Dr Richard Sadler, Photographer, (1927-2020) RIP


Richard Sadler was probably Coventry’s pre-eminent post-war photographer, capturing life in and around the city for sixty years. Born in Hillfields in 1927, he spent much of his youth unwell, spending time in infirmaries and convalescent homes in the nearby countryside.

His photographic career started in 1948 with training at the Edward Eaves Studio in Leamington but Richard soon left to make his own way. He continued documenting the life of a city devastated by war, including a series following his Victorian grandmother, Minnie Sadler, as she goes about her day in 1951, which he exhibited in Coventry in 2015.

Copies of Weegee the Famous are held by the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum among others.

His early success came as a commercial photographer, hired by major businesses in the city, including Wimpey, Jaguar, Courtaulds and the Belgrade Theatre, for whom he photographed for forty years. He was also the photographer for the Royal Shakespeare Company for many years and the official photographer for Coventry Cathedral. His most famous image came in Coventry – a photograph of Arthur Fellig, also known as WeeGee – taken outside of Owen Owen (now Primark) when WeeGee was touring England to promote Zenith cameras. He also took Ken Dodd for fish and chips, producing another celebrated image of the Diddyman.

The 1950s and 1960s were an intense period for Richard – busy as a commercial photographer but also as an aspiring social documentarist and artist. As part of John Wiles’s ‘Never Had it So Good’, a play written by Wiles in Coventry and performed at the Belgrade Theatre, about poverty persisting amidst the post war economic boom. Sadler followed Wiles across the city, photographing the playwright as he researched, capturing the boom era in the newly-minted precinct as well as areas still awaiting redevelopment in Hillfields and Spon End. This work foreshadowed the later photography of Nick Hedges and the film making of Ken Loach as a way of tackling political issues through imagery and inspired his life-long friendship with another Coventry photographer John Blakemore.

During the 1970s and the 1980s Richard continued to capture Coventry life, including a series about life in Earlsdon and a focus on the CND movement in Coventry. He also supported a new Coventry photography collective called Positive Images, which included Alan Sprung and John Wiley, in the late 1980s. His association with Derby University, began in 1967, with Sadler eventually becoming Course Director for BA Photography, a post he held until retirement in 1992. His solo exhibition at the University in 1992 attracted a great deal of attention and praise.

This man was photographed at the Coventry research centre of fabric-makers Courtaulds

He retired to Monmouth on the Welsh borders but in 2015 returned to Coventry to exhibit his early Hillfields photography, along with John Blakemore, Masterji and Jason Scott Tilley as part of Imagine Hillfields.

Dr Ben Kyneswood, Coventry University and Photo Miners.

CovSooc Deputy Chair, Paul Maddocks adds:

“I first know Richard Sadler in 1966 when I was a very young art student of 16 and he was a our photographic tutor on Friday afternoons. He was working freelance and taught us how to develop film in the dark room, making prints, etc. But one of the best things was he would give us each a twin reflex camera and tell us to go around the city photographing the new buildings and the people using them.

“Another great thing was he took us to see his studio in Stoneleigh Terrace. It was on the 1st floor in one of the old grand Victorian houses designed by James Murray – sadly a few years late it was demolished to make way for the Ring Road.

“The main thing that impressed us all was how ‘cool’ he was – smart, good looking, a sexy job and he had the power to get people to relax and do things that he suggested. He would know exactly when to take that photograph that would tell a thousand words.

“Later on I got to re-know him when I was working at the Transport Museum and he was wondering if the Museum would like to buy some of his photographs of the various manufacturers around the city. Some of his famous photographs include The Goons, Ken Dodd, plus the famous Chicago photographer ‘Weegee’ and many others who are all included in his enormous archive that spans more than sixty years. Interestingly he photographed Ron Morgan the founder of the Coventry Society in his Toy Museum.

“He was a wonderful man and we will miss him a lot.”

Proposed development at Brownshill Green

P1060659 - Copy
The trackway to the former Brownshill Green Farm

It’s hardly surprising that Brownshill Green residents are up in arms over the prospect of expanding their rural fringe hamlet with as many as 475 homes. No doubt the residents who have back gardens looking onto the fields of Coundon Wedge will be accused of being nimbys. But this isn’t a fair criticism when the community at Brownshill Green is a well-established, traditional mix of town dwellers and the farming fraternity. An expanded community of incomers will change it forever.

The hamlet is scheduled to become a Conservation Area in the recently published Coventry Local Plan.

P1100695 - Copy
Centre of Brownshill Green hamlet from the trackway

There are however good reasons why this housing development should be put on hold for the foreseeable future. It needs to be viewed in the context of other large developments that are about to take place: on the A45 at Eastern Green and the other huge development at Keresley.

It appears from what we read in the press that the Council is considering whether an environmental impact assessment is required. Surely this is absolutely essential as the combination of the several housing developments will have a huge knock-on effect for residents in Allesley, Coundon, Radford and Chapelfields. In truth, apart from the need for more schools, a local shop and doctors, the whole argument must surely revolve around the matter of getting around. More households joining the ever increasing tide of traffic from Birmingham and north Warwickshire shouldn’t be an option. The pollution issue is also dire and according to National Government must be remedied.

P1150919 - Copy
The former Brownshill Green Farmhouse, now the RSPCA headquarters

Take a look at all the cities in the same league as Coventry and most have several park and ride hubs. Coventry has one. This must change so that the in and out tide of traffic is reduced to a manageable proportion. These transport hubs really should be the centres of a rapid transport network linking the city centre, the West Coast Mainline, the rail stations to Birmingham, Rugby, Leamington and Nuneaton. And local transport to these hubs? Push bikes, electric cycles, district centre buses, even cars! We need to think outside the box otherwise our roads in and out of the city become more and more unbearable for motorists and I pity the people living on or near these main roads who have to breathe the exhaust gases.

Then there’s the question of whether it’s desirable to nibble away at another section of Coundon Wedge. The city desperately needs this ‘green lung’ to mitigate pollution levels across the city. We are also in urgent need of better ‘countryside’ recreation facilities and we shouldn’t forget that the Wedge, less than two miles from the city centre, fulfils this purpose admirably. The city desperately needs this ‘lung’. Why haven’t we designated it a country park encouraging young and old to better acquaint themselves with the healing power of nature.

We are a long way off balancing all these factors. So before further housing developments are brought forward in Coventry north-west a more realistic appreciation of the area needs to be taken by the Council. Yes, the site at Brownshill Green was finally adopted for housing in December 2018, but there are hugely important considerations that need to be taken into account before another brick is laid.

You can look at the application on the council’s Planning Portal

Keith Draper, former Chairman of the Coventry Society

P1100701 - Copy
The White Lion Pub from the trackway

The Beech Tree on Wheels

View of the Three Spires from Greyfriars Green before the view was obscured by The Quadrant

The following story was reported in the Coventry Herald in October 1850:


“A singular scene was exhibited through a line of the principal streets in this city, on Tuesday afternoon last, in the removal of a full-grown tree, from the late nursery-ground of Mr. Ogden, at Warwick Row, to the Cemetery on the London Road.

“This tree, a purple beech, was planted by the late Alderman Weare when he occupied the nursery, and could not be far short of a century old. It was of splendid growth, and its beautiful proportions rendered it a perfect picture, and the admiration of all who looked upon it.

“The removal has been a work of considerable time, difficulty, and expense. A number of workmen were employed several weeks in excavating the roots. When this was done, the placing of it upon a carriage in a fit manner for transit was a most perplexing operation ; especially after the breaking down of one carriage in the experiment.

“Then came the somewhat hazardous undertaking of conveying it in an upright position along the thoroughfares – Hertford Street, High Street, Earl Street, and Much Park Street, to the Cemetery. The making of this route occupied several hours, amidst many hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators.

“There were various stoppages ; and not a few loppings off of branches became necessary, in order to prevent excessive damage to the fronts of houses, thus mutilating and depriving the tree to some extent of its exquisite symmetry ; and notwithstanding all the sacrifices made, and precautions taken, some mischief ensued, though not to any very great amount, in the breaking of windows and other defacings.

“On arriving at the Cemetery it was taken up Green Lane, where a part of the wall was taken down to admit its entry to that part of the ground destined to receive it. The result of this undertaking will now be watched with some interest in ascertaining whether so large and mature a tree can be firmly rooted, and still preserved in the flourishing beauty which has won for it so much admiration, and that high valuation, which led to the determination to transfer it from one spot to the other.”

Victorian antiquarian, Benjamin Poole, in his 1852 History of Coventry, adds the following to the Herald’s article:

“Its immense roots were embedded in the earth without delay, and ever since, whatever scientific and skilful management could do to prevent its vitality from declining, has been done for that purpose. The experiment has been watched with some interest, and up to this period (the winter of 1851) – the opinions of horticulturists are divided on the question, whether so large a tree will long survive transplantation ; – whether it can be again so firmly routed as to preserve its beauty in a flourishing condition for many years longer. It stands on a flat piece of ground a short distance from the Dissenters’ burial chapel, and will easily be distinguished when in leaf, by its dark and majestic foliage.”

For many decades the Purple Beech tree (sometimes referred to as a Copper Beech) had stood in a nursery formerly known as Sheriff’s Orchard, and belonging to former mayor, James Weare, who had served a rare three consecutive terms at the head of Coventry’s Council from 1824 to 1826. Weare (a nurseryman known by many as “Seedy”) died in 1833 at the age of 68.

Estimated location of the Purple Beech

By 1850, however, the part of the nursery containing the tree was entering its final decade, as plans were in place for the building of an imposing line of properties to be known as The Quadrant, which was erected in the early 1860s. One prominent tree was considered to be too good to leave behind, though, and so unprecedented efforts were made to uproot it and move it a mile or so to the then recently built cemetery on the London Road, a masterpiece designed by Sir Joseph Paxton.

A different example of moving a large tree.


As explained in the original Coventry Herald article above, the tree was taken to the cemetery via Hertford Street, High Street, Earl Street and Much Park Street. Although the London Road was not specifically mentioned it would have been the only feasible route wide enough to accommodate such a grand cavalcade.


Today, a hundred and twenty years later, the magnificent tree is still standing in London Road Cemetery, a tribute to the “scientific and skilful management” of the 19th century horticulturalists.


Our thanks to the Historic Coventry website for this interesting story.


Coventry – Art and Architecture.

Twenty Things you Ought to Know About Coventry and Art and Architecture

by Peter Walters, CovSoc Committee Member

1. A stained-glass image of a blonde-haired woman, discovered during recent archaeological excavations in the ruins of Coventry’s first cathedral, is thought to be a 12th century representation of Godiva.

2. An elephant and a castle first appear as features on a Coventry seal around 1250.


3. Coventry-born John Thornton, designer of the Great East Window in York Minster, learned his craft as part of a school of glass painters in the city in the 14th century.

Commemorative plaque to John Thornton, Burges, Coventry

4. The Coventry Doom, painted by unknown artists on the chancel arch in Holy Trinity Church around 1435, is regarded as one of the great treasures of medieval wall painting.

Doom Painting – Holy Trinity Church

5. A tapestry featuring King Henry VI and his Queen Margaret of Anjou in St Mary’s Hall still hangs on the wall for which it was made around 1510.

Guildhall Tapestry

6. Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace, laid out Coventry’s new municipal cemetery in 1845 and was later Liberal MP for the city for more than a decade.

Joseph Paxton memorial, London Road Cemetery

7. Coventry art metal worker Francis Skidmore designed and made much of the decorative metal work for the Albert Memorial, Queen Victoria’s 1872 tribute to her dead husband.

The Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, London

8. The architect Frederick Gibberd, designer of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Harlow New Town and London’s Central Mosque, was born in Coventry in 1908.


9. In 1938, Coventry became one of the first cities in the country to employ a city architect. Donald Gibson went on to design Europe’s first traffic-free city centre.

Gibso Cov City Centre

10. Coventry’s striking Godiva statue, designed by William Reid-Dick and unveiled in 1949, is one of the few equestrian statues outside London to be listed.

Self Sacrifice. Lady Godiva Statue in Broadgate

11. Sir Basil Spence, the architect chosen to design Coventry’s post-war cathedral, had dreamed of designing a cathedral since childhood.

Coventry Cathedral Designed by Sir Basil Spence

12. Jacob Epstein’s bronze sculpture St Michael and the Devil, commissioned for the new cathedral, was the artist’s final major work.

Saint Michael and the Devil by Jacob Epstein

13. Another celebrated commission, Graham Sutherland’s monumental tapestry Christ in Glory, was the largest in the world when it was completed.

The Sutherland Tapestry in Coventry Cathedral

14. The first Art Director of Coventry’s new Herbert Art Gallery and museum in 1957 was the Ulster poet John Hewitt, who stayed until his retirement in 1972.

15. The Art and Language group, important in the development of conceptual art in the UK, emerged from Coventry School of Art in the late 1960s.

16. In 1968 John Lennon and Yoko Ono submitted an art work to an exhibition of sculpture at Coventry Cathedral. It was their first peace activity together.


17. The landscapes of the Tile Hill estate on which he grew up dominate the work of the painter George Shaw, born in Coventry in 1966 and recently a Turner prize nominee.

George Shaw – Tile Hill Artist

18. The art work for Coventry’s Millennium project, The Phoenix Initiative, includes pieces by international artists Jochen Gerz, Francoise Schein and Susannah Heron.

Jochen Gerz – The Public Bench

19. A statue of Coventry-born jet pioneer Frank Whittle, by sculptor Faith Winter, was unveiled in the city on June 1, 2007, the centenary of his birth.

Statue of Coventry-born jet pioneer Frank Whittle, by sculptor Faith Winter,

20. Coventry canal art trail, which incorporates around 30 works of art in more than five miles of towpath, is the longest trail of its kind in the country.

Artwork on the Coventry Canal Art Trail

This article first appeared in Elementary What’s On, a website which Peter and his fellow enthusiasts update regularly with news about Coventry’s theatre and arts scene.  

Social distancing space on High Street


The Coventry Society supports the Council’s plan to close High Street to vehicle traffic and we hope that it will contribute to a longer term plan to reduce the traffic passing through the Hilltop Conservation Area, voted by Coventrians as the city’s favourite Conservation Area.

In response to the Coronavirus epidemic the Council has closed High Street to traffic during the working day. The Council’s press release states:

“New measures on Coventry’s High Street will be introduced to help create more space for people to queue safely outside banks and building societies.

“With the UK in lockdown for a number of weeks, residents have only been able to use essential services and shops within the city centre, but High Street has been a busy area due to its number of banks and building societies, with busier times seeing people queue across Broadgate.

“To help ensure people can queue safely whilst maintaining social distancing, High Street will be closed to cars from this week between 9am and 5pm daily to allow pedestrians to use the road space to queue.

“Councillor Patricia Hetherton, Cabinet Member for City Services, said: “High Street has remained busy with people using those essential services throughout lockdown, but we’re pleased to say that most people have maintained social distancing whilst they’ve been queuing.

“However, as some areas of the city centre will begin to go back to work soon, we know this might make the city centre busier in certain areas and we want to make sure that people can still socially distance and use the city centre safely.

“That’s why we’ve decided to close High Street to cars between 9am-5pm, giving more room for people to queue up and making best use of the space available. The closure will also mean that people who want to pass the people who are queuing will be able to step safely into the road area to pass.”

“We’ll keep this under review while we continue to monitor foot traffic around the city centre and introduce more measures to keep people safe if we need to.”

The closure will be in place between 9am and 5pm to enable deliveries to be made after hours.

In 2019 Coventrians voted Hill Top as the City’s favourite Conservation Area in a Civic Voice competition to find England’s favourite Conservation Area. A decision on this is awaited.