrior Bearing a wounded youth’ when he was 26 years old.

Hamo Thornycroft

Hamo with knighted in 1917 aged 67 and he spent the following five years working on Bishop Yeatman-Biggs’ effigy. He died in 1925 aged 75.

The bronze of H. W. Yeatman – Biggs was pretty much the only surviving Cathedral artefact after the firebombing of the Coventry Blitz of 1940.

Harry Quick – Coventry Architect 1858-1935

HarrY Quick 2-1 (2)
Harry Quick – standing

In the summer of 1895, the Midland Daily Telegraph published a lavish set of drawings illustrating the winning design for Coventry’s new municipal offices.

Fashioned in Tudor style, with stone facings and a whole tracery of turrets and crenellations, oriel windows and arched doorways, the complex, so impressive on paper, would include police and fire stations as well as a council chamber and offices, built on a large but awkward site bounded by Earl Street, St Mary’s Street and Bayley Lane.

Council House Quick
Quick’s design for the Council House, which was never built

It earned its architect, 37-year-old Harry Quick, a handsome first prize of £150, and it even had a motto attached to it, ‘Leofric the Saxon.’

Yet there was to be no Harry Quick municipal cathedral. The plans were set aside, due to pressure from the city’s ‘shopocracy’, who objected to the colonisation of a large site they regarded as central to Coventry’s shopping offer. And when, fifteen years later, another competition was held to design the city’s new Council House, Harry Quick’s name was nowhere near it.

It was a rare and no doubt chastening rejection for the man who was arguably the most prominent and prolific architect working in Coventry at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Born in Pontefract in Yorkshire, the son of a Surveyor of Taxes, Harry Quick arrived in Coventry as a child and was sent to a school run by Unitarian minister the Rev. George Heaviside in Much Park Street. He was later articled to Coventry church architect Thomas Richmond Donnelly but by 1883 had set up in business on his own, with offices in Hertford Street.

Three years later he was appointed Surveyor to the fledgling Coventry Permanent Economic Building Society, a post he held for nearly fifty years and one that gave him an influential voice in property values and development in the growing city.

Later in his career he was responsible for the development of the Coventry Park estate, laying out Park Road and Manor Road and designing some of the houses that were built there. He did the same in St Nicholas Street in Radford, described at the time, in 1902, in promotional material that bore his name, as an ‘elevated, quiet and much-favoured residential part of the city.’

Pevsner characterises Quick as ‘the factory architect’, and so he was, but there was much more to him than that. One of his first commissions, in 1888, was to design the new Liberal Club on Warwick Row, a lavish entertainment centre complete with skittle alley in the basement, card room, billiard room and smoking room, as well as offices for the committee and a reading room.

Two years later came his first factory commission – designing the offices for George Singer’s new industrial complex in Canterbury Street. In the year of his competition-winning Council House design, 1895, he did the same for William Herbert’s Premier Cycle Company and in the early years of the new century was also involved in the design of Courtaulds’ bold new Coventry headquarters on the Foleshill Road.

Harry Quick’s private life was nothing if not quiet and respectable. In October 1888, at Holy Trinity Church in Coventry, he had married Staffordshire-born Eliza Ellen Adams and the pair set up home in a rented house on St Nicholas Street.

In 1898, the couple bought ‘Belmont’ a substantial house at 16 Abbey Hill in Kenilworth, which was to remain their home for the rest of their lives. The Quicks were childless but shared their home with Harry’s neice Emily Quick, who was later to marry one of the sons of automotive and aviation pioneer John Siddeley.

In 1896, perhaps as consolation for the rejection of his council house plans, Harry had been awarded the design for the new police station and magistrates’ court in St Mary’s Street. But as the new century dawned, he increasingly turned his attention to houses.

The most important was his design, in 1909, for Allesley Hall, a new house in Arts and Crafts style for the printer and newspaper proprietor William Iliffe.

Although his practice was still based in Coventry, he completed a number of Kenilworth projects in the years leading up to the First World War, including the landmark clock tower in 1907, a Parochial Hall (1911) and Post Office (1913).

During the war, Harry’s talents were once more put to use as a factory architect. In 1915 he designed a new factory for the Hotchkiss company in Gosford street, a building that went up so fast that its workforce liked to joke that the management added a new storey every night.

Hotchkiss Factory Construction 1915
Hotchkiss Factory under construction 1915

He was also responsible for the huge complex of factories created for the munitions firm of White & Poppe in Holbrooks, later adapting part of the sprawling site for William Lyons, when he brought his motorcycle sidecar business to Coventry in the late 1920s.

During the Great War, the Quicks also involved themselves in the welfare of veterans and their families. Indeed, Eliza was awarded an MBE for her work as Secretary of the Warwickshire War Pensions Committee.

She died in 1929 and Harry followed in August 1935, leaving a substantial estate that in today’s money would be worth over £2 million.

As for the project that got away? The next design for the new Council House, drawn up in 1906, envisaged municipal shops on the ground floor with offices above, just as the ‘shopocracy’ wanted.

The scheme required a loan from the Local Government Board to go ahead but was rejected by the radical trade unionist and Liberal MP John Burns, then serving in Campbell-Bannerman’s government as President of the Local Government Board. Burns, who as a young man had worked as an engineer in Coventry, decided that the idea of ground-floor shops was not worthy of the city and turned it down flat.

The next plan, submitted in 1910, was for the building we see today. Harry Quick must have felt somewhat vindicated by that.

Peter Walters

Where should the Cross go?


On 15th November 2018, contrary to the recommendation of Historic England, the Council granted planning permission to relocate the replica Coventry Cross from its current location next to Holy Trinity Church to Ironmonger Row in order to create more outdoor space for the Slug and Lettuce and a restaurant in  Cathedral Lanes.

However at the same meeting that the decision was made, Cllr Jim O’Boyle, the Cabinet Member for Regeneration said that in response to the opposition to the relocation, an alternative option was “to place it adjacent to Primark, overlooking Holy Trinity Church.”

The Coventry Society still believes that the Cross, once demolished, will never be rebuilt because of the costs involved. Some council officers are already talking about putting up a cheaper piece of modern art instead.

However we are happy to be proved wrong about this and our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, has been investigating the original location of the cross. By superimposing historic maps and aerial photos of the city, Paul has identified the original location of the cross, which is not far away from the location proposed by Cllr O’Boyle.

CovCross1CovCross2CovCross3CovCross4CovCross5 The replica cross was erected in 1976 and represents the long lost mid-16th century cross which stood in the Cross Cheaping until its destruction in the 18th century. It is also believed that the original cross replaced an ever earlier medieval Eleanor Cross.

The historic location of the cross is now part of Broadgate, between Primark and Cathedral Lanes.

The Coventry Society would like to Council to carry out a public consultation about the future location of the rebuilt Coventry Cross and we would like to see the historic location included in the options given to the public.


Broad Street Meeting Hall – Starts on Site

BSMH artist impression
Broad Street Community Meeting Hall – artists impression

The Coventry Society welcomes the news that work has started on the construction of the new Broad Street Community Meeting Hall in Foleshill.

Broad Street Meeting Hall is a multi-cultural facility for all communities in Foleshill. The organisation is led by Coventry Society member Alan Griffiths and has been operating for 18 years.

Last year the organisation was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, sometimes described as the equivalent of an MBE for voluntary organisations. The award was presented by the Deputy Lieutenant of the West Midlands, Mr Les Ratcliffe MBE, at an event hosted by the City Council in St. Mary’s Hall on 26th November.

On 19th February the diggers moved onto site and started the preparation work for the new building. The concrete base has now been laid in preparation for the metal framework. It is anticipated that work will be completed by Christmas. In the meantime activities continue in the adjoining building, which used to be occupied by Broad Street Windows.

The project is funded by a Big Lottery Grant of £1 million.

On Saturday 18th May there will be an Open Day at the site between 12 noon and 3pm. The event will include the “Laying of The Stone” for the new community hall. There will be tea, coffee and cake (and maybe a locally made samosa or two!) and fundraising towards the final 5% of the cost.

Who was Richard Lee?

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.

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.

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

Earlsdon’s Lost Industrial Heritage

1905 Rexette
1905 Rexette, ‘the king of little cars’ made in Osborne Road, Earlsdon.

Monday 11th March 2019 at 7.30 p.m. at the Shopfront Theatre, City Arcade.

John Purcell, from the Earlsdon Research Group

Earlsdon was created in 1852 by the Freehold Land Society. Gradually weavers and watchmakers bought plots and built their houses, often with ‘top shops’.

Weavers soon were driven out of business. By 1891 71 houses were devoted to watchmaking employing around half of the working population. But 10 years later the industry was in deep trouble.

What were the apprenticed son’s of skilled watchmakers to do? Thus began a flourishing period of bicycle, motor bike and motor car innovation and manufacturing together with machine tools, tubular bells and motor components. The biggest employers in the 1920s had over 200 workers often crammed into a small side street.

Many closed before the 2nd World War or had moved to bigger premises. Virtually all were gone by the late 20th century. In this illustrated presentation John Purcell looks at some of the people involved, what they did and what little remains of their legacy: a legacy worth celebrating.


Crown Bakery 3
Crown Bakery

John Purcell is a former academic with a research and teaching interest in employment relations. He has worked for many government agencies and written books on industrial relations issues and management. He is an active member of the Earlsdon Research Group.

Coventry Society meetings are free for members. Visitors are welcome and asked to make a voluntary donation of £2 towards costs. 

Non members are welcome to book free tickets here. 

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