Medieval wall

Pictures show how parts of medieval Coventry were revealed when the modern cathedral was built

Rare glimpses of a city’s medieval and long-ago street scenes have been revealed in a collection of salvaged photographs.

Some 800 negatives, saved from destruction by a cameraman and handed over to the city’s archives, also show early excavations for Coventry’s modern cathedral.

Added to above collection. 8,000 images taken by Arthur Cooper from the 1930s to the 1960s, and has been made available to the public as part of the Coventry Digital Project.

After the death of the photographer, there were negative sides of the glass plate intended for the tip Saved by Ian Holland Most of them before being sent to publishing company Mirrorpix.

Concrete pile workers

Hundreds of concrete piles were placed to form part of the cathedral’s foundations.

John Shelton

Archaeologist John Shelton is pictured doing his own research

Also included in the photographer’s collection are city streets, weddings, parades and celebrities who capture everyday life in the city.

The new collection contains “significant” images that will “greatly enhance” Coventry Cathedral’s archive, Martin Williams said.

The chairman of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral helped digitize the latest collection and identify the people and events depicted.

“It’s been a lot of fun working through them but some of them are really damaged, which is a shame because they’re moments in history,” he said.

Some of the more recent collections include the city’s cathedral and priory, St Mary’s, dating from the time of Lifric, Earl of Mercia and Lady Godiva.

In the mid-1950s, when the new cathedral was being built, the walls were exposed.

School children in Coventry Park

Photographer Arthur Cooper captures everyday life in Coventry

Edward G. Robinson

Hollywood actor Edward G. Robinson visited Coventry Cathedral in the early 1960s.

Mr Williams said the photographs show the “pre-complexity” that was destroyed following the demolition of the monasteries.

John Shelton, the city’s archaeologist at the time, said it could be seen in the painting.

“He tried to preserve the history of the city before we did archeology in a big public way, before it became as important as we see it now,” he added.

Coventry University’s Director of Initiatives, Dr Ben Kinswood, added: “There was no small organization in the city that could put pressure on to make sure our archaeological sites were properly investigated.

“What I love about these photographs is that there’s archeology there, it goes back a thousand years, it’s close, and they give you a real sense that I’ve never seen this before.”

“If it were today, there would be some important studies,” he added.

Mother's Association Service

More than 100 members of the Mother’s Association attended the 1947 Cathedral service

Trinity Street

A picture from the mid-1930s shows the construction of Trinity Street in the city

Other pictures show hundreds of concrete piles being driven into the base of the cathedral, and pre-war streets being cleared in a plan to modernize the city, before German bombing sped up the process.

In the year A view of the city center in the mid-1930s shows how planners “completely changed the road system”, Dr Kinswood said.

“This whole area was a very narrow medieval street pattern that was cleared to make way for the new Trinity Street, which allowed traffic – increasingly large vehicles and buses – to travel through the city centre.”

“Unfortunately, Coventry only had a one-way council at the time,” he added, leading to the “tragic” destruction of many medieval buildings.

Coventry Cathedral building site

Images show the size of the construction site of Coventry Cathedral

Pearl Hyde is shown in the icon of Kazan Cathedral

Pearl Hyde is shown in the icon of Kazan Cathedral

Edward G. Robinson, the actor distinguished by the friends of Coventry Cathedral, will present another picture when he visits the city, said Mr. Williams.

“My guess is that he visited Coventry in the summer of 1962 and, contrary to the gangster image he portrayed in many of his roles, he was physically a gentle man with a keen interest in the arts.”

The image of Pearl Hyde, the city’s first female mayor, featured on a Russian icon was another favorite, he said.

“(The icon) arrived at a package with no information on it, so she took it to the cathedral, thinking it must have a place,” he explained.

“Then about six weeks later came a letter saying it was a gift from the Kazan Cathedral in Stalingrad.”


Arthur Cooper has photographed hundreds of weddings in the city

School children

Hundreds of new images have been placed online as part of the Coventry Digital Project

Dr Kinswood said he would once again work with volunteers around the city to gather information about the photographs.

“The pictures are great but the main thing is that groups like Martin and the Historic Coventry Forum and others have come in and said ‘they’re seeing this’ and told the story, and it’s their version of history.

“And all of a sudden we get the biography of the photo, which is more than you’ll find if you go to any website,” he said.

The work on the Arthur Cooper collection with Mirrorpix and its owner Reach PLC was “very important because it’s telling such street-level working-class stories,” he added.

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By W_Manga

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