Born in the twilight of the 1980s, Paul Martin is a relatively young person who takes a genuine interest in the wonderful heritage of our City of Coventry. Paul laments the fact that, generally, other youngsters of today do not share his fascination with our history, and he wishes to pass on a little of his enthusiasm via this page....
s a younger Coventrian of just 20, I'm not quite able to recall a Broadgate without a shopping centre atop it, or a city centre not walled in by an architecturally disastrous ring road structure (although almost regrettably, nobody can deny it serves its purpose well). Neither could I tell you with any accuracy of memory about what stood on the site of the West Orchards Shopping Centre before its construction, and I certainly couldn't recount to you first-hand any tales of a 'McDonalds-less' Burges.
That said, unlike most people my age, I have a passion for my hometown and its history, and I've often wondered why it is that this isn't an interest that expands to a great many of my peers. It is little wonder though, really.
I see Coventry's cultural importance simmer and saunter away into the memories of older Coventrians and sadly also, lost along with those no longer with us. Further, I see also the once abundant physical reminders of our mediaeval heritage buried beneath, and hidden behind, the pre-fab, drab 'modern' architecture that now litters the City Centre. Take Ford's Hospital for example, wedged as it is between two car parks, the blasphemously named 'Christchurch House' and innumerate 1960s shopping developments; is that really a good foundation for garnering the interest of our youth?
What more of the City's sense of community? A sense that once went to make hard bitten houses in places like Hillfields or Stoke, homes. The Blitz spirit, seemingly, is dead or is dying; corner shop frontages are bricked up and Coventry City play its home games in a hollow tin can.
Yes, true, the same could be said for many an English City; how many hardened Brummies berate the (new) Bull Ring for example; but, being biased, I always feel that we as Coventrians have lost more than any other City, partly due to the unfortunate and cruel necessities of War, and partly through the misguided visions of the future that our councillors have had down the years. We have lain to waste the kind of modest and humble architecture that so befits the nature of the people that traditionally populate Coventry, for the... and take a deep breath... galumphing; grey; square; monolithic and oppressive architectural disasters that have come to symbolize the urge of its youth to get away. Even now, even at this young age, I have seen good friends go elsewhere to pitch their homes and lives: Melbourne, Australia; Santa Barbera, California; rural Cornwall; rural Wales; Bristol; Quebec, Canada.
Times change, the World is open... but, emigration no less! We should be holding on to our young people.
Simply put, young people don't know anything about the heritage of this City and they have no desire to either; 'there's an old monastery just off the ring road where Queen Elizabeth I delivered a speech to the people of the City?'; 'Well yeah, but it's got graffiti all over it now'... 'A river runs beneath the city centre and YOU can show me? Come off it'... 'Which one is Spon Street?', 'the one with all the old buildings on', 'Sorry mate, where?'... '*SIGH*, Where the SkyDome is' ... 'Oh yeah'.
Coventry's heart is ceasing to beat.
Rant over, and looking inwards, I've come to realize that this interest and awareness in Coventry, for me, has quite likely been borne out of the recollections of the 'elders' on both sides of my family. My Grandad Charles, my mother's father, has only recently passed away aged 90, and it is through him mainly that I feel connected to a Coventry of old.
Born in one of the old courts on Spon Street, court 6 to be precise, Grandad was one of eight siblings and two parents living in this tiny court home. It was cramped, cold and wet, and the children shared a single bed, huddling beneath coats for warmth in the absence of blankets. On a Sunday, before attending Church at St. John's, the children were treated to a so-called 'penny-egg'; quite literally a boiled egg at a penny each, a rare treat, as food was often scarce throughout the week. To tragically highlight the conditions in which they lived, their mother, my great-grandmother, died young from the tuberculosis she caught in Spon Street; a fate that I feel had a lasting effect on my Grandad, and one that prompted a move to Radford, to a comparatively 'palatial' home, and one that stayed in the family's ownership up until 2001.
y Grandad was a proud man, and he more than likely wouldn't have appreciated me recounting such tales here for fear of your thinking of him and his family as poor. In truth, Grandad never really spoke too much about this time in his life, other than the penny egg tale, and I've come to learn a lot more about that time of his life in the recent weeks post his death. However, the reason I do recount them is because I am proud of him (and all of his siblings for that matter) for the way that this early start in life helped to shape his morality and principles, and how, whilst they may have been so clearly very poor, they gained as a direct result of that a certain toughness, determination and resolution that would stand the test of time and allow them to smile even through the toughest of hardships; and more recently, through the inevitable ravages of age. I firmly believe though, that it was in lieu of these early lessons, these Coventrian lessons, that my Grandad spent the majority of his last day on Earth laughing and joking with his dearly loved family.
After Grandad died in June 2009, he was laid to rest before burial at the Co-Op Funeral Home in Lower Holyhead Road, just off Spon Street, about 200 metres from the exact spot of his birth! I really valued that proximity, and in a strange way it helped me to deal with the grief. On the day before the funeral in Radford, we were to say our final goodbyes to his body and I decided that, as we were due to go there at around three o'clock, I'd take my sixteen year old brother into and around the town as a prelude; my plan being to 'educate' him about some of the older aspects of the town; aspects that as I've mentioned already, the majority of Coventry's youth are unaware of even existing, but which would've been prevalent features in the Coventry my Grandad knew as a boy.
I took him around the town wall; around Lady Herbert's Garden, to the Sherbourne River snippet in Palmer Lane, the top of Trinity Street to 'recreate' the route of Butcher Row, Little Butcher Row and Ironmonger Row, to the Cathedrals, around Bayley Lane, into St. Mary's Guildhall, down the ancient street at Hill Top, into the Golden Cross and then down the back of Cathedral Lanes in order to help him visualize the old Broadgate, then down Hertford Street, to Ford's Hospital and the ruined Christchurch, to Cheylesmore Manor House, then back up Hertford Street again to Broadgate to map the old junction of High Street, Hertford Street, Broadgate and Smithford Street before going to Spon Street again via Bonds Hospital.
It was a gloriously sunny day, and we wandered into Spon Street with our backs turned to view the church of St. John's as we envisaged our Grandad might have done on sunny Sunday mornings. We were on the right hand side of the street, trotting backwards, and we got to about the spot where Court 6 would have stood. You couldn't have staged a more appropriate convergence of people; as reaching that almost exact spot, we were joined from two sides at exactly the same time by our mother's sister and her daughter from behind (they had been wandering up Spon Street waiting for us), and our parents as they turned off Fleet Street into Spon Street in the car. We had all converged on his birthplace at the exact same time and from there, we all went to pay our respects. There has never been a 'nicer' way for somebody to do something so grim.
I'm preparing now to return to the City of Southampton for my second year of University there, I'm studying Screenwriting. Upon my visits home during that first year, Grandad would tell me about how he used to feel relieved returning home to his family in Coventry during the time that he was in the Army during WWII, and about how he didn't want to leave home again when it was time to return to Army life. Now, some seventy years on, I am going through a similar (but thankfully, much safer) process of being away from home for the first time, and who knows where I'll end up, but what I do know, is that like his, my heart will always belong to the City of Coventry and that he and I are both true 'Cov Kids'.
I just hope the City starts to give us back some of the things that we grew to love about it.
 All of whom have now passed away; the final two, my Aunty Anne and my Grandad, within two months of each other earlier this year.