Traditional Christmas Fare

Festive food has varied somewhat over the centuries, but turkey, although not the main dish until about a hundred years ago, has been one of our favourites for well over four centuries. Goose, pheasant, capon, swan and even bustard have been frequent fare and the oldest of all was the boar’s head (and then its attached flesh) paraded into great halls with much ceremony. An essential ingredient to go with this was mustard, so essential that when celebration meals were proscribed in puritan times, mustard makers were almost threatened with extinction. Even more exotic was peacock, which was skinned, roasted and then fully redressed in its plumage before being displayed as a table centrepiece.

The predecessor of our modern mince pie was the Christmas Pie, which was meat based, rather than being filled with sweetened fruit. One ancient recipe used two bushels of flour, twenty pounds of butter, four geese, two turkeys, two rabbits and a mixture of curlews, blackbirds, pigeons, partridges, snipe, woodcock and tongue. These had to be baked in an oval dish which represented the Christ-child’s manger.

The nursery rhyme involving Little Jack Horner arose from such a pie. Jack Horner was the steward to Abbot Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, who sent a huge Christmas pie to King Henry the Eighth, as he was busy dissolving or destroying monasteries, in the hope of keeping in the king’s favour. Horner was charged with the task of transporting the pie to London but succumbed to eating some of it on the way and discovered, hidden within, the deeds of twelve Somerset manors. He appropriated those for the Manor of Mells for himself and the Horner family still owns the property to this day.

Until recently, it was considered unlucky to refuse a mince pie if offered. Nowadays, if you eat one on every one of the twelve days of Christmas your good future will be assured.

Plum-porridge, or plum-pottage, was served right at the beginning of the Christmas meal and was made by boiling mutton and beef with broth thickened with breadcrumbs, raisins, currants and prunes and then seasoned with wine and spices. It was later modified and became plum pudding or plum duff and was served at the end of the meal instead.

On the liquid front, the wassail bowl (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘waes hael’ meaning ‘Be well’) was raised in toasts. In 1599, the Commander in Chief of the English Navy created a traditional punch with – a cask of Malaga, 80 casks of brandy, 9 casks of water, 80 pints of lemon juice, 1,300 lbs of sugar 5 lbs of nutmeg and 25,000 limes.

Popular drinks were lambswool (ale, roasted apples, sugar, spices, eggs, thick cream and pieces of bread), whipcoll (brandy, beaten egg yolks, sugar and cream), egg-hot (hot cider mixed with spices and eggs) and ale posset (hot milk, ale, sugar and spices).

With thanks to CovSoc member Brian Stote for this interesting article!

Council Trials Electric Bin Lorries

Electric bin lorries could soon be used in the city after a trial was successful this month, bringing a breath of fresh air to the city.

The bin lorries are fully electric with zero emissions and are able to work a nine-hour shift after just six hours 45 minutes battery charge.  The Council hopes to gradually replace the diesel fleet to help reduce air pollution in residential areas as well as meeting green targets for carbon reduction.

Councillor Patricia Hetherton, Cabinet Member for City Services said: “We were really excited to trial one of these new fully electric refuse vehicles this week. What a difference it will make to the environment and for health if we can switch to an electric bin fleet.

“Our bin crews cover thousands of miles each year so it’s great that a crew got to actually put this all electric version through its paces. It was out on a round for three full days and the crews seem to really like it.  The company that manufactures the vehicles are based in Warwick, so we are also supporting a local industry as well as positively contributing to the environment and health of our residents.”

Steven Wightman, Waste Operations Manager, said: “It is important for crews that the electric vehicles can match the performance of our usual lorries, particularly in terms of payload, reliability and manoeuvrability.  We are pleased to have had the opportunity to trial this new technology and look forward to the day when the electric fleet operates throughout the City”.

The vehicle was loaned by manufacturers, Dennis Eagle, for crews to test on their rounds.  If the trial is considered successful, the new vehicles could progressively replace all refuse diesel vehicles in the fleet.  All vehicles will use noise emitters and reversing warnings.

The Council have been successful in gaining a grant of £2.2 million from Highways England to provide electric vehicles for local organisations to trial in order to give them a real-life insight into the benefits of switching to electric vehicles. Over the next two years the Council will provide vehicles free of charge alongside offering advice and guidance for companies considering the change to an electric fleet.

Businesses can register for a free trial and find more information about the project on the Council’s website.

Coventry Architect Wins Prestigious Award

Coventry architect and recent graduate Jess Tyson has shown she can build for the future after winning a national design competition. Jess Tyson came top in the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) Philip Webb Award which celebrates new design in the context of historic buildings.

Jess created an exciting new use for a block of disused buildings in Nottingham City Centre.

Inspired by the current climate emergency, Jess’ project asked why so many buildings sat vacant or were scheduled for demolition when redevelopment through imaginative new design could provide them with a new lease of life.

Jess, who graduated from the University of Nottingham this year, chose three sites in the city – all with distinct characters and in various conditions and reimagined them as a community arts centre and performance venue.

The scheme looked at the Grade-II listed 1888 Nottingham Guildhall, the Art-Deco inspired fire station, and the 1954 ‘island’ building that extends the Guildhall. Judges commended her for her focus on sustainability and her exciting elements of new design.

Jess said: “One of the problems that kickstarted my thesis was the acknowledgment of the threats posed to our historic sites as more buildings become neglected, vacant and demolished.

“I feel quite passionately that this problem, especially in the midst of our current climate emergency, is a priority for architects to address – my project hopes to form a new vision for building conservation which is more accessible, achievable and sustainable for more people to carry out.”

Second place was awarded to a team of architecture students from Birmingham School of Architecture and Design for their scheme that imagined the refurbishment of Moseley Road Baths which was highlighted by Chris Patrick in his recent talk to the Coventry Society.

The SPAB was delighted to see so many schemes put forward for the 2020 Philip Webb Award that tackled the urgent issue of sustainability in the construction industry.

Very Light Rail project moves forward

Prototype Very Light Rail Vehicle

In June 2020 we reported progress with the Very Light Rail Project (VLR) in Coventry. Since then the vehicle development project has delivered its very light rail (VLR) prototype vehicle to the Quinton Rail Technology Centre in Warwickshire for final assembly and system integration, ahead of testing in February.

The work will be carried out by NP Aerospace, which was appointed to the project in August.

Following assembly, the VLR will undergo a programme of validation tests in February 2021 at the project’s new Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC) in Dudley, West Midlands. Subsequently, it will be used to demonstrate the technology to stakeholders and potential sponsors.

The project is being developed on behalf of the city of Coventry by the University of Warwick’s Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) department, alongside the Revolution VLR consortium of partners, which comprises Transport Design International (TDI), Eversholt Rail, Cummins, RDM Group and Transcal Engineering.

The design phase of the project was funded through a £12.2m grant from the British government’s West Midlands Combined Authority Devolution Deal, with an additional £2.45m from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership LEP Growth Fund.

Phase 2, which covers the production of the prototype, is funded through a £2.75m grant from the Department for Transport (DfT), which will be matched by the consortium partners.

RVLR aims to develop a more cost-effective, battery-powered alternative to traditional LRVs for use in small and medium-sized cities such as Coventry, which can operate without catenary on quickly installable track.

The project aims to develop vehicles with an unladen weight of less than one tonne/m3 and an axle load of four tonnes, with a capacity of 20 seated and 30 standing passengers and a target selling price of £650,000.

“WMG are delighted that the vehicle build is running on plan in spite of Covid-19,” says Dr James Meredith, senior research fellow in the VLR project at WMG. “The project is an excellent showcase for British engineering and manufacturing, with over 70% British content.”

The project is divided into four parts, which are being carried out simultaneously:

  • design, construction, and testing of a VLR vehicle prototype
  • design, development, and testing of a low-cost modular track
  • development of a design and business case for a line in Coventry, and
  • design, planning and delivery of an operations and maintenance strategy.

The Riddle of the Bridge to Nowhere

As you drive northwards out of Coventry, travelling along Hall Green Rd.; after about 500 yards, just beyond the junction with Almond Tree Ave. there is a footbridge over the river Sowe. The river runs immediately alongside the road at that point. The bridge crosses the river, and takes you into the greenspace alongside the river and that’s it – no footpath, no clear reason why the bridge is there.

I was bought up in Bell green and as a kid in the very early 60’s I remember sitting alongside the river adjacent to the same bridge, watching Sticklebacks and Water Voles – definitely Water Voles (stubby tails) . There was plenty of life in the river even then, although it was almost certainly more heavily polluted then than it is today.

But back to the bridge. I’ve walked past it and over it innumerable times. And have always been intrigued by it – what was the point of it? Back in the 60’s it was more original, maybe the arching was more apparent and it had lower, rickety rails on either side. Sometime later, probably the 1970’s, the river was given a proper tidy up. The roadside bank was strengthened with a concrete wall to prevent the river undermining Hall Green Rd and the bridge was saddled with a neat concrete slab and modern railings. However, despite the tidying, the original sandstone arch of the bridge remains and is still clearly visible in the attached photograph.

It isn’t until you start to investigate that the bridge makes any sense at all. The bridge makes sense in terms what it used to provide access to. The Manor House estate to the east of Hall Green Road is unsurprisingly named after “The Manor House”. However, there is no physical evidence of the house and farm that used to be there. The bridge however was the principal access point to the farm. The arch of the bridge is of Sandstone rather than brick which would indicate that it is of some considerable age. The location of the manor house was some 200 metres east of the bridge, somewhere near the junction of what is now Sycamore Rd. and Walnut St.

I’m looking to find out more about the history of this intriguing building. British History Online, when looking at the outlying parts of Coventry, specifically Foleshill says –

“A ‘house and homestead’ held by Joseph Slingsby from Richard Hopkins in 1776 (fn. 84) stood between Hall Green Road and Tackley Brook. (fn. 85) It was known as Foleshill Hall in the early 19th century, when it was still leased by the Slingsby family, and was first referred to as Manor House about 1850. (fn. 86) By the 1880s, when extensive repairs were being carried out to the house and farm buildings, it was called Manor Farm or Manor House Farm. (fn. 87) Its proximity to Hall Green, which was possibly one of the earliest settlements in the parish (see below) and which by its name indicates the presence of some substantial house, suggests that this Foleshill Hall or Manor House may have been, or have replaced, a medieval building, but nothing is known of the house’s history before the late 18th century. It disappeared in the construction of the Manor House building estate about 1955.”

If the buildings weren’t demolished until 1955, there is a good chance that there are still people locally with memories of the farm. I’d love to hear from anyone who knows anything about it. There may even be photographs. The 1912, 6” Ordnance Survey Map of the area shows “Manor House” as a quadrangle of buildings, with a small pond to the north – east of the buildings and an orchard to the south.

There are lots of unanswered questions. Was this the Hall that gave Hall Green its name. Does a medieval building predate the eighteen century building referred to. The location would have been perfect for a medieval manor house, standing on a slight rise in the ground surrounded by rivers/streams on three sides. Does anyone know more of the history of the house or of the bridge itself? No doubt there is more that I can unearth by looking through old records and maps, which I intend to do, but I’m keen to hear from anyone who knows more. Let me know if you have information or know of older local people who might have memories of Manor House Farm.

So whatever we can learn about Foleshill Hall or Manor House Farm, the bridge provides us with a reminder of what would once have been one of the principal buildings in the area.

In the meantime I’ll be getting in touch with the City Council’s Conservation Officer to talk about whether it is worth including the bridge on the City Council’s local list of historic buildings / structures given that it provides the only physical link with what was once Foleshill Hall or Manor House Farm.

Peter Hunter, Coventry Society Committee Member