- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Travel to Coventry
Just 20 miles away from Birmingham is Coventry, the center of Britain's motor industry. A massive bombing raid in 1940 destroyed much of the city, including old Coventry Cathedral, the ruins of which were incorporated into the new cathedral. Today, Coventry's fine open squares, wide streets, and pedestrian zones are well worth exploring and offer many fun things to do, including great shopping and dining.
Attractions in Coventry
Broadgate, a spacious pedestrian-friendly square in the heart of the city, is known for its references to Lady Godiva, the city's most (in)famous resident. A statue of her stands in the middle of the square, and Broadgate House has a unique clock on which Lady Godiva appears on the stroke of the hour, with Peeping Tom at a window above.
Holy Trinity Church, at the northeast corner of Broadgate, has one of the city's three famous spires, this one constructed in 1166 and 327 feet high. The church boasts beautiful windows, a stone pulpit from 1470, and interesting tapestries woven for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Also noteworthy is a medieval painting from around 1430 entitled Doom (also known as Last Judgment) and depicting Christ judging souls to send to either Heaven or Hell. Twice lost after being covered by layers of wash and varnish, the fully restored artwork is again on display and is said to be one of the most important discoveries in the field of medieval art in Europe.
Old Coventry Cathedral
Built in 1373 and originally one of the largest parish churches in England, Old Coventry Cathedral was elevated to cathedral status only in 1918. After the devastating blitz of 1940, however, only a few sections of the external walls remained, together with the slender 303-foot-high spire. At the east end of the old cathedral, a cross - fashioned from two charred beams rescued from the ruins - is a poignant symbol and reminder of the destruction. (Interesting fact: the sacristies were rebuilt after the war with help from young German volunteers.)
St. Michael's Cathedral, Coventry
A tall, canopied porch links the old cathedral ruins with modern St. Michael's Cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence and opened in 1962. The walls of the 420-foot-long nave are built in zigzag fashion, the offset concrete panels alternating with windows facing the altar. The most striking feature, though, is the huge glass screen at the building's west end. Engraved with figures of angels, saints, and patriarchs, it creates a striking visual link, both with the old cathedral ruins and the busy city streets outside. Another impressive feature is the baptistery, with its font hewn from stone from Bethlehem, and the stained glass Sunburst Window.
A nearby building fortunate enough to have survived the bombing was the 15th-century St. Mary's Hall, headquarters of the Merchants' Guild since 1342. The Great Hall (1394-1414) has impressive oak vaulting and a tapestry depicting Henry VII's visit in 1500.
The most interesting of Coventry's surviving half-timbered buildings is Ford's Hospital in Greyfriars Lane, an almshouse for poor married couples, founded in 1509. Nearby Greyfriars Monastery, destroyed in 1539, is worth visiting for its surviving steeple, now incorporated into Christ Church. The dormitory and cloister of the Whitefriars Monastery have since been fully restored and now house an interesting museum dealing with local history. Bablake Old School (1560) is also worth seeing, as is Bond's Hospital, a half-timbered almshouse for elderly men founded in 1506.
Coventry Transport Museum
The Coventry Transport Museum provides a fascinating account of the history of road transport in Britain. Be prepared to stay awhile, though, as this is one massive museum. Highlights include an impressive collection of more than 300 cycles, 120 motorcycles, and more than 250 cars and commercial vehicles, many of them related to Coventry's rich past as the center of Britain's motor vehicle manufacturing industry. Collections of note include royal limousines; cars of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s; as well as numerous fun interactive educational displays.
Another first-rate Coventry attraction is the excellent Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Often simply referred to as The Herbert and named after one of the city's most philanthropic industrialists, Alfred Herbert, the museum boasts numerous fine sculptures, paintings, and clothing exhibits from the 19th and 20th centuries.