Last night we treated ourselves. From the basin it is only about a fifteen minute walk to the big blue and yellow building through the city centre, possibly the closest Ikea to a canal. We’ve been needing to replace some wine glasses for a while now so this gave us our excuse. It’s quite refreshing knowing exactly what you want so therefore being able to bypass all the living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens laid out and instead head straight for the marketplace. Only one impulse purchase was added to our yellow bag and that was some large bag clips.
We made it round the store, me pausing to check on prices of their smaller carpets, leaving enough time to head back to the top floor for some food. Our plates of meat balls came with Swedish flags stuck into them, we ate them whilst looking down over the many roof top car parks of Coventry, we know how to live it up!
Around the corner from Ikea is Spon Street. Originally it was a main route into Coventry where dyers worked their smelly magic, watch making took over in the Edwardian period which in turn gave way to bicycle and motorbike manufacturers. After the major bombing of the city during WW2 medieval timber buildings from around the city were relocated to the street in an attempt to preserve them as the city was redeveloped. Now the street is full of bars and restaurants up to where the ring road cuts it in half.
We’d heard that the Transport Museum was the place to visit in Coventry, so it was top of our list to visit today. We didn’t realise at the time that it would be the only place we’d visit today, it is vast!
During the 1850’s and 60’s the main industry in Coventry was silk ribbon and watch making. There was also a small sewing machine industry. The Coventry Machinists became the first place to build bicycles in Coventry and the first to mass produce them in the country. Factories were set up by pioneers who furthered the design of cycles from push along to Penny Farthings to Safety bicycles. The diamond frame, chain, gears and break systems all developed in the city.
The first cars were expensive costing 100 times the weekly wage of the average man, cars needed to be cheaper to reach a wider audience. Standard released a car a quarter of the price and more than 2000 were sold. WW1 came along and the many factories that filled Coventry moved into producing vehicles and munitions for the forces.
Henry Ford started to mass produce cars and between the wars Coventry’s car industry followed suit. During the 1930’s private car ownership doubled to 2 million vehicles on the roads. Cars now could reach speeds of 70mph, the speed limit of 20mph was scrapped as it was hard to enforce. Deaths on the roads rose in number with over 7000 people being killed in 1934, style was far more important than safety.
With the outbreak of WW2 Coventry turned back to war work many companies working directly for the government. The many factories made Coventry a prime target for the Germans and on 14th November 1940 the city was devastated when 515 bombers dropped 36,000 incendiary bombs, destroying 4,300 homes and leaving around two thirds of Coventry’s buildings damaged. Even though a third of the factories were damaged full production was back in a few months.
Decimated Coventry was redesigned from a medieval city into a model of modern brutalist architecture during the 60’s. The car industry continued to grow, by 1950’s the UK had the second largest car industry in the world and was the leading exporter of cars.
‘Motor City’ attracted many workers from around the world, the average wage here being 24% higher than the national industrial average. But by the 70’s the Europeans and Americans had advanced their production lines and the British car industry took a slump in trade. By the 80’s many factories had closed others reduced their labour force by half. At the time unemployment in the UK was around 24%, in Coventry it stood nearer 47%.
You can decide which planes are friend or foe in the skies above Coventry (one lad did manage to shoot down Mick’s Dad’s plane though) and a ride around the city in the back of a black taxi shows you where the factories once stood with tales from the workforce.