Coventry Cathedral

On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices.

The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Richard Howard, which led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred. This has led to the cathedral’s Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation, which has provided spiritual and practical support, in areas of conflict throughout the world.

Her Majesty the Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956 and the building was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in her presence. The ruins remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living Cathedral.

Ralph Beyer carving the foundation stone for Coventry Cathedral.

© Historic England Archive, John Laing Photographic Collection.

Coventry Cathderal

The new Cathedral was itself an inspiration to many fine artists of the post-war era. The architect, Sir Basil Spence, commissioned work from Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ralph Beyer, John Hutton, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink and others – most still to reach the peak of their artistic careers.

St. Michael and the Devil on the southern end of the east wall. It was sculpted by Sir Jacob Epstein, who, sadly, died in 1959, and therefore didn’t live to see his masterpiece mounted on the cathedral wall a year later.

Entrance to the cathedral is through the Screen of Saints and Angels – it is seventy feet high and forty five feet wide and is supported by a bronze framework hung by wires from the roof for added strength.

This unique screen formed part of Sir Basil Spence’s first vision for the new cathedral. As he stared out from the ruins of the bombed cathedral, he saw the shape for the new church through a screen of saints. This transparent wall would link the old and new – making each mutually visible from within each other. Provost Howard set out to draw up a scheme consisting of all the saints who were responsible for the bringing of Christianity to Britain. As John Hutton began to make initial designs, he soon realised that row upon row of saints would need to be broken up in some way, and suggested that angels be inserted between the saints.

The eighty one foot high Baptistery Window containing a total of one hundred and ninety five lights of stained glass in bright primary colours designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, with the Stone of Bethlehem for a font just in front. Each individual window contains an abstract design, but the overall effect is breathtaking. Basil Spence himself designed the stone containing the glass.

Study for the the seventy two foot high tapestry designed by Graham Sutherland – collection of The Herbert Art Gallery

The great tapestry was another example of a re-think in design. Basil Spence’s original intention was to depict the Crucifixion but Provost Howard suggested that the subject be Christ in Majesty and from there on, this idea prevailed

Altar cross and crown of thorns by Geoffrey Clarke, large ceramic candlesticks by Hans Coper.

Chairs by Russell Hodgson and Leigh.

The Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane is approached by following the aisle from the Baptistery window towards the altar which is at the north end. The mosaic depicts the Angel of Agony by Steven Sykes and becomes more impressive when seen from a distance through the wrought iron crown of thorns designed by Basil Spence.

A short passageway takes you through to the Chapel of Christ the Servant – also known as the Chapel of Industry due to the view of Coventry workplaces from its narrow windows. 

Monumental inscriptions to walls and floor by Ralph Beyer

Stained glass to aisle walls by Lawrence Lee, Geoffrey Clarke and Keith New.

At the far end of the aisle, opposite the Baptistery Window is the Chapel of Unity, with its detailed mosaic floor, donated by the people of Sweden, representing the nations of the world and lit by shafts of light from the narrow stained glass windows around the circumference of the star shaped chapel. 

This design was Basil Spence’s vision of a chapel representing the star which began the story of Christ – from the outside it appears shaped similarly to a Crusader’s tent.

The chapel is intended for prayer by all denominations, not just Anglican, and for this reason was purposely built with no view of the great altar. 

Historic Coventry

All Saints & Martyrs – Langley

 

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All Saints & Martyrs Rectory, Wood St, Middleton, Manchester M24 5GL

We had the pleasure to visit All Saints & Martyrs on Saturday 7th July 2018 as part of an Art and Christianity – Manchester Modernists Society bus tour.

We could not have been made more welcome by The Reverend Canon Philip Miller – Vicar of Langley and his team, many thanks for their warm hospitality.

Set on the Langley Estate, one of many developed by Manchester Council as overspill social housing, the church serves a large community to the north of the city.

The architect was Albert Walker of Leach Rhodes Walker – this was the first church that they had built, having previously specialised in shopping precincts.

Leach, Rhodes and Walker had involved Geoffrey Clarke RA with their earlier new church building for All Saints, Barton Road, Stretford. (1957) here his contribution was chiefly a large stained glass window depicting the Trinity. LRW continued to collaborate with Clarke in their church projects, in the years following at Langley. In a letter to the church at the time he wrote: “Start saving now for a new West End Window – only £10 p.s.f – for the greatest window in the North…. I have just done some windows I’m rather pleased with..”

The church is an imposing angular structure, its height possibly determined by the treasure within – The Langley Cross.

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Consecrated in 1964, All Saints and Martyrs is home to the Langley Cross. This unique structure, which adorns our east wall, is the work of internationally renowned artist, Geoffrey Clarke RA, who has won reputation by his contributions to Coventry Cathedral.

The sculpture itself is 37 feet high and about 20 feet wide at the extremities of the transverse shaft and made of cast aluminium metal.

This is work of national and international significance.

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The church is lit from the west by a large yellow and white window, formed of French stained glass. Though seriously damaged over time, it has subsequently been repaired and forms an imposing counterpoint to the facing cross.

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To the right of the main entrance is a delightful chapel, illuminated by a large stained glass window.

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And in addition a charming period light fitting.

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To the right of the altar and cross are pierced stained glass windows.

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And to the left the sculptural organ pipes and further pierced stained glass.

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The church has retained much of its original furnishings.

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The roof is formed of intersecting concrete beams and coloured blocks.

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The adjoining ground floor space was once used for an overflowing congregation, it has retrospectively been partitioned and serves as a social meeting area.

It was here that we were so generously treated to tea and cakes.

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And given the opportunity to view examples from the church’s extensive archive.

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The building is not without its problems – the ingress of water and the cost of maintaining the structure require outside assistance, through grant aiding, fund raising and donation. We should all make every effort to ensure that All Saints and Martyrs survives intact for generations to come.

Here is a building of great distinction, housing public art of the highest quality, built at a time when the ethos of nothing but the best for all was commonplace.

I can only thank Phil once again for his warm welcome and wish he and his parishioners – nothing but the best for the future!

If you have the opportunity, go and take a look for yourself.

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Shopping Precincts – UK

I was brought up with Sixties’ shopping precincts and centres, they are so very dear to my heart, I spent my teenage years here in AshtonStalybridge, and latterly in Stockport’s Merseyway.

I’ve visited Hanley, Preston, Salford, and Coventry in search of a certain something – that exciting sweeping swoop of concrete, brick, glass and steel. Underpasses with overarching designs and luxurious layouts of leisurely interlocking levels. Each one different in a different way yet essentially similar – embodying a sense of civic pride, a sense of the future realised.

1571 – The Royal Exchange, a trading market in the City of London, is officially opened by Elizabeth I. Above the open-air piazza where dealers buy and sell commodities, there is a two-storey shopping mall, with 100 different kiosks – making it Britain’s first shopping centre.

1964 – It was a monument to provincial pride in reinforced concrete and glass. When the Duke of Edinburgh opened the Birmingham Bull Ring in May 1964, it was the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe, with a total floor area of 23 acres. Inspired by American suburban malls, the Bull Ring promised coatless shopping in an air-conditioned, temperature-controlled hall maintained at late-spring level.

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2017 – Many are now no more, or redeveloped beyond recognition. The integrity of the architecture, street furniture, public art, space and usage a thing of folk memory.

So come with me now on a whirlwind picture postcard tour of this Nation’s saving grace – it’s modernist shopping spaces.

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Aberdeen

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Barlaston

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Bedford

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Bracknell

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Brentwood

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Brighton

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Burton on Trent

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Butts – Reading

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Chelmsford

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Corby

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Coventry

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Cowplain

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Crawley

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Crewe

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Croydon

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Cwmbran

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Dudley

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Elephant and Castle

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Great Yarmouth

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Hanley

harlow

Harlow

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Hartlepool

Hebburn

Hebburn

immingham

Immingham

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Irvine

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Leamore

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Letchworth

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Leyland

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Liverpool

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Mexborough

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MK

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Milton Keynes

nantwich

Nantwich

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Norris Green

plymouth

Plymouth

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Runcorn

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Sleaford

southampton

Southampton

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Stockport

swanley

Swanley

telford

Telford

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Wakefield

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Walton on Thames

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Westway – Frome

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Wolverhampton

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Worksop

 

Coventry – Upper Precinct

Here we are again wandering the pedestrianised precincts of Coventry  – having previously travelled by picture postcard and archival image.

https://modernmooch.com/2016/10/10/coventry-the-precinct/

Back to the future.

Today much of the original footprint and well-built brick, stone, glass and concrete structure prevails, with more recent retro fitted additions.

The Cullen mural has been renovated and re-sited.

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Sadly only one of the neon sculptures, remains illuminated – they may have been listed by Historic England, they have certainly given them a coat of looking at. I myself was approached whilst working away by a crack squad of precinct management, questioning my methods and motives. I reassured them I was a serious student of post-war architecture and they allowed happily to go about my business – assuring me that I was following in the footsteps of HE.

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The elevated café, pierced screenwork, mosaics on the former Locarno, now Library and town clock are still every much in situ, Lady Godiva dutifully appearing on the hour, every hour with an ever attendant Peeping Tom for company.

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The area is well-used bustling busy, with a smattering of empty units which are sadly typical of most provincial town competing for custom and prosperity on the high street.

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Coventry – Precinct

Coventry city centre is a city centre, comprised of several interlocking post- war facets, realised over a thirty year period. This later addition the Bull Yard, the work of Arthur Ling and Terence Gregory, city architects and planning officers.

It incorporates pedestrian walkways, retail, civic and car parking facilities with a crowded unease and grace. Much of the original detail survives, though not unusually, some more recent additions detract from the integrity of the scheme.

The site is graced by two major works by William Mitchell – the concrete facade and interior of the former Three Tuns public house.

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And the sculpted panels on Hertford street.

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So we are left with a series of spaces that now seem slightly adrift, particularly the City Arcade, as both the earlier and more recent developments in the city compete for clients and customers.

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To explore is to discover a work continually in progress, or regression, as the forces of heritage, commercial development, and civic planning pull each other this way and that.

There is an initiative for redevelopment for the area yet to find a satisfactory resolution.

Take a look.

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Coventry – Indoor Market

A market hall built in 1957 to designs by Douglas Beaton, Ralph Iredale and Ian Crawford of Coventry City Architect’s Department.

 Various designs were considered, but eventually a circular design was chosen to encourage circulation and to offer a number of entrances. It was given a flat roof in order to create a car park (with a heated ramp to prevent icing, now no longer there), and was to become the central focus for a complex scheme of linked roof car parks in Coventry.

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 The market consists of a series of concrete arches joined by a ring beam, all left exposed, with brick infilling and a concrete roof, laid out as a car park, with a central circular roof light. It has a circular plan, just over 84m in diameter and 4 ½ m high, is laid out with 160 island stalls, arranged in groups of two or four units in concentric rings, with 40 `shop stalls’ set into the perimeter wall.

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Inside, the circular space is characterised by the tall V-shaped concrete `columns’ that hold the roof. Some of the original shop and stall signs have survived. Natural light enters via the clerestory windows along the top perimeter of the building and through the clerestory lighting and oculi in the central dome. The space under this dome, designed as an area for shoppers to rest, is lined with seats and has a terrazzo mosaic floor designed by David Embling, with a central sun motif, a gift from the Coventry Branch of the Association of Building Technicians.

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Above the current market office is an impressive painted mural by art students from Dresden commissioned especially for the market in the 1950s in a Socialist Realist manner, depicting farming and industrial scenes. 

Thanks to Historic England

I visited the market on a busy bustling day and was made to feel more than welcome, a wide range of heavily laden stalls was trading briskly. The Market Office kindly gave me a copy of the book Coventry Market in a Roundabout Way.

It’s a splendid structure, now listed, that functions six days a week.

Get down take a look around.

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Coventry – Central Co-op

 

Built between 1955-56 and opened November 1956 the central Co-operative Society store in Coventry is a clean, clear example of post-war design and redevelopment, epitomised by the city’s plan and realisation.

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Picture – Natalie Bradbury

Sadly it finally closed its doors in 2015, along with many other of the Society’s larger stores, as they moved their focus to smaller food outlets.

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Happily it has been listed, saved from the indignity of the wrecking ball and the building of further student flats. Coventry, along with other UK cities, has begun to rely on the expansion of higher education, in the face of industrial and retail decline. The future use of the site, is as yet uncertain. Sadly I am now informed that the listing did not go through, make of that what you will.

While such measures are not an ultimate protection from bulldozers or drastic renovation, it is considered the building helps tell the tale of the city centre’s contemporaneously vaunted but since controversial rebuilding after the Coventry Blitz.

One of the city’s largest and oldest stores was closed last year as a victim of flagging city centre trade in an internet era, and EDG Property bought the site.

No planning applications have been received, although the council says ‘prospective buyers’ have stated an intention to demolish the building to erect two 12-storey towers of student accommodation.

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So it stands empty, the late summer foliage obscuring its splendid signage.

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Still in clear view the stone relief work of John Skelton November 1956. Three of the eight column have incised Hornston stone works, depicting the activities of the CWS.

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