Sent from Coventry

SENT FROM COVENTRY

Fragments of angels, segments of saints, pieces of people, broken birds, refracted sunbeams, tumbled landscapes, jumbled inscriptions, unidentifiable blocks of time-worn colour—I looked for a long time at the medieval glass so carefully but meaninglessly re-set in Holy Trinity church beside the Cathedral at Coventry.

These disjecta membra of former didactic decorations spoke of the violent iconoclasm of the Puritan revolution, when God’s self-appointed gatekeepers had smashed irreplaceable works of art in an orgy of ignorant glee. But because this was Coventry, it also hinted at much more recent ordeals—the Luftwaffe’s rawly-remembered raids of 1940-2, which killed 1,250 Coventrians, laid waste what had been a well-preserved medieval city, and gave rise to the dark slang “coventration” to signify indiscriminate eradication.

Seen in conjunction with the 15th century “Doom” painting that stretches superbly across Holy Trinity’s chancel arch, with the just entering the Celestial City on Christ’s right and the damned going down to perdition on His left, while a bare-breasted Virgin intercedes in pity, the crazed glass seemed emblematic of deep dislocation—as if all of Coventry were a study in interrupted histories and partial reconstructions.

Dissatisfied with its own suffering, Coventry is twinned with Dresden, Warsaw and Volgograd (Stalingrad) and commemorates Hiroshima Day every August, while in the centre of the city is Lidice Place, to commemorate the mass murders that followed the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Even the radical rebuilds of the Fifties and Sixties that were supposed to refocus the city on the future look troubled to modern eyes—blank, brutalist cliffs as impersonal, impractical and impermanent as they are unpopular.

And beyond the tortured compactness of the city a ghostly hinterland unrolls to all sides. The ninth largest city in England is also the furthest from the sea, landlocked “far in the country of Arden”—the legendary super-forest of central England in which a squirrel could proverbially leap from tree to tree for the whole of Warwickshire’s length.

In England, woods once symbolized freedom, and their fastnesses are peopled by anti-establishment avatars—wodewoses, Wild Hunts, Queen Titania, Puck, Robin Goodfellow, Robin Hood and his Merry Men holding out for the return of the King. Medieval masons carved “Green Men” into thousands of ostensibly Christian churches—demonic faces forming capitals and roof-bosses, their eyes darting danger while their mouths vomit swags of oak, as if the forest was trying to break into the brash new buildings of this abstracter idol from the East.

Of all these archetypal forests, Arden was one of the greatest. Elm has the country-name of “Warwickshire weed” and into recent times the shire bore the soubriquet—part topographical description, part tourist attractant—of “Leafy Warwick”. Arboreal imagery even features in local heraldry, with the overreaching Earls of Warwick adopting the image of a bear supporting a tree as their armorial crest. This sparsely populated territory was attractive to opportunists as well as outlaws, and in 1540 John Leland found

…the ground in Arden is muche enclosyd, plentifull of gres . . . and woode, but no great plenty of corn

But despite economic depredations, Arden long remained a bosky wilderness evoked piquantly by Warwickshire writers Michael Drayton in his 1622 patriotic epic Poly-Olbion and his more famous contemporary William Shakespeare:

Under the greenwood tree

Who loves to lie with me,

And turn his merry note

Unto the sweet bird’s throat.

Come hither.

Shakespeare set As You Like It in the Ardennes (the Celtic word-root “high place” is the same), but he clearly had in mind the southern fringes of Arden around his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon 20 miles south of Coventry. His mother’s maiden name was Arden, and she belonged to one of only three English families which can trace themselves back directly in the male line to the Anglo-Saxons (1)—so the name is freighted with more than remembrance of a vanished landscape. In the 17th century, Arden was still at least partly forested; the antiquary William Dugdale recorded ruefully, presumably from personal experience of frustrated forwanderings, “the ways are not easy to hit”. The countryside surrounding Coventry—the name tellingly derived from “Cofa’s tree”—is therefore central not just to English geography but also the English imagination; it rustles not just with phantasmagorical foliage but also unnumbered dead. (2)

Warwickshire has existed as an entity since the tenth century, but it is first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 1016, as under attack by Canute’s Danish marauders. The county claims to contain the centre of England at Meriden, between Birmingham and Coventry (3), and the Mercian dialect that was spoken in Warwickshire is the one from which standard English is mostly derived. It spawned the Anglo-Norman romance (circa 1300) of Guy of Warwick, who fought in the Holy Land, and killed the Dun Cow of Dunsmore (near Coventry) and a dragon in Northumberland so he could marry the Earl’s daughter—only to die in poverty outside the castle gates, but acknowledged by her before he died.

In 1312, Piers Gaveston, homosexual lover of Edward II, was murdered just outside Warwick, and in the following century the then Earl Richard Neville—“Warwick the Kingmaker”—played a history-changing role during the Wars of the Roses. For all these reasons and others, Henry James dubbed Warwickshire “unmitigated England”, but this city that has hummed for so long at the county’s core has been—to put it mildly—very much mitigated.

A nunnery was founded on the site by St. Osburga in the 8th century, whose memory is perpetuated in the name of a local Catholic school. “St. Augustine’s arm” was presented to an unspecified local church in 1022, which hints at ecclesiastical importance. Then in 1043 Leofric, Earl of Mercia and one of England’s three most powerful nobles, and his wife Countess Godiva (Godgifu) founded a Benedictine priory whose walls were “enriched and beautified with so much gold and silver that the walls seemed too narrow to contain it.” (4) The Domesday Book (1086) only mentions agricultural holdings at Coventry, although there must have been a town because it became a bishopric in 1102.

The statue of Lady Godiva in the centre of the city

Leofric’s black eagle helps hold up the city’s coat of arms, but his wife’s naked ride on a white horse to protest her husband’s oppressive taxation of the poor has become one of the great traditionary tales of the Middle Ages. Whether it really happened is immaterial, because Godiva embodies ancient attributes and imagery and, like Boudicca before her, became a potent symbol of self-sacrifice and the liberties of the English. Roger of Wendover, whose Flores Historiarum is the earliest account (around 1230), believed the ride had occurred and in any case obviously enjoyed visualizing it:

The Countess, beloved of God, loosed her hair and let down her tresses, which covered the whole of her body like a veil, and then, mounting her horse and attended by two knights, she rode through the marketplace without being seen, except her fair legs, and having completed the journey, she returned with gladness to her astonished husband and obtained of him what she had asked.

In his treatment of the legend, Tennyson evoked the shuttered but watchful town with its frowning gables and worked in the moralistic accretion of the tempted tailor “Peeping Tom”:

And one low churl, compact of thankless earth,
The fatal byword of all years to come,
Boring a little auger-hole in fear,
Peep’d—but his eyes, before they had their will,
Were shrivel’d into darkness in his head,
And dropt before him.

In Hertford Street there is an early 19th century head and shoulders effigy supposedly of Tom, a writhing and agonized image, its mouth open as if shouting in pain, set incongruously on a modern wall facing a newsagents with the appropriate name of Peeping Tom News.

While successive earls made war on successive kings, economic life carried on. There were a dozen mills by the 12th century powered by the River Sherbourne that passes west to east through the basin of the city on its way to the Avon—now mostly gurgling sadly underground, although I found one exposed segment near Spon End that bursts with greenery, damselflies and yellow wagtails, crossed by a graceful 1850s iron bridge.

Wealthy trade guilds funded the building of Holy Trinity, St Michael’s (which became the Cathedral), St John the Baptist’s, Christchurch and St. Mary’s Guildhall. They sponsored the Coventry Mysteries, a cycle of miracle plays acted at Coventry for two centuries until suppressed by devout killjoys in 1591. The Pageant of the Shearsmen and Tailors, which recalled Herod’s “Massacre of the Innocents”, is the source of the Coventry Carol, one of the earliest extant pieces of English music, a lovely evocation of a mother’s love for her endangered infant:

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

The 13th century saw disputes between the “Prior’s Half” and the “Earl’s Half” of Coventry for control of the wool trade. (The expression “true blue” comes from the non-fading qualities of Coventry thread. In Michael Drayton’s 1593 Shepherd’s Garland, the pastoral hero wears “breech of Cointree blue” to symbolize his steadfastness.) In 1345, Coventry was freed from religious control to become the county’s first free city. The new Corporation promptly erected city walls in the local red sandstone—a small stretch of which still stand beside the Swanswell Gate, their eroded evocativeness marred by a recent foot-bridge that leaps arrogantly over, a wonder in structural steel sadly disfigured by blue glass panels.

The Bablake Free School for Boys was founded in the reign of Queen Isabella and, according to a believable tradition, endowed by an ironmonger who had ordered steel from Spain, but was sent by mistake a vastly more valuable cargo of cochineal and silver.

Chesleymore Manor House

Isabella’s grandson (Richard the Lionheart’s son) Edward, nicknamed the “Black Prince” because of his black cuirass, stayed frequently in Cheylesmore Manor House, part of which survives as the city’s register office, a touching relic unhappily blocked in by ugly offices and a car park, where old confetti swirls sadly around in eddies of exhaust from New Union Street nearby. The rooms that once housed princes of the blood royal are heaped with teetering boxes of stationery and broken computers. Yet so proud was the city once of the connection with the hero of Crecy that its motto is still Camera Principis (“chamber of the prince”) and Edward’s heraldic “cat-a-mountain” surmounts the city arms.

In the 15th century, Coventry acquired county status and even held parliaments—the Parliamentum Indoctorum in 1404, the “lack-learning parliament” which lawyers were forbidden to attend, and the Parliamentum Diabolicum of 1459, when the man who would become Edward IV two years afterwards was attainted.

Coventry’s loyalty to the Lancastrian cause persuaded Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou to set up court in the city during the Wars of the Roses—her strategic “secret harbour”, where her husband could manage the wars while she managed his mental breakdowns. Their sojourn here is marked by a stupendous piece of tapestry made in Tournai between 1495 and 1500 that still hangs on the wall for which it was designed in St. Mary’s Guildhall. Columns stitched in the tapestry align with real stone transoms behind, separating saints, symbols, monarchs and courtiers into six compartments patterned with interleaving diamonds, knots and leaves.

The Guildhall is one of England’s most miraculous medieval survivals, considering that is just a few feet away from the blasted Cathedral. When you go through its arched gateway, see the tapestry for the first time, stand in the Ante Room with its disturbingly sloping floor or look out of a leaded window into its courtyard you could be in Bavaria or Saxony. The Great Hall with its tapestry and oaken angels has seen three King Henrys and even played a joke on James II, who was splashed with custard when his table collapsed during a banquet. In an oriel window bay there is a 19th century plaster statue of Godiva being disapproved of by 16th century stone saints but surveyed with friendlier interest by a medieval glass man re-set in a strategic position, whose hand appears to be reaching out to take liberties.

The city dwindled and by 1520 the population had more than halved. Dissolution of the monasteries removed the principal employers, and John Leland recorded plangently, “The glory of the city decayeth”. Coventry had also long been a locus of Lollardism and this led to public burnings of those residents found guilty of the atrocious crime of having the scriptures in a language they could understand. Coventrians still take gloomy pride in this latitudinarian legacy.

Ironically, Warwickshire later developed a reputation for Catholic recusancy. Robert Catesby was an Arden as well as an ardent man, and in 1583 Edward Arden—distantly related to Shakespeare’s mother—was executed for plotting against Elizabeth I. Mary Queen of Scots killed time in Coventry in 1569 in comfortable confinement while Elizabeth wondered what to do with her inconveniently Catholic cousin.

Almshouses for the elderly poor were founded during the 16th century, and two still function in the buildings in which they were founded—Bond’s Hospital and Ford’s Hospital. Other small patches of the Middle Ages have also survived, especially in Spon Street where there are facing rows of handsome shops and houses supported by frames of local oak, but as everywhere in Coventry these sit uneasily with the postwar period’s often hideous heritage. These sturdy buildings, once so workaday with their large families and weavers’ lofts, now give room to prissier businesses—boutiques, wedding planners, financial consultants—while just behind them smile the broken teeth of Sixties office blocks.

In the Civil War Coventry sided with Parliament, and even the city’s women helped to fill in quarries to avoid them being used as cover by Cavaliers:

[T]hey assembled in companies, and marched in military array, with mattocks and spades, headed by an Amazon who carried an Herculean club on her shoulders (5)

With civic sinews bolstered by such sisters, in 1642 the city refused admittance to Charles I. The Coventrians treated Royalist prisoners of war so rudely that “being sent to Coventry” passed into the language as shorthand for being neglected (6). The prisoners were kept in St John the Baptist church, whose banked-up graveyard leans conveniently on the walls of Bond’s Hospital. Bulbs burn in busy rooms that abut tombs topping centuries of Coventrians. Coventry paid for its democratic zeal after the Restoration, when Charles II cast down the city walls so they could never again be held against a King.

Coventry re-built its reputation for skilful workmanship and by the 18th century it had become a centre for silk weaving and clockmaking. Textiles again became economically important, and the population more than quadrupled over the 19th century. There was a burgeoning middle-class, whose lives and modern mores were captured by Mary Ann Evans—better known as George Eliot. (Coventry is thought to have been the model for Middlemarch.)

Engineering came because of good coal and connections (just 95 miles to London, and convenient for Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester, Liverpool, Wales and Ireland). The city was reamalgamated into its historic county (in 1974, it was taken out again and crammed against the locals’ will into the insipid “West Midlands”.) Coventry became a proto-Silicon Valley, the ideal place for local boy James Starley to make his patented Rover Safety Bicycle to replace the more dangerous penny-farthing. His nephew then designed motorbikes and automobiles under the brand name Rover. He rapidly had rivals, ranging from the Great Horseless Carriage Co. to more serious contenders like Humber, Riley, Standard, Triumph, Daimler and Jaguar.

Coventry became Car City, clever with its hands, in love with wheels, dependent upon and devoted to rapid transit, with the 20th century even throwing up reports of spectral coaches and trucks to reflect modern superstitions, replacing the monks and nuns of the pre-engine past. Even in the pleasantest suburbs, or in attractive Green Belt meadows, one can always hear vehicles passing and re-passing endlessly on the ring-roads, roundabouts, bypasses and motorways. Because of the cars, there came aircraft and armaments factories—and because of them the Luftwaffe, dropping death and disaster on the high-tech city as the Royal Air Force would soon do in its turn on equally lovely cities in Germany.

Frank Whittle gazes into a bright future

An archetypal clever Coventrian was jet pioneer Frank Whittle, born in the suburb of Earlsdon in 1907 and captivated by seeing a plane on Hearsall Common in 1916. His bronze shades its eyes with an over-long arm below the Whittle Arch—a huge aluminium X in front of the Transport Museum, a suitable place to reflect on British car manufacturing then and now. Cars are still made here, but the last fully Coventry-made cars were the London black cabs made by LTI, who in March 2010 outsourced manufacturing to China. The last major machine tool manufacturer was also foreign-owned and went out with a bang—Matrix Churchill, secretly belonging to the Iraqi government, which was attempting to supply a “supergun” to Saddam Hussein notwithstanding UK sanctions.

There was a final flurry of hopeful innovation during the short-lived “New Elizabethan” period, which lasted for about a decade until the early 1960s—a period in which romanticists likened the young Queen to her iconic predecessor and predicted a similar efflorescence of Englishness, informed by technology taught in bright new schools just as the earlier Elizabethans had been informed by Reformed theology preached in clear-glassed churches.

Modern Coventry is a monument to their misplaced idealism. There is a list of the Redevelopment Committee on a building at Broadgate House, the first major building of the redevelopment, opened in 1953. It is slightly surreal to read Anglo-Saxon titles like Alderman and unvarnished surnames like Grindlay, Swain and Binks affixed to a dank office that has not resisted time half so well as Cheylesmore—and to imagine what utopian will o’ the wisp took hold of all these bowler-hatted Binkses. They were led by Donald Gibson, CBE, visionary author of the “Gibson Plan”, who combined the roles of Chief Architect and Planning Officer in what could be construed as a conflict of interest. Probably he saw himself as a chummy “Chris” Wren for the Britain of the beatniks.

The Council had been planning massive redevelopment even in the 1930s, and the Mayor said on the morning after the first raid:

We have always wanted a site for a new civic centre, and now we have it

Gibson’s chief innovation was to introduce large pedestrian precincts with cars diverted onto an inner ring road, which may make central Coventry more walkable but also encircles the centre in an unwelcoming envelope of steel railings, stained concrete and charging cars, with flyover supports co-opted for cringeworthy artworks and messages of solidarity from Tito’s Belgrade.

Gibson wanted to remove most of the surviving old buildings, leaving little except Coventry’s landmark “Three Spires”—but some of these were saved because of protests, doubtless to Gibson’s disgust at such sentimentality.

The compromise city is full of surprises and strange juxtapositions, with sudden views of huge Perpendicular spires along half-timbered and sandstone streets—these giving way without warning onto motorized mayhem or raddled rectangles of flaking concrete and tinted glass. The apparent attitude of the redevelopers reminded me of the name of a house I had noticed out in the suburbs—“Itlldo”.

An early Sixties film shown in the city museum shows BBC journalist Raymond Baxter interviewing one of these planners, perhaps Gibson himself—a stocky man in brown three-piece suit with a heavy moustache, like an Ealing Studios character actor. The film is a relic in itself, with its well-dressed and well-spoken participants looking at photos of new and nasty edifices while they shake their heads at the stuffiness of those “homesick for the overcrowded medieval city they knew” and nod approvingly at those who “thinking of their children, and the future, will say ‘It’s smashing!’” The results were indeed “smashing”, although not always in the way intended.

Some of Gibson’s schemes are now being put into reverse as the city undergoes another renovation, and some of this will be an improvement—because the council consulted the public, an approach the opposite of that which prevailed in the 1950s and 60s, when it was assumed that the man from Whitehall really did know best. The best idea is the re-opening of stretches of the Sherbourne right in the middle of the city. It is pleasant to think of the wrecking ball as possible liberator.

One building that will not be altered is Coventry’s most famous landmark—the Grade 1 listed St. Michael’s Cathedral, re-imagined by Sir Basil Spence to win a 1951 competition, filled with the products of some of the period’s finest craftsmen and consecrated in 1962 to the strains of Benjamin Britten’s specially-commissioned War Requiem.

Spence’s bold conception was to leave the 14th century shell standing as its own grave-marker, and build beside it at right angles a whole new cathedral, connected to its predecessor by a concrete canopy. This structural syncretism is not wholly successful, but the ensemble is both evocative of the period and extremely atmospheric. Occasionally, the local newspaper even carries stories of impressionable visitors who say they have heard the droning of aircraft over the old building—memories of the first great raid of 14 November 1940, which the Germans called with gallows humour “Operation Moonlight Sonata”—yet more motorized ghosts to make the city twitch and grumble in its sleep.

Post-modern pilgrims enter through the western porch into the roofless skeleton of the old St Michael’s, with the miraculously surviving tower rising up and up—at 300 feet “a sight to make one’s eyeballs turn about”, as John Russell put it in his 1942 Shakespeare’s Country, repining for this place “where the air is singed with the sudden denial of adoration”. All around are imprints of calcined chapels, and the glassless ghosts of windows—just enough to give some idea of what was lost. Office workers eat lunches on benches and sparrows hop around in hope as school field trippers roam through the remains on their way to the Brave New future as visualized by Sir Basil.

Coventry Cathedral, detail

If we follow them, we come into what feels like a 1980s conference centre, then past a desk where a cashier relieves each visitor of £7, and an indeterminate space of stacked chairs and vestment lockers. It is an inauspicious introduction, but then you climb stairs, passing the poignant crucifix of charred roof timbers that was placed defiantly on the high altar the morning after Moonlight Sonata, and pass into a 270 foot by 80 foot rectangle, crepuscular even by cathedral standards. The darkness is caused by the ‘saw-tooth’ shape of the walls and the abstract stained glass which transmutes even the strongest sun into subdued pulses and mood-zones. But at different times of day it is brighter, because almost the entire south wall, the one that looks out onto the ruins, is a huge window, the Screen of Saints and Angels, with engraved figures by John Hutton. With their ever changing background of sun and cloud beyond the old walls, these are ethereal but unconventional representations of heavenly beings, which the artist has made no attempt to render beautiful. With their empty eyes, gnarled hands and knuckles, and the sky shifting through them, they are striking and slightly troubling—ideal angels for an age of angst.

Chapel of Gethsemane, Coventry Cathedral

Facing them is the 75 foot high tapestry of “Christ in Glory” by Graham Sutherland that fills the opposite wall, a tiny and undifferentiated man standing straight but insignificant between Jesus’ colossal feet. Some of the fittings are bland or ugly, almost like shop fittings, but they are redeemed by reminders of suffering, like the iron “Crown of Thorns” made by the Royal Engineers that frames a giant silver-winged angel in the Chapel of Gethsemane. There are altar cloths embroidered with the names of World War 2 battles and thick books of remembrance, and the centerpiece on the High Altar has as its centerpiece a cross made of 15th century nails from the bombed building. Coventry is the centre of a global network called Communities of the Cross of Nails, all 160 of which display a cross made of old nails from Coventry—and whenever the Royal Navy has an HMS Coventry it carries an identical cross. The last ship of this name was sunk during the Falklands War, and Navy divers went down especially to salvage the cross—which has since been seconded to HMS Diamond, a ship with links to the city.

For a building concerned with conciliation, outside on the east wall there is a surprisingly martial touch in Jacob Epstein’s large 1958 bronze of St Michael standing skinny but strong, with a giant spear in his clenched fist and trampling down the naked and cloven-footed Lucifer.

Like their city, Coventrians themselves have also been in a state of flux in their recent history. In a slightly preposterous but revealing 1968 book called British Tastes, advertising agent D. Elliston Allen takes time out from discussing the beer-drinking habits of the north-east and the body-shapes of women in the Home Counties to remark,

In going out today into the streets of any central Midland town or city, the first reaction of any normally perceptive person can hardly fail to be one of momentary surprise, even shock. Almost everyone, it seems, looks remarkably similar.

If that was true then—he was relying largely on a 19th century book called Races of Britain, unlikely source material for an advertising executive even then—it is much less true now. Thanks first to industrial demand and more recently two universities (plus a higher birthrate) out of a total population of around 310,000 the city has an estimated ethnic minority population of over 25%—although some of these are members of easily assimilable white minorities. Coventry has a relatively low black population (just over 3%) and fewer Muslims than has become usual in English cities. Rather surprisingly, the largest non-Christian religion is Sikhism and I saw a Sikh road-mending crew, elderly men with long wagging beards and yellow turbans to complement their fluorescent safety tabards—although such anecdotal evidence is even less scientific than D. Elliston Allen’s saloon-bar sociology. It is not only bombs or wrecking balls that have changed the city; in a way, Coventry is all of England condensed and speeded up.

An atypical Coventrian was Philip Larkin, born here in 1922, whose father somehow rose to become City Treasurer, despite combining manic depression with literary sensitivity and an admiration for Hitler. The Larkins’ commodious family house in Manor Road (that name itself evoking vanished buildings and vanquished orders) was demolished in the 1960s to make way for some road ‘improvement’, and such casual vandalism could have coloured the poet’s controversial politics.

In “I Remember, I Remember”, he passes through Coventry in 1955 for the first time in years, on a train “coming up England by a different line”. At the station:

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been ‘mine’
So long, but found I wasn’t even clear
Which side was which . . .

As the Binkses continued their ruthless work, in their way as zealous as the Luftwaffe or the Puritans, Larkin would probably have found it even harder to know “which side was which”. But then, as now, all such ‘judgemental’, ‘conservative’, ‘classist’, ‘reactionary’ concerns are generally dismissed as impossible, High Tory, quasi-fascistic fantasies of crowd control and ‘turning back the clock’.

Larkin’s poem ends on notes of self-deprecation and acceptance, with him settling back in his seat as the train pulls out of Coventry, smiling as he brushes off the subject with the mock-flippant line—

Nothing, like something, happens anywhere

The “nothing” Larkin pretended to discount was an intense early life lived in places now largely vanished, and that is also Coventry’s special “nothing”—a history that is simultaneously unique to the place and representative of the whole of England. Despite all the travails of her history, despite the Puritans, planes, planners, and other progressives, Coventry has narrowly succeeded in holding onto some segments of herself—precious particular pieces, a sense of being somewhere rather than just an abandoned “anywhere”.

Photos by the author

NOTES

1. According to James Lees-Milne in the 18th edition of Burke’s Peerage, vol 1

2. Some historians have disputed the notion of huge expanses of unbroken ancient forest, pointing out that human habitation in Warwickshire go back at least 5,000 years and therefore there must have been extensive clearance early on. See, for example Terry Slater, The History of Warwickshire(1981). There is a commendable project to reunite central England’s relict tracts of forest with a scheme called the National Forest

3. Unhappily for Warwickshire loyalists, satellite mapping has identified the real centre of England as being near Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire

4. William of Malmesbury, writing circa 1130

5. Samuel Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of England, 1840

6. It has been surmised that the phrase, like so many others, has Shakepearean origins—cf. Falstaff on his scruffy foot-soldiers: “I’ll not march through Coventry with them, that’s flat” (Henry IV, Part 1)

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *