Returning to the railway bridge, recently considerably enlarged, we have an indication of the primitive accommodation originally thought to be sufficient for a station. Hereon, we may take our stand, like Tennyson, when, on the less spacious structure, he wrote:
“I waited for the train at Coventry;
I hung with grooms and porters on the bridge,
To watch the three tall spires; and there I shap’d
The city’s ancient legend”…
and for a few moments review the chief characteristics of this well known county borough.
Many quaint scenes of the past rise before our vision. We think of the time of the when the old Mystery Plays were acted in the narrow streets of the city; when the White and Grey Friars peopled the monasteries; and of occasions when the Parliament of the realm made Coventry its meeting place. Our imagination calls up many striking events in the historic past of the city, and we revel in the richness of the field thus opening up before us.
There is, of course, a great contrast between the busy commercial centre of today and the Coventry of Queen Margaret; but on the whole it may be said that the modern city is worthy of its traditions.
In 1642, Nehemiah Wharton, an officer in the Parliamentary forces, under the Earl of Essex, described Coventry as a “city environed with a wall, co-equal, if not exceeding that of London for breadth and height, and with gates and battlements, magnificent churches and stately streets, and abundant fountains of water; altogether a place very sweetly situate, and where there is no hint of venison.” Some of these features have disappeared, others remain in part, but many are still in existence, and go far to justify the eulogium, whilst the modern developments, both material and picturesque, are both numerous and important.
The largest town in Warwickshire, with the exception of Birmingham, Coventry is almost surrounded by a wealth of amenities. The north-east side of the city, however, reaches nearly to the Warwickshire coalfield, and here, of course, the scenery is not so pleasing, though lovers of of the picturesque need not search in vain, and there is some compensating advantage in the contiguity of so extensive a supply of fuel.
It will be seen that, for a manufacturing centre, Coventry is clean and salubrious, and this happy condition is partly due to large percentage of the power used in various industries supplied by gas or electricity, and thus diminishing the smoke nuisance.
That the city is a decidedly healthy place is proved by the low death rate, which averages about 12 per 1,000, the mean age at death, about 39, having risen by 4 in twenty years.
Though to a great extent modernised, the town still contains a large number of curious old buildings, churches, halls, alms-houses, etc, with rare historical associations and legends.
On November 1st 1890, a portion of the suburban districts were absorbed into the municipal area, and a further extension took place on November 1st 1899, when parts of Foleshill and Stoke came within city boundaries. These extensions were rendered necessary by the rapid growth of the town during years of industrial and commercial prosperity, the surrounding districts have become essentially urban in character, and being, in all but name, actually parts of the city. At the present time further extension of the city boundaries are badly required. Large neighbouring areas, notably those adjacent o the Stoke, Foleshill and Hearsall Wards, are densely populated mainly by city workers. For many reasons it is desirable that these should be included in the city’s population, and serious movements in this direction were maturing, but like many other activities were interrupted by the European War. In 1888, Coventry resumed its old status and title of a county, which had been in abeyance since 1842.
Manufactures – In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the staple trade was the manufacture of woollen goods, but early in the eighteenth century the weaving of ribbons was introduced, and soon became an important industry, there being in 1818 in Coventry and the surrounding district no less than 3,003 power looms, and 5,438 single hand looms. Over half a century ago, however, the ribbon trade began to decline, and during a period of great distress many citizens emigrated. But from those evil days the modern prosperity of the city may be distinctly traced – new trades then introduced being the germs of its industrial development.