Covsoc members Peter Walters reports on a recent Coventry Conference.
Coventry Society members were well represented among a near sell-out audience of around 150 at a conference held in the city’s St Mary’s Hall on September 27 to consider its magnificent Tudor tapestry.
Over nearly seven hours, some of the country’s leading experts attempted to answer questions that surround the tapestry, regarded as the oldest in Britain still hanging on the wall for which it was designed, but in many respects still a mystery.
Where was the tapestry woven and when? Who commissioned it? Who are all the characters flanking the central figures of King Henry VI and his Queen, Margaret of Anjou, and what was the purpose behind the creation of such an expensive work of art?
The conference, organised by Medieval Coventry’s Mark Webb, alongside colleagues from the Tudor Coventry group, opened with a presentation from the distinguished Tudor historian Professor David Starkey, setting out the challenges of trying to ‘read’ a tapestry that does not appear in the official record of the time.
He was followed by Mark Webb, reminding the audience of Coventry’s status as the regional capital of the Midlands in the years 1480 to 1520, and then Dr Joanna Laynesmith from Reading University, a specialist in the study of medieval queenship, whose subject was the relationship between Margaret of Anjou and Coventry, dubbed at the time as her ‘secret arbour’.
Buildings archaeologist Dr Kate Giles, from the University of York, set St Mary’s Hall in the context of other public buildings from the Middle Ages. And the final presentation of the morning session was given by Professor Maria Hayward, a textile conservation expert from Southampton University, who put forward a possible location for the tapestry’s manufacture (the Brussels area) and its probable cost (around £15).
Dr Jonathan Foyle, historian and archaeologist, took as his theme the fifteenth century ‘nine kings’ stained glass window that hangs above the tapestry and put forward a new interpretation of it, including the likelihood that the kings actually appear in the wrong order in the glass.
The Coventry-based independent historian Fred Hepburn, who followed him, applied a forensic interpretation to the tapestry and the characters in it. As a specialist in sixteenth century portraiture, he believed that the character hitherto thought to be Richard III was in fact his father, Richard, Duke of York, and that the tapestry was of a later date than had been supposed – 1510 at the earliest, instead of around the turn of the century.
The final speaker, Mika Takami from the tapestry conservation team at Hampton Court Palace, reported on her earlier brief study of the tapestry, confirming that it is in reasonable condition, but posing further questions about its conservation, in the event that it is possible to access the case in which it hangs and take a closer look.
With so many historians in the room, it was predictable that simple answers to all of the questions surrounding the tapestry would not emerge by the end of the day.
But there are plans to publish the presentations and conclusions of all the speakers and the conference achieved its broader aim of opening up the St Mary’s Hall tapestry to the kind of expert focus and attention it should be exposed to as a work of international importance.
Ben Flippance, Design Director of IDP Architects, challenged the Coventry Society to think about the impact of autonomous vehicles on the future environment at our September meeting.
The car already shapes the development of our towns and cities. Ben showed us photographs of Las Vegas, Morton in Marsh and the redeveloped Longbridge Car Factory to demonstrate how the car determines the shape of the urban form. At Longbridge, where you pretty much have to arrive by car, the layout is determined by large car parks and large construction units.
Vehicle designers define five levels of automation, ranging from level 0, which is no automation at all to level four, where the vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles.
It is predicted that autonomous vehicles will come to prominence between 2040 – 2070.
Autonomous vehicles offer great opportunities for disabled people, many of whom never leave their home.
Once we are all using autonomous vehicles there is the prospect of faster and safer travel. Vehicles can be put into “road trains” which can allow cars to be closer together at high speed on dedicated smaller roads.
Ben argued that personal ownership of cars is likely to decline because of the legal implication of accidents and it is probable that in the future cars will be owned by car companies and hired or leased to travellers.
Another implication is that less space will be needed for roads leading to the release of land for other uses. When autonomous cars are not in use, they can park themselves away from city centres, on the edge of towns where land is cheaper. With autonomous cars there is less need for the plethora of road signs and street clutter and residential streets could be reclaimed from the dominance of parked cars.
Once we no longer need to drive our cars there are opportunities to do other things in them, such as office activity, mobile living space and sleeping. Ben went on to suggest that this could be taken further. He argued that there is a continuum running from a car to a big car, a camper van, a motorhome, a caravan, a static caravan and a house and autonomous vehicles could take on any of these roles. Units could be docked together in small to large developments. In a flight of fancy he showed drawings of the possible configurations of autonomous vehicles in the future.
Of course there were a few non sequiturs in the presentation. It doesn’t seem likely that docking sites and such developments would take place if the vehicles are not owned by individuals. Also the interim period whilst there is a mixed economy of autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles is likely to limit the benefits that could be achieved.
However Ben laid down the challenge of thinking about what the future might be like if we widely adopt autonomous vehicles!
Stoke Aldermoor native, Kevin Conway, has written to us to about his plans to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the filming of the Italian Job.
On Friday 18th October there is a plan to erect and unveil a commemorative plaque to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the making of the film ‘The Italian Job’.
A scene from iconic film was actually filmed in the Stoke Aldermoor area of Coventry. In the film there was a car chase involving that great British car the ‘Mini’.
During the chase there was a scene where the vehicles were driven through a sewer pipe. This part of the film was actually filmed in Stoke Aldermoor on the park next to The Lindfield.
To film this scene, the crew lowered the mini cars into the sewer by crane. The person driving the crane was a Neville Goode, a local driver who still lives in Stoke Aldermoor.
Kevin says “We want to raise awareness of the making of this iconic film and its significance to the local area. We feel that erecting a commemorative plaque will not only increase local peoples’ awareness of this piece of history, but it will also attract visitors from all over the country.
“On the day of the unveiling we have arranged for the Oscar winning film producer, Michael Deeley, who has also produced films such as ‘The Deer Hunter’ and ‘Blade Runner’, to come to Coventry to unveil the plaque. Also accompanying him will be David Salamone who drove the red mini in the film.”
Also at the event will be Remy Julienne, the French Motorcross Champion who was a stunt driver for the film . In his homeland his driving skills were recognised as some of the best and his charismatic driving led him to become France’s most respected stunt drivers. Eventually he set up his own stunt driving company ‘Remy Julienne L’Equipe’, a self-contained team of highly skilled drivers and mechanics. His break onto the international stage came when he was asked to complete the stunt work on The Italian Job, since then Remy Julienne L’Equipe hasn’t looked back. Half a dozen Bond films and other similar action movies have benefited from his stunt work and the impressive portfolio continues to grow.
The plaque will be unveiled at 2 p.m. on Friday 18th October and flowers will be presented to some key people. A signed pair of gloves will be presented to the local crane driver who lent his pair to Remy during filming. The will then be photo sessions and introductions and the event will finish at around 3.30 p.m.
Kevin added “This is a small springboard event we are holding for the City of Culture 2021. We are organizing minis to drive through surface laid tunnels along the original route (parallel with the Linfield). The response to this has been fantastic. Hollywood is coming to Stoke Aldermoor (who would have thought it). Stoke Aldermoor will be a mecca for film buffs and mini enthusiasts around the world.”
Anyone who would like to be involved, or who is able to help in any way, can contact Kevin by calling him on 07434 562909 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
By Nobby Clarke – Founder of Coventry Winter Night Shelter and Coventry Emergency Shelter
I started a personal and steep learning curve about homelessness, when I set up the Coventry Winter Night Shelter back in December 2013. It is important to acknowledge just how much effort goes into helping those on the streets from a range of local people and groups, especially over the winter months. It is through these shared experiences that we understand the common frustration, that no matter what is being done the needs continue to increase. We see that homelessness is now affecting more people across the generations and from more ordinary circumstances than we may have experienced previously. Ultimately though, much will depend upon whether a person takes the view that homelessness is the result of the acts and/or omissions of the individual or that of the state, or a combination of both.
Who are the homeless?
What you see on the streets is NOT the full story of homelessness but IS a barometer of the issue……. just the visible tip of an otherwise hidden iceberg of need, the more you see the bigger the problem. We are NOT going to resolve this issue by focusing on those who we see begging, which merely causes us to deflect our attention away from the massive problem of homelessness in our towns and cities.
Homelessness including street homelessness is LESS about the complex issues of those we see and more simply the inability of someone to be able to sustain permanent accommodation. It is a national problem but with no national strategy or coordination with solutions being left to regional and local initiatives with heavy reliance upon the voluntary sector.
People finding themselves homeless need time. Time to establish themselves and help to slowly rise from their pit of despair, not to be burdened further by unhelpful interventions and enforcements. Many have given up walking through the revolving door of the limited help available, which eventually sees them back where they started with their feelings of failure reinforced.
What is needed, is an understanding that homelessness, like an illness, takes a period of convalescence and that recovery is far more than a set of keys to a front door. Having no address makes legitimate employment unlikely and leaves many prey to exploitation and abuse and with even less chance of recovery, if any complexities are not properly addressed. It sometimes appears that there are those who have this vision of someone on the streets tucked up in a warm sleeping bag with a cup of coffee, having cleaned their teeth and changed into their pyjamas, on their laptop, plugged into the shop door and connected to Wifi, searching for jobs and places to rent! The real story is of someone very cold snatching a few moments of broken sleep, continually nervous of those passing by and completely unconnected to anything and in no fit state to reasonably engage with anyone!
All that having been said, the real disturbing and hidden part of this iceberg of need is of children and families squashed into B&B’s, sharing rooms in hostels and sofa surfing (bed begging), the statistics for which are very hard to see as anything other than a gross underestimation of the problem. I would also argue, that the focus of attention on street homelessness is disproportionate to the overall issue of homelessness itself. Not only are these environments unsuitable for people to live in and detrimental to their health and development, especially for children but they come at a massive cost to Local Government who are already strapped for cash.
Much is talked about in the news about the shortage of housing and proposed affordable homes initiatives but it is far less the case that people are homeless for the lack of housing stock, than for the lack of funds to be able to procure and sustain the costs of that accommodation.
There are also some disturbing rules that bring extra misery to this situation. Terms like ‘No Local Connection’ operates across the nation and broadly applies to anyone who cannot prove a recent residency in the area and/or has no relatives there. This means that someone will be denied access to homelessness services and advised to return home. Then there is ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’, which broadly applies to anyone unable to claim benefits and cannot prove tax having been paid in the UK. This largely applies to many of our EU residents but can also catch out UK citizens returning after a prolonged period abroad with insufficient funds to sustain themselves. There are too many circumstances where people fall through the gaps of provision and find themselves destitute and unsupported and all too often we hear the cry of ‘does not meet the criteria’.
A new housing team has been recently developed in the City and it is encouraging to see more focus being given over to the issue of homelessness with the formation of a dedicated team to look specifically at homelessness prevention and to work directly with rough-sleepers. This gives far better access and more credible applications to more funding streams when they become available.
There certainly must be a drastic and wholesale change to the way in which homelessness is addressed as we face the choice between becoming immune to the problem, or fighting in every way possible to restore dignity to this vulnerable section of our community.
There needs to be a National Strategy which not only sets out the aspiration to end homelessness but which ensures (and properly funds) ALL Local Authorities to have a coordinated and cooperative approach to this issue.
The ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ and ‘No local Connection’ rules need to be abolished on the principle that if they are here, they are our responsibility.
Any strategy needs to have at its core, the principle that there should always be a willingness for agencies and partners to plug ALL the gaps and signpost to each other and not simply away from one.
Efforts should be made to gain the confidence and support of the public for any strategy, along with a greater level of understanding for what is being done and how they can help.
You can down load Coventry’s Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2019 from here.
You can respond to a City Council consultation on the Rough Sleeping Strategyhere. [You will need to be registered with “Let’s Talk Coventry” to see this document.]
CovSoc is joining with photo enthusiasts Igers Coventry and Warwickshire on a tour of Coventry’s iconic 1950s architecture.
Igers Coventry & Warwickshire are a community organisation that focuses on bringing together photographers for local events using Instagram.
The Society were approached after our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, led a tour of the city centre for Civic Day in June 2019. Igers liked the leaflet that Paul produced and felt that it would make a good basis for a photo shoot in the city.
The photo event is taking place on Sunday 13th October from 4.00 p.m. The group will meet outside Cafe Nero (the circular cafe) in the Lower Precinct. It is estimated that the tour will take around 2 hours and the plan is to finish at a local pub for a friendly drink and to talk all things photography.
Photographers who attend the event are asked to post at least 3 images on their Instagram page using the #igcov_coventrysociety and tag the images @igerscoventry within 10 days of event. The Coventry Society will be selecting their 3 favourite images to feature on the Igers account.
For CovSoc’s October meeting we have a presentation by CovSoc member Brian Stote about changes in Broadgate and its environs.
Brian Stote is a member of CovSoc who has researched the history of the Broadgate area.
Brian will be showing a series of images, mainly photographs, showing how Broadgate and the roads which have radiated from it have changed over time. The presentation was originally conceived as an aid to reminiscence for older people but has grown into a comprehensive collection illustrating the many alterations to the city’s heart which have taken place over around two hundred years.
CovSoc meetings are free for members. Visitors are welcome and invited to make a £2 contribution towards room hire and refreshments.
Please note that this meeting is one week earlier than our normal meeting.