Meet Athelstan in Tamworth

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Our friends in the Tamworth Civic Society have issued an invitation to Coventry residents to attend their annual Tamworth Lecture.

Famous historian and writer Tom Holland will be talking about Athelstan and the  making of the United Kingdom of England. The talk will take place on Wednesday 12th June 2019 at 7.30 p.m. at St. Editha’s Church in Tamworth. Tickets are £12 from the society.

Micro:Cab – Beyond the Electric Car

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Vianova being exhibited at the International Hydrogen Event at NEC, Birmingham

A Coventry firm, Microcab, is pioneering a new approach to zero emission vehicle engineering using hydrogen fuel cell technology. Microcab is a spin-out from the SWARM project at Coventry University. It aims to design and develop a vehicle for urban transport using low carbon, hydrogen fuel cell technology. The design concept is a vehicle with good environmental characteristics.

The firm is based in Parkside in Coventry. In their latest newsletter Microcab state:

“As Microcab moves into its commercialisation phase, we introduce the newest addition to the fleet, the Vianova. This ultra efficient lightweight city car showcases the latest vehicle design on the versatile H2EV platform, and features our “state of the art” fuel cell electric powertrain technology. The pre-production model is the culmination of the commercial partnership with Mahle Powertrain and ongong collaborative work with Coventry University on the SWARM project. The Vianova is entering the market as a peri-urban, zero emissions mobility solution in both car and van variant. It should be noted that, in some regions, the growing network of hydrogen refuelling stations has outstripped the supply of fuel cell vehicles, leading to under utilisation of the infrastructure. With the proposed new UK goal of net zero carbon by 2050, hydrogen will have an expanding role to play in sector coupling between renewable energy and mobility. ‘Low-carbon hydrogen moves from being a useful option to a key enabler’ (Committee Climate Change net zero report).”

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Vianova being exhbited at C-ALPS, the Centre for Alternative Low Carbon Propulsion Systems, opened at Coventry University on 21 March 2019.

More at http://www.microcab.co.uk

TOWN HALL – Buildings, People and Power

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A book about the UK’s  “Town Halls” is to be launched in Coventry at an event on Friday 21st June 2019. The book is  written by Dawn Reeves, Chris West and Fran Collingham and features two chapters on Coventry – covering the Council House and the new Friargate House.

The launch event includes a guided tour of St. Mary’s Hall, the Armoury and Council Chamber and a talk by the authors, two of whom previously worked for the City Council. It takes place at the Herbert Gallery between 4.30 – 6.30 p.m. and costs £5 on the door.

‘Town Hall’ is a richly illustrated ‘coffee table’ book depicting town halls from the Medieval period to the modern office block style. The various architectural styles on show reflect the eras in which particular town halls were erected. The choice of locations is eclectic ranging from London boroughs to small Northern towns which nevertheless felt the need for prestigious edifices.

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Some of the buildings still fulfil their original purpose but others have been adapted for different uses either because the original administrative district have been absorbed into larger authorities or the buildings themselves have proved no longer suitable for their original purpose.

Each set of pictures is accompanied by text either describing the buildings’ architects, their architectural styles and how they reflect the times in which they were built and, where relevant, their adaptation for new uses (hotels, apartments, entertainment/social venues) or very often, written pieces inspired by the buildings though not necessarily about them. The texts related more directly to the buildings themselves are more successful in giving a focus for the illustrations.

The book is split into four sections, Purpose, People, Power and Future. This does not completely work as all the buildings were there to serve a purpose and in some way reflect the power of the authority, its political class and people. Perhaps a more historical approach would have served the book better (pre C20th, early C20th, late C20th and the new century). The pictures lack captions so in many cases it is unclear which aspects of the particular buildings are depicted (Sutton Coldfield and Bethnall Green are examples).

One section that did catch the attention was the focus on Dagenham Civic Centre. Now no longer serving as a political centre, it is owned by the ‘Coventry University Group’ and has been ‘lovingly restored to its classical Art Deco 1930’s style. What a pity the ‘Coventry University Group’ could not see its way to extending the same courtesy to its hometown civic centre.

TOWN HALL – Buildings, People and Power.
By: Dawn Reeves and Fran Collingham.
Published by Shared Press.

Also available from Amazon

 

The Daimler Powerhouse: One of Coventry’s Hidden Industrial Gems

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Daimler Power House

The locally listed Daimler Powerhouse, just north of the canal basin, is a rare survivor of Coventry’s early motor industry. It is also a testament to the quest for perfection that made Daimler one of the industry’s leading motor firms. The building is part of a site that reflects the story of Coventry’s rise from the depths of mid nineteenth century industrial depression to the early twentieth century boom time.

After the collapse of the ribbon weaving industry in the city in 1860, some northern entrepreneurs searched for a site to establish a factory that could make use of the skills of the unemployed weavers. Their cheap labour of Coventry’s unemployed weavers, compared to Lancashire, led to a Cotton Mills being established on Drapers Fields. This latter site was made redundant after a fire in 1890. Despite rebuilding it remained empty for a few years until it was taken up by Harry Lawson in 1896 to establish a number of Coventry’s first car factories on the site. The building was now known as the Motor Mills and amongst the firms established there was the Daimler Motor Company.

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Soon the other motor companies failed or moved out and Daimler took over the whole premises by 1900. They rapidly gained a reputation for quality engineering. Many companies bought in components to simplify their operation, but Daimler was not satisfied with the standard of work outside the factory so gradually expanded the works to make all components themselves.

Such were the standards they achieved in various car trails that the soon to be Edward VII bought a Daimler in 1900. The reputational value of such a customer led to increased production and by 1906 the factory had been completely remodelled and added to.

When ‘The Engineer’ visited in May 1906 they published an extensive article praising the methods used in the factory and its facilities. The only hint of criticism came toward the end of the article when they stated “To make the works complete requires the addition of its own power station and foundries”.

The requirement of a power station may seem a bit bizarre as next door to the factory was the Electricity Power Station for the whole of Coventry. Like the car factory it bordered onto the canal offering a supplementary transport route apart from the nearby rail sidings. However, the rapid growth of Coventry and its industry, at the time, had caused power outages that interrupted production and could damage the machining of components. An independent power source would overcome this obstacle.

And so it was, just a year after The Engineer’s visit that Daimler submitted for approval a plan for Powerhouse. Although this 1907 plan is essentially the building you see today, in 1911 a small extension was made at the western end.

The Daimler factory continued to flourish until it was largely destroyed in the 1940 Blitz with the exception of the office block on Sandy Lane and the Powerhouse. The factory site was cleared and given over to other uses but the Powerhouse survived the redevelopment. With the power generating machinery removed, the building was used by its new owner, Coventry Climax, for testing its latest product –forklift trucks. They had designed the UK’s first forklift truck in 1946 and its carrying capacity was tested to its limit in the building. A set of measurements up its inside wall, can still be seen today. They gave an indication of how high a fixed load could be lifted before the truck would begin to tip over.

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The UK’s first forklift truck: The Coventry Climax ET199. Tested in the Powerhouse

Today the building is occupied by Imagineers Productions who fittingly bring the world of arts and engineering together. Their Godiva project for the London Olympics and the annual festival they organise in Coventry has brought quality and innovation to a Coventry product just as Daimler did in the past. Their successful grant application for the redevelopment of the building as a modern arts space will see yet another important chapter in the life of the old Powerhouse.

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David Fry

The Imagination of Architects

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Matthew Chamberlain an MA student from the University of Westminster has designed a sustainable treehouse to provide starter homes on London’s streets.

CovSoc Chairman, Paul Maddocks, writes “I would have loved to live in a ‘Tree pod’ like this when I was younger, but not so sure about ladders and with my luck I can see me falling out of the tree, it would work great in large gardens, parks or woodlands, but not so sure on noisy traffic streets.”

The ‘Street Tree Pods’ are teardrop-shaped structures made from wood, designed to merge with existing or new trees.

Taking up the same amount of space as a single car-parking bay, each structure would offer short-term accommodation to a single occupant. Matthew sees them being occupied by students, young professionals and first-time buyers, or to people who are homeless or in the process of being rehoused.

Tree trunks would run through the core of each structure, providing structural stability and ensuring no weight is placed on the branches.

The trunks would be enclosed in an ETFE shell (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) is a fluorine-based plastic. It was designed to have high corrosion resistance and strength over a wide temperature range) – a system that would allow water to reach the tree and run through to the ground – while a rubber gasket between them will allow the tree to expand whilst remaining sealed.

Outside, the leaves of the trees would be used as a natural shading device.

Each pod also incorporates rainwater collection, natural air ventilation, and air-source heat pumps, helping them to function sustainably, while cycle storage and a car parking space sit below.

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Read more about Mathew’s ideas here.

What do you think? Whatever you think about the practicalities you have to admit that its imaginative!

Coventry’s Architecture Students will be putting on their own Degree Show from Saturday 18th May – Saturday 25th May from 10.00 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Room GS 402 in the Graham Sutherland Building at Coventry University. Why not pay a visit and get some inspiration?

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Continued Concern about the Mitchell Friezes

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William George Mitchell working on one of his major sculptures.

As neighbouring Solihull Council gives permission for the destruction of an important 20th Century sculpture, concerns have been raised about the future of a mural in Coventry by the same sculptor.

The Solihull frieze adorns the entrance hall of the former Lucas building in Shirley and was created by the celebrated sculptor and designer William George Mitchell. Mitchell’s artwork also adorns the walls of Harrods department store, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and several sites in Coventry City Centre.

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The frieze by William George Mitchell at the former Lucas Building in Shirley, Solihull

Solihull Council has given permission for the demolition of the Lucas Building, despite objections from the 20th Century Society. The Council only requires the photographing of the building and the mural. The developers however are considering whether the frieze can be removed and relocated but they are not obliged to do so.

In Coventry William George Mitchell’s concrete panels and friezes are located in a number of areas, including Hertford Street and Bull Yard.

It is the mural in the foyer of Hertford House which is considered to be most at risk as the foyer is now boarded up with steel shutters.

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The Mural has a Lady Godiva on the left and shows various scenes from Coventry’s history. It includes the old St. Michael’s Cathedral on fire in the blitz, together with a woman riding a Jaguar at the other end.

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The television series Tomorrow’s World did a feature about it when it was being made. The film showed William Mitchell cutting onto the wet plaster and he was following after the workman who applied the final scrim of plaster on to the wall. It had to be done in a day before it dried out or it was too hard to cut or mould.

Another William Mitchell frieze that might be at risk is the frontage of the Three Tuns pub in Bull Yard. This is affected by the City Centre South scheme but no plans have yet been revealed about what will happen to it.

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Unfortunately Coventry’s leadership has a reputation for not valuing its post-war architecture and design and in the absence of a Conservation Officer, a post vacant now for more than a year, we have serious concerns about the future of these important sculptural features.

You can see a video of William Mitchell at work in the 1960s here. There is a story about the demolition of the Lucas Building in Solihull here. CovSoc has featured the Mitchell friezes previously in 2016 and as part of its Public Arts trail featuring Hertford Street and  The Three Tuns. 

David Danskin – from the cradle to the grave

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Dedication of the grave of David Danskin at London Road Cemetery

Football fans may have heard of David Danskin, the founder of Arsenal Football Club. But did you know that he is buried in Coventry’s London Road Cemetery? It is perhaps not surprising that people don’t know because for 70 years the grave has been unmarked.

This was put right last week when a new headstone was dedicated at the Cemetery. CovSoc Chair, Paul Maddocks, attended the ceremony and writes:

“The installation of the headstone came about as a result of action by Ian Woolley, Chair of Friends of London Road Cemetery. Ian spotted that the Arsenal Scotland supports club had put up a blue plaque at the birth site of David Danskin. He got in touch with them to tell them about the grave, which did not have a headstone or any indication of who was buried there. ”

The Arsenal Scotland Supporters Club write:

“As all Gooners should know, David Danskin was the man who is recognised as having been the man to lead a group of fifteen men, mostly Scottish engineering workers, who first formed a football team in Woolwich in October 1886 and he was also the first Captain of the club.

“In 2007, we at Arsenal Scotland Supporters Club arranged to have a blue plaque put up near where he born in the Fife Town of Burntisland. Our Honorary Club President and Arsenal legend Bob Wilson unveiled the plaque along with Danskin’s grandson Richard Wyatt.

‘Davie’ Danskin was just 22 when he moved from Kirkcaldy to work as a qualified mechanical fitter at the Royal Arsenal munitions factory in Woolwich, specifically as a bench fitter in the gun machining workshops in the Dial Square complex.

“Having played for Kirkcaldy Wanderers at Starks Park (where Raith Rovers play now) Davie had no problem finding enough workmates to form a new football team. There were many teams formed by the Armoury workforce but Danskin’s team became a permanent club that has lasted to this day.

“”Ye ken, does onybody fancy a game o’ fitba?”

“He captained the new team for the first game, played against Eastern Wanderers on the Isle of Dogs (where Tiller Road is now) on 11th December 1886, winning 6-0. If the team had a formal name at all it was probably ‘Dial Square’ where they were mostly all employed. Later on Christmas Day, after their morning shift, the team sat in the Royal Oak pub (where the Woolwich Arsenal DLR station sits now) and after some discussion and no doubt a few beers, named the new club ‘Royal Arsenal’.

“It is amazing to note that in just three years after being formed, Royal Arsenal won the London Senior Cup Final in front of 10,000 supporters and regularly played at The Manor Ground in front of 4,000 to 6,000 home supporters.

“Three Years!

“Danskin was still involved in the club when they were renamed Woolwich Arsenal just as the club turned professional in 1891. After giving up playing in 1890 following a leg injury, Davie left the Armoury and started a nearby business building and selling bicycles from his own shop in Plumstead. He qualified as a referee in London. He later sold the business and moved to Coventry where his engineering skills were put to good use at the Standard Motor Company and the Maudsley Motor Company.

“He continued his love of ‘fitba’ in Coventry and was chairman of Stoke Albions FC. In 1936 he was admitted to hospital following an accident which aggravated his old footballing injury. He was told he may need to have the leg amputated, but firmly declined. From his hospital bed the matron allowed him to listen to the radio commentary when Arsenal beat Sheffield United 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley attended by 93,000 spectators. He spent the rest of his life in the Warwickshire area at Coventry, Kenilworth and at Warwick Hospital where he died in 1948 aged 85. He was buried in London Road Cemetery in Coventry.

“Local historians from Coventry, Lionel Bird and Ian Woolley were searching for the burial place of Willie Stanley who was the founder of the Singer Football Club (later Coventry City) and by chance found the burial plot of David Danskin. There was no headstone or any marker but the location was identified on the cemetery map and verified by the ‘Friends of London Road Cemetery. Lionel, also being a football fan recognised who David Danskin was and in September 2018 the story found its way to the Coventry Telegraph and in a matter of hours surfaced on Twitter. That’s when we spotted it. Having marked the spot where David Danskin was born, it just seemed that marking his resting place would complete the journey from the cradle to the grave.

“Why no grave marker? Well you need to consider that Danskin died just a few years after the Second World War, during which Coventry had suffered horrendous heavy bombing by the Luftwaffe. So as the good folk of Coventry had to rebuild their City, spending cash on headstones was not a priority for many families. As time passed, things were less important and eventually the headstone matter was forgotten. No drama, nothing sinister, just normal life.

“So, Arsenal Scotland Chairman Mike Buchanan, Club Secretary Caz Moir, Treasurer Alan Speed and the club committee agreed that we should arrange for a headstone.

“We made contact again with Danskin’s grandson Richard Wyatt in Canada and with Arsenal FC and we got approval to have a memorial designed for the Danskin family and by Arsenal to have the club badge engraved on the cover stone.

“On Monday 29th April 2019 The Sub Dean of Coventry Cathedral, the Reverend Canon David Stone led a short service in Coventry, to dedicate the new memorial to David Danskin and his family, in the presence of his descendant family, local friends from Coventry, Friends of London Road Cemetery, officials of Arsenal FC, Coventry City FC, Arsenal Scotland and several other Arsenal Supporters Club and Arsenal fans.

“What is very interesting is Davie Danskin’s grave has next to it and in front of it graves of men who were in the Royal Artillery and have the Regimental shields on them which feature a artillery gun, so he is surrounded by ‘Gunners’.

Location of the Grave:

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