Coventry is a city and metropolitan borough in the centre of England. It has been the capital of England more than once in the 15th century when the seat of Government was held in Coventry. Coventry's outstanding heritage includes the Roman Fort at Baginton, Lady Godiva, St Mary's Guildhall (where kings and queens were entertained) and three cathedrals.
Coventry is located in the county of West Midlands and until 1974 was part of Warwickshire. Coventry is the 10th largest city in England and the 12th largest UK city overall. It is also the second largest city in the West Midlands region, after Birmingham, with a population of 329,810 in 2013. Coventry is an ancient settlement that predates Birmingham and Leicester.
Coventry is situated northwest of central London, east-south-east of Birmingham, southwest of Leicester and north of Warwick. It is further from the coast than any other city in Britain. Although harbouring a population of almost a third-of-a-million inhabitants, Coventry is not amongst the English Core Cities Group due to its proximity to Birmingham . Approximately half a million people live within 10 miles (16 km) of Coventry city centre.
Coventry was the world's first twin city, when it formed a twinning relationship with the Russian city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) during the Second World War. The relationship developed through ordinary people in Coventry who wanted to show their support for the Soviet Red Army during the Battle of Stalingrad. The city is now also twinned with Dresden, Lidice, Saint-Étienne and 22 other cities around the world. A part of the city centre at the entrance to the Lower Precinct is named Lidice Place.
Coventry Cathedral is one of the newer cathedral buildings, having been built after the destruction of the 14th century cathedral church of Saint Michael by the German Luftwaffe on 14 November 1940. Coventry motor companies have contributed significantly to the British motor industry. The city has two universities, the city centre-based Coventry University and the University of Warwick on the southern outskirts.
The Romans founded another settlement in Baginton and another formed around a Saxon nunnery, founded by St Osburga, that was later left in ruins by King Canute's invading Danish army in 1016. Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his wife Lady Godiva built on the remains of the nunnery and founded a Benedictine monastery in 1043 dedicated to St Mary. In time, a market was established at the abbey gates and the settlement expanded.
By the 14th century, Coventry was an important centre of the cloth trade, and throughout the Middle Ages was one of the largest and most important cities in England. The bishops of Lichfield were often referred to as bishops of Coventry and Lichfield, or Lichfield and Coventry (from 1102 to 1541). Coventry claimed the status of a city by ancient prescriptive usage, was granted a charter of incorporation in 1345, and in 1451 became a county in its own right.
Hostile attitudes of the cityfolk towards Royalist prisoners held in Coventry during the English Civil War are believed to have been the origin of the phrase "to be sent to Coventry", which in Britain means "to be ostracised"; although their physical needs were catered for, the Royalist prisoners were literally never spoken to by anybody.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Coventry became one of the three main British centres of watch and clock manufacture and ranked alongside Prescot, in Lancashire and Clerkenwell in London. As the industry declined, due mainly to competition from Swiss Made clock and watch manufacturers, the skilled pool of workers proved crucial to the setting up of bicycle manufacture and eventually the motorbike, car, machine tool and aircraft industries.
In the late 19th century, Coventry became a major centre of bicycle manufacture. The industry energised by the invention by James Starley and his nephew John Kemp Starley of the Rover safety bicycle, which was safer and more popular than the pioneering penny-farthing. The company became Rover. By the early 20th century, bicycle manufacture had evolved into motor manufacture, and Coventry became a major centre of the British motor industry. The design headquarters of Jaguar Cars is in the city at their Whitley plant and although vehicle assembly ceased at the Browns Lane plant in 2004, Jaguar's head office returned to the city in 2011, and is also sited in Whitley. Jaguar is owned by the Indian company, Tata Motors.
Coventry became home to one of Britain's first local ambulance services in 1902. The local entertainment business received a boost in 1910 when the city's first cinema opened. Public transport was enhanced in 1914 when motorbuses took to local roads.
With many of the city's older properties becoming increasingly unfit for habitation, the first council houses were let to their tenants in 1917. With Coventry's industrial base continuing to soar after the end of the Great War a year later, numerous private and council housing developments took place across the city in the 1920s and 1930s. The development of a southern by-pass around the city, starting in the 1930s and being completed in 1940, helped deliver more urban areas to the city on previously rural land.
Coventry suffered severe bomb damage during the Second World War, most notoriously from a massive Luftwaffe air raid known as the "Coventry Blitz" on 14 November 1940. Firebombing on this date led to severe damage to large areas of the city centre and to Coventry's historic cathedral, leaving only a shell and the spire. More than 4,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, along with around three quarters of the city's industrial plants. More than 800 people were killed, with thousands injured and homeless. The Germans coined the term "Coventrate" to describe the tactics of complete urban devastation developed for the raid.
Aside from London, Hull and Plymouth, Coventry suffered more damage than any other British city during the Luftwaffe attacks, with huge firestorms devastating most of the city centre. The city was probably targeted due to its high concentration of armaments, munitions, aircraft and aero-engine plants which contributed greatly to the British war effort, although there have been claims that Hitler launched the attack as revenge for the bombing of Munich by the RAF six days before the Coventry Blitz and chose the Midlands city because its medieval heart was regarded as one of the finest in Britain. Following the raids, the majority of Coventry's historic buildings could not be saved as they were in ruinous states or were deemed unsafe for any future use. Several structures were demolished simply to make way for modern developments which saw the city centre's buildings and road infrastructure altered almost beyond recognition by 1970.
Further housing developments in the private and public sector took place after the Second World War, partly to accommodate the growing population of the city and also to replace condemned and bomb damaged properties, including a major prefabricated housing district in south Canley which exists to this day.
In the post-war years Coventry was largely rebuilt under the general direction of the Gibson Plan, gaining a new pedestrianised shopping precinct (the first of its kind in Europe on such a scale) and in 1962 Sir Basil Spence's much-celebrated new St Michael's Cathedral (incorporating one of the world's largest tapestries) was consecrated. Its prefabricated steel spire (flèche) was lowered into place by helicopter.
Major expansion to Coventry had taken place previously, in the 1920s and 1930s, to provide housing for the large influx of workers who came to work in the city's booming factories. The areas which were expanded or created in this development included Radford, Coundon, Canley, Cheylesmore and Stoke Heath.
Coventry's motor industry boomed during the 1950s and 1960s and Coventry enjoyed a 'golden age'. During this period the disposable income of Coventrians was amongst the highest in the country and both the sports and the arts benefited. A new sports centre, with one of the few Olympic standard swimming pools in the UK, was constructed and Coventry City Football Club reached the First Division of English Football. The Belgrade Theatre was also constructed along with the Herbert Art Gallery. Coventry's pedestrianised Precinct shopping area came into its own and was considered one of the finest retail experiences outside of London. In 1965 the new University of Warwick campus was opened to students, and rapidly became one of the country's leading higher-education institutions.
Coventry's large industrial base made it attractive to the wave of Asian and Caribbean immigrants who arrived from Commonwealth colonies after 1948. In 1960, one of Britain's first mosques – and the very first in Coventry – was opened on Eagle Street to serve the city's growing Islamic community. The 1970s, however, saw a decline in the British motor industry and Coventry suffered particularly badly, especially towards the end of that decade. By the early 1980s, Coventry had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and crime rates rose well above the national average. Some 30 years later, Coventry is now considered as one of the UK's safer major cities and has gradually recovered economically with newer industries locating there, although the motor industry continues to decline. By 2008, only one motor manufacturing plant was operational, that of LTI Ltd, producing the popular TX4 taxi cabs. On 17 March 2010 LTI announced they would no longer be producing bodies and chassis in Coventry, instead producing them in China and shipping them in for final assembly in Coventry.
On the sporting scene, Coventry Rugby Football Club was consistently among the nation's leading rugby football sides from the early 20th century, peaking in the 1970s and 1980s with a host of major honours and international players. Association football, on the other hand, was scarcely a claim to fame until 1967, when Coventry City F.C. finally won promotion to the top flight of English football as champions of the Football League Second Division. They would stay among the elite for the next 34 years, reaching their pinnacle with FA Cup glory in 1987 – the first and to date only major trophy in the club's history. Their long stay in the top flight of English football ended in relegation in 2001, and in 2012 they were relegated again to the third tier of English football. Highfield Road, to the east of the city centre, was Coventry City's home for 106 years from 1899. They finally departed from the stadium in 2005 on their relocation to the 32,600-seat Ricoh Arena some three miles to the north of the city centre, in the Rowleys Green district. Since the year 2000, the city has also been home to one of the most successful Ice Hockey teams in the country, the Coventry Blaze who are four time Elite League champions.