A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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SOCIAL HISTORY FROM 1700 (fn. 1)
THE 18TH AND EARLY 19TH CENTURIES. Coventry's economic decline in the 16th and 17th centuries was arrested in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. (fn. 2) Nevertheless from the 18th century the centre of political and industrial gravity in the midlands began to shift from Coventry to Birmingham. Coventry remained a significant industrial centre but it could no longer claim its age-old importance as one of the greatest cities of the realm. Compared with its fast-expanding neighbour its prosperity was narrowly based on an industry destined for recurrent periods of distress, and its very streets seem to have assumed in the eyes of contemporaries an aura of backwardness. When Celia Fiennes visited the city in 1697 she found it 'very fine' with broad streets 'very well pitch'd with small stones', and expressed wonder that the bishop, most dignitaries and a large number of gentry chose rather to live in or about Lichfield than at Coventry 'which is a pleasanter situation and better buildings'. (fn. 3) Eighteenth and early-19th-century descriptions did not, however, support this testimonial. Defoe likened the city's appearance to that of 'Cheapside before the Great Fire', (fn. 4) and other writers commented adversely on the age and condition of the buildings, and the dirtiness and narrowness of the streets. (fn. 5) It was, in the words of a foreign visitor in 1814, 'an important town but . . . not a beautiful one'. (fn. 6) Coventry was still predominantly a cloth centre, 1,200 of its 1,860 freemen in 1790 being connected with the weaving trade (fn. 7) and bound to its fortunes and misfortunes. Cobbett, in 1818, a bad time for trade, compared rich farming rural Warwickshire with Coventry's mass of 8,000 miserable paupers out of a population of 20,000. (fn. 8) Certainly the city did not gain in attractiveness for the upper classes as time went on, and a directory of 1830 listed only 32 'nobility and gentry' in Coventry and its immediate neighbourhood, compared with 92 for Warwick and 54 for Leamington. (fn. 9)
Before 1835 most of the members of the corporation were professional men, bankers, lawyers, and even a few landed gentry, although it was not impossible for the richest of the manufacturing class to sit on it. (fn. 10) Apart from this upper crust, however, the ranks of Coventry society in the late 18th and early 19th century were largely related to the organization of Coventry's predominant industry, the ribbon trade. The top rank consisted of the socalled master manufacturers, who were really merchant capitalists, rather than manufacturers, controlling a domestic system operated by craftsmen they did not directly employ. They kept warehouses in London, employed their own commercial travellers, and granted credit to their customers. The considerable capital required for such operations secured them from the competition of smaller men in the trade, and limited their numbers. This group was therefore small, perhaps as few as 25 or 30 prosperous individuals. (fn. 11) These included men like John Hewitt (mayor, 1755, 1758, 1760), who found his way into the ruling class, and was able to entertain at his own expense the neighbouring nobility to balls and banquets on official occasions; (fn. 12) Thomas Bird, a silkmaster who died in 1746, and who gave employment to nearly 2,000 workpeople; (fn. 13) and Charles Bray's father, who died in 1835 leaving all his eight children 'tolerably well provided for', Charles himself being able to start housekeeping on about £1,200 a year with both a town and a country house, and horses, dogs, and carriage. (fn. 14)
Next in status, though far inferior in wealth, was the master weaver or 'undertaker' aptly described as 'a superior sort of working man'. He owned his tools and often his own house and workshop. He was head of a family which included his apprentices, and foreman among his own journeymen. His womenfolk and children helped with the winding and weaving, and beneath his roof, too, some of the journeymen might have their miserable homes. (fn. 15)
The journeymen and their families formed that mass of the population which John Whittingham in 1775 described as 'wretchedly poor'. (fn. 16) They bore the brunt of the periodic depression of the ribbon trade suffering terribly, for example, in the 1720s, the 1780s, the late 1820s, and the early 1830s. In the early 19th century the increase in the number of weavers outpaced the general rise of population in the city, and weekly wages fell from 18s. 1½d. in 1819 to 10s. 10d. ten years later. (fn. 17) In 1822 the average earnings even for figured work were only 10s. a week. (fn. 18) It was at that time that men like Joseph Gutteridge and his father experienced the bitterness of long intervals of unemployment in the severe winter months 'with bread at famine prices, and potatoes spoiled by the frost'. (fn. 19)
Even in normal times the winter months often brought unemployment for half and sometimes all the journeymen, for the trade was seasonal. On an average the journeymen and their families subsisted as a matter of course on poor-relief, charity, and borrowed money for at least two months of the year, and for many such an existence was permanent. The more ambitious might aspire to become undertakers, but these were a minority.
Most belonged to benefit clubs but these were often attached to public houses with membership involving expenditure on drink and other festivities. Moreover there was no guarantee that the club could meet the calls on it in time of crisis, and few journeymen made any other provision for unemployment. (fn. 20) Generally they lived the undisciplined life typical of the industrial worker before the factory era. (fn. 21) They seldom worked on Mondays and 'came a little out of order' on Tuesdays when they did no more than half a day's work. On Wednesdays to Fridays they toiled from early morning till late at night, and on Saturdays till 6 or 7 p.m. On Sunday they were not in any condition to appear in public and by Monday they had finished all their money. (fn. 22)
Naturally enough the journeymen could not usually afford schooling for their children who were employed at an early age in the ribbon industry. Moreover 'ninety men out of every hundred never thought of books'. Only the more ambitious, particularly those of the undertaker class, sent their children to the charity or other day schools at 6d. a day. (fn. 23) Joseph Gutteridge's father was only a workman, yet both he and his wife could read and write well, and Joseph, born in 1816, was sent to a dame school at five and later to a local charity school till the age of thirteen or fourteen. (fn. 24) With the more prosperous class it was different. Charles Bray, born in 1811, the son of a rich manufacturer in Coventry, was sent to boarding school, (fn. 25) and it is clear that a literate public did exist in the city large enough, even in the 18th century, to encourage the existence of local newspapers, organized public entertainment, and the beginnings of learned and cultural societies.
The earliest-known Coventry newspaper (fn. 26) was Jopson's Coventry Mercury first issued by James Jopson of Hay Lane in 1741. It contained advertisements and foreign but no local news and was intended for a wider public than just Coventry. Its first edition, incidentally, claimed that Jopson printed 'books in all languages . . . in as neat a manner as in London'. In 1743 the paper was published briefly also in Northampton, and in the mid 18th century is known to have reached Rutland, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Gloucester, and as far south as the Hampshire borders. In the 1780s the paper was renamed the Coventry Mercury and Warwick, Northants., Leicestershire and Oxfordshire Advertiser. Originally a 'Church and King' paper it continued to be published as the Conservative organ in the city until 1836. (fn. 27)
Nor did Coventry support only one newspaper in the 18th century, though the local rivals of the Mercury at that time proved ephemeral. The Coventry Gazette and Birmingham Chronicle, first published in 1757, (fn. 28) probably came to an end in the early 1760s, (fn. 29) and Piercy's Coventry Gazette is known to have appeared during the two years 1777 and 1778. (fn. 30) In the early 19th century more serious competition arose when the Coventry Herald was founded in 1808 to represent the Whig and dissenting interest in the town. Its editor and publisher, Nathaniel Merridew, then or later a deacon of West Orchard Congregational church, was, significantly, a ribbon warehouseman. The paper remained in the family until 1842 (fn. 31) during which period it was twice challenged by more radical publications: in 1819 by Lewis's Coventry Recorder and in 1827 by the Coventry Observer. The Recorder was ultra-radical in tone, containing attacks on the Coventry corporation, and was probably brought to an end by the prosecution for sedition in 1819 of W. G. Lewis, the editor. (fn. 32)
The Observer, advocating parliamentary reform, was founded in 1827 by a section of the Whigs following a temporary defection of the Herald to the Tories. In 1830 the breach was healed when the Herald agreed again to support the Whigs, and the two papers were amalgamated. (fn. 33)
While the raison d'être of the newspapers was political rather than cultural, the Coventry Mercury did nevertheless feel it worth its while in 1759 to promise its readers 'abstracts of new books on knowledge and science'. (fn. 34) As early as 1742 a lecture on the fire engine was given in the city, (fn. 35) and in 1746 the 'society of gentlemen, for the improvement of learning and natural knowledge' met at the Mermaid Tavern to witness some 'alarming experiments in electricity' conducted by one of the members. (fn. 36) The society is known to have held monthly meetings, and seems to have attracted visiting lecturers to Coventry. Thus, later in 1746 a member of the Philosophical Society of Northampton gave several public demonstrations of the properties of electricity, (fn. 37) and in the following year a course of six public lectures at the 'Mermaid' on 'the Newtonian Experimental Philosophy' was advertised. (fn. 38) The next record of a learned society at Coventry does not occur until the beginning of the 19th century when a number of leading citizens, including the antiquaries George Eld and Thomas Sharp, gave their support to the Philographic Society. This was a small group of about fifteen, whose members agreed to subscribe to periodicals illustrated by engravings and other publications for mutual circulation. (fn. 39)
It was not, however, until 1791 that the Coventry Literary (or Library) Society was founded to conduct a subscription library. It was housed first in a building at the north-east corner of Broadgate (fn. 40) next to the Castle Inn, but in 1829 was reopened in a former chapel in Hertford Street. (fn. 41) In the early 1830s it had about 200 members. (fn. 42)
Although the upper classes generally were not attracted to live in Coventry, it was a centre of entertainment for the neighbourhood as well as for its own citizens. The local race meetings were events of some social prominence. A two-days meeting was held at Cheylesmore Park in 1705, (fn. 43) and races are known to have been held annually from 1755. (fn. 44) In one year at least - 1760 - there were three consecutive days of racing. (fn. 45) A contemporary racecard for 1767 shows that there were then three prizes of £50 each for which a total of nine horses was entered. (fn. 46) The park, however, became unsuitable for racing and after the death of a child in 1783 meetings ended. (fn. 47) While they existed, however, they formed a focus for the fashionable social life of the city and its neighbourhood, being followed in the evenings by dinners and balls.
Indeed balls, assemblies, and dinners were a favourite form of social activity in the upper levels of 18th and early-19th-century Coventry life. They took place at the Drapers' Hall, and at St. Mary's Hall; those in 1760 were said to be 'extremely brilliant, the ladies being in the extreme full dress'. (fn. 48) In 1779 St. Mary's Hall was let by the mayor to a dancing master in preference to John Wesley, (fn. 49) perhaps indicating the scale of values then current in Coventry. On the occasion of these festivities the neighbouring nobility and gentry were attracted to the city to mingle with prominent Coventrians. John Hewitt celebrated his election as mayor in 1755 with a dinner, a ball and supper for the ladies, and a morning concert. He determined to invite only the 'most respectable' city inhabitants and county noblemen and ladies, and the excessive detail with which he recorded these activities for posterity suggests a pretentious wish on the part of the wealthier city middle-class to identify itself with the landed gentry. (fn. 50)
Although the city waits ceased to be paid wages in 1706, and their silver chains and badges were sold in 1710, they continued on a voluntary basis and were still active in 1869. (fn. 51) Music remained a feature of the town's social life as did theatrical performances of one sort or another. In the 1740s concerts of vocal and instrumental music were held at the Bowling Green and at Spires's Spring Garden. The Bowling Green was off St. Nicholas Street, and in 1742 was illuminated in imitation of Vauxhall Gardens in London. Spires's Spring Garden was attached to the Mermaid Inn on the east side of Broadgate and there the season lasted some weeks in the year, musical entertainment being punctuated by theatrical performances and firework displays. (fn. 52)
Apart from popular concerts performed in the gardens there was a more serious musical life in the town. Jopson published music in 1741, and in 1760 the 'numerous and brilliant' audience of nobility and gentry who attended a concert at St. Mary's Hall were entertained to performances of the oratorios Samson and the Messiah under the direction of Capel Bond, a local organist. (fn. 53) In 1755 there was a musical society in the town, of which the mayor was a member, (fn. 54) and a group of amateur instrumentalists formed the Coventry Dilettanti Society in 1807, meeting at the Half Moon Inn and engaging vocalists for their concerts. A Coventry Union Choral Society, which encouraged co-operation between chapel and church choirs was in existence in 1812, and in 1813 gave a concert at St. Mary's Hall. There was also a musical society of instrumentalists active in 1822 in promoting subscription concerts, and there were other subscription concerts at St. Mary's Hall in 1828. (fn. 55) How far these activities embraced the working classes is uncertain, but they, too, did enjoy music. Joseph Gutteridge's father played the flute and on festive occasions he and his brothers met with their instruments. Gutteridge himself recalled listening to the singing of glee clubs. (fn. 56)
St. Mary's Hall was also the focus of dramatic entertainment in the town, professional travelling companies frequently playing there during the season which normally lasted from December to May. One such company in 1746 and 1747 put on a considerable repertoire of Shakespeare alloyed with light farce, (fn. 57) and other companies included J.B. Watson's (1797 and 1810-11), Dorothy Jordan's (1811), and R. W. Ellington's (1813-14). (fn. 58)
Other public halls were also occasionally let to entertainers in the 18th and early 19th centuries. (fn. 59) In 1779 a company was performing in the Market Hall. In 1773-4 Roger Kemble's company occupied the Drapers' Hall for a season, and the hall was again used in 1803 for single performances by Charles Incledon and Charles Dibdin. Kemble is said to have visited Coventry a number of times between 1755 and 1781, either as a member of John Ward's company, or, from 1767, as master of his own. In 1780 he fitted up the Gaol Hall as a theatre. In 1773 Kemble's daughter Sarah married William Siddons, a former member of the company, at Coventry. As Mrs. Siddons she appeared at St. Mary's Hall in 1797.
A hall or concert-room at the back of the Half Moon Inn appears to have served as Coventry's first professional theatre. It was occupied briefly in 1752 by John Ward, who had a theatre in Birmingham, and whose travelling company was well known in Warwickshire and had previously been at Coventry. The theatre was again in use in 1773 and 1778. The hirer in 1773 was a manager called Carleton, whose company was in bitter rivalry with that of Kemble, Ward's son-in-law, then appearing at the Drapers' Hall.
Also in 1752 Ward converted a former ridingschool for use as a theatre, and his 'Warwickshire Company of Comedians' played there for several months. The theatre stood by an open yard on the Burges, adjoining St. John's Bridge, and later known as the Lancasterian Yard, after the school. Among other places occasionally pressed into service by visiting companies were a barn in Spon Street and the tithe barn on Gosford Green.
The annual fair regularly attracted entertainers to Coventry. In 1792 a Mr. Beynon, a Coventry man, fitted up a theatre near Bablake at fair time, and after that date companies visited the town frequently, among them the Sadler's Wells company, which appeared at the assembly room of the 'Rose and Crown' in 1795, with a repertoire of acrobatics, pantomime, and harlequinade. One of the frequent visitors at fairtime was Lowe's Dancing Show, among the members of which was Charley Marsh, a well-known clown. The leading actress of the company was the daughter of Isaac Cohen, the doyen of the Coventry Jewish Community. (fn. 60) The June fair entertainment appears to have occasionally extended into a summer season, for in 1813 Mrs. Marshall's company opened a temporary theatre in June and remained at Coventry for about two months.
Apart from those players mentioned above by name there were plenty of others, so that Coventry was not badly served by players in the 18th and early 19th centuries. They were not always popular, however. At least one actor is known to have been committed to gaol for debt by the magistrates, while in 1778 the master of a company claimed that he had been consigned to the house of correction 'through party prejudice'. The Carleton-Kemble rivalry of 1773 ended in the bankruptcy and dissolution of Carleton's company. It was not unknown for a performance to inspire riots, and there were frequent objections to the use of the dignified precincts of St. Mary's Hall for such occasions as tight-wire dancing, harlequinades, and farce. To these, however, the corporation persistently turned a deaf ear, preferring always to encourage players to settle in Coventry. It was thus appropriate that the first permanent theatre, the Theatre Royal, Smithford Street, should have been built by Sir Skears Rew, mayor in 1815 and 1816.
The Theatre Royal opened in 1819, optimistically with A New Way to Pay Old Debts, and it immediately began to attract audiences, it was said, of 'beauty, elegance and fashion'. In 1820 Edmund Kean appeared at the theatre as Shylock and as Richard III, and the new stage was later to bring many prominent theatrical figures to Coventry, among them John Braham, the singer, Mrs. Elizabeth Rebecca Edwin, (fn. 61) Barry Sullivan, the brothers Osmonde, and Edmund Tearle. (fn. 62)
In such entertainment, as well as the horse-races, the lower and middle classes no doubt found common enjoyment. The working classes, however, also enjoyed simpler and sometimes coarser amusements. John Hewitt in the 1750s denounced among other things card-playing, dice, tennis, skittles, ninepins, billiards, shuffle-board, cock-fights, and dog matches; (fn. 63) but many of the same amusements as well as quoits, bowls, duck-hunting, and bull-baiting were still popular among young workmen at the end of the century. (fn. 64) Apart from the races Cheylesmore Park provided until its enclosure towards the end of the 18th century a place for walks, and plenty of room for bowls. (fn. 65) Cricket was not played very much although there were matches with other towns, (fn. 66) but boxing was popular in Coventry and its neighbourhood in the first half of the 19th century. In the 1820s, for example, a crowd of 8,000 is reputed to have watched a match lasting 122 rounds at Coundon. At election times the leading Coventry boxers became mob leaders and bodyguards. (fn. 67)
The annual Great Fair, held before 1823 chiefly at Cross Cheaping, Market Place, and Half Moon Yard and from the 1820s at Gosford Green, was given over to popular amusement. There were stalls and refreshment booths, and exhibitions, some of an unsavoury nature. (fn. 68) The race-meetings also had their stalls of various kinds, as well as coffee booths, ale booths, and taverns, (fn. 69) while the inns of the town provided bowling greens, such as that opened at the 'Black Bull' in 1767 'for the reception of gentlemen', (fn. 70) and were the centres of the cock-fights. (fn. 71) In 1756 there were 126 licensed victuallers in Coventry able to billet over 600 soldiers, (fn. 72) and in 1828 there were 123 inns, taverns, and public houses. (fn. 73) The establishment of a barracks in Smithford Street in 1793 capable of accommodating two troops of cavalry (fn. 74) no doubt contributed to the prosperity of the public houses, and to the popularity of the pastimes connected with them.
The populace and the troops, however, did not always get on together. In 1800 the 17th Light Dragoons (Lord Feilding's Light Horse) were stationed at Coventry and helped to disperse the serious food-riots of that year. (fn. 75) Relations were so strained that they were replaced by an Irish regiment. By 1809, however, goodwill had been sufficiently restored for the 14th Light Dragoons, then in barracks, to lend their band for the annual Godiva procession. (fn. 76)
THE EARLY TO THE MID 19TH CENTURY. During the 18th and early 19th centuries the rise in Coventry's population combined with the limited room for building to produce extreme congestion and the terrible slum courts described in detail elsewhere. (fn. 77) Nevertheless, although conditions in the meaner districts remained unenviable, developments in the organization of the ribbon trade dating from the latter years of the Napoleonic Wars and becoming widespread in the 1830s led to structural changes in the town's society, which by the mid century resulted in some general improvement in living standards. This was assisted by the establishment by 1830 of the watch trade in Coventry, its subsequent expansion providing a skilled occupation with higher earnings and steadier employment than the ribbon trade could offer. (fn. 78)
Most significant in the new structure of ribbon manufacture was the virtual disappearance, except in the more backward rural areas around Coventry, of the 'undertakers'. (fn. 79) This trend had been evident as early as 1819 when they were called, a little prematurely, 'an almost annihilated race'. (fn. 80) The commercial monopoly of the master manufacturers was broken by the activity of some sixteen or eighteen London and Manchester silk houses. These entered into direct contact with the undertakers offering to assume the business of distribution with the necessary credit facilities. Without the need for capital the more enterprising undertakers thus became small master manufacturers. Meanwhile the old 'manufacturers' cut their losses by moving into production themselves, invading the province of the undertaker and in the more productive engine-loom trade taking most of the business.
There emerged in place of a few big master 'manufacturers' controlling large numbers of undertakers and journeymen, a pattern comprising a more numerous class of manufacturers, some large, some small, together with what became known as 'firsthand journeymen' and 'second-hand journeymen'. Thus by 1838 alongside some thirty manufacturers each employing 50 or more looms (and of whom twelve employed over 100 each, and one over 400) there were about another thirty manufacturers employing ten to 50 looms each. (fn. 81)
The richest and most ambitious of the new manufacturing class aspired after 1835 to membership of the reformed city council, pushing out the professional men and the gentry. (fn. 82) Between the largest and the smallest of the new master class, however, there were considerable differences in wealth and social status. This is particularly evident if we take into account 70 other men employing less than ten looms each, some of whom no doubt regarded themselves as masters. It is significant, however, that 40 of these were first-hand journeymen working on their own account selling goods direct to London agents. Other first-hand journeymen worked in their own houses at their own looms for the larger manufacturers, having a certain independence which the old journeyman class had lacked. These men had certainly advanced their positions attaining a degree of respectability and even of comfort.
The journey-hands, or second-hand journeymen, however, worked either directly for the masters in the factories or for the first-hand journeymen, and they were reduced to a lower status than before, a development accentuated by the breakdown of the apprentice system and the introduction of women to the engine-loom trade after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1838 women and children employed in the journeywork system almost equalled men in number. (fn. 83)
No longer owning their looms the second-hand journeymen became mere unskilled factory labourers or additional hands 'kept in a most demoralising uncertainty between the loom-shop and the workhouse'. (fn. 84) Despite their plight, however, comparison between conditions in the central districts where these changes took place, with those in Foleshill and other country areas, where the old system of undertaking based on the single-hand loom was retained with all the old habits, (fn. 85) indicates that on the whole the weaving class was better off under the new system. What is significant in this connexion is that the first-hand journeymen outnumbered the secondhand men. It was thus not a case of a small prosperous upper-working class riding above a large submerged lower group. In 1838 there were 1,828 adult first-hand journeymen and women compared with 1,225 second-hand workers about 850 of whom worked for first-hand men and the rest in factories. If the effective working group - the family - is taken, the active members numbered 6,796 in the first-hand families and about 2,480 in the lower category, of whom less than 40 per cent. worked in factories. (fn. 86) These figures indicate not only the comparatively large numbers of better-off ribbon workers, but that basically Coventry life was not yet that of the factory town. Eight out of every nine looms in the city were worked in the homes of firsthand journeymen, and of the 3,967 looms owned by them 3,145 were worked by members of their own families and only 822 by second-hand men and apprentices. (fn. 87)
Further investigation of the condition of the second-hand workers is, moreover, significant. The Handloom Weavers' Commission of 1838 concluded that the second-hand journeymen were 'practically Malthusians' deliberately refraining from marriage or limiting the number of their children to an average of one compared with the three of the firsthand group. The second-hand men thus hoped by frugality to become first-hand journeymen, and the class was thus to a certain extent a transitional one, the numbers in each age group within it declining rapidly after the age of 25. (fn. 88)
A change was evident, too, in intellectual outlook. It is true that in 1838 it was recorded that a large number of Coventry people did not attend public Sunday worship being 'too indolent and insensible to clean themselves to go'. (fn. 89) In 1851 only about one person in six attended Sunday religious services in Coventry, (fn. 90) and one writer in 1853 complained of 'hordes of licentious characters' and painted a grim picture of a pagan sub-society housed in the Coventry slums. (fn. 91) Contemporaries who measured by yardsticks other than the purely religious, however, were of the opinion that both working-class conditions and morals had improved.
Abraham Herbert comparing Coventry workingclass life in 1838, the year of his mayoralty, with what it had been fifty years before found that whereas in the 18th century 'vice . . . reigned jointly with ignorance and their sway was co-extensive', the morals of the workers had improved greatly, partly as a result of day and Sunday schools. Only among the 'dispersed and ignorant' inhabitants of the country parishes, where the old industrial system prevailed, did the workers retain 'most of their original barbarism with an accession of vice'. (fn. 92) Although in the city itself some youths lived dissolute and disorderly lives, and there were gangs living partly from crime, most offences were petty and juvenile. (fn. 93) Moreover in the central areas 'superior habits and intelligence', though by no means universal, were said to predominate. The new organization of the ribbon industry was 'most beneficial' and the directors of the poor in 1838 felt that where dissoluteness remained it was chiefly among the second-hand journeymen working in factories, who nevertheless earned good wages though saving little. For the first-hand men 'industry is the rule and idleness the exception'. A hundred weavers had deposits at the Savings Bank and the number was increasing; most belonged to the numerous benefit clubs in the city of which 20 were in contract with the dispensary. (fn. 94)
Of the Coventry friendly societies the Friendly Union of Cow Lane Chapel was founded as early as 1778, but the number of others originating in the middle decades of the 19th century are an indication of growing working-class prosperity. They included the Brotherly Benefit Society (1830), the Benevolent Burial Society (1839), the Church of England Female Provident Society (1840), the Coventry Friendly and Provident Institution (1841), the Church General Burial Society (1844), the Watchmakers' Provident Society (1845), the Unitarian Friendly Society (1850), the Catholic Benevolent Sick Society (1850), the Watchmakers' Widows' and Orphans' Aid Society (1853), and the Watchmakers' Institution (1866). Other societies were to be found in the suburban parishes. (fn. 95)
A 'Loyal and Constitutional Lodge of Odd Fellows' existed as early as 1802. (fn. 96) The first record of a permanent lodge does not, however, occur until 1814, when the Old Trinity Society of the Nottingham Unity was formed. Its headquarters were the George IV Inn, Smithford Street. (fn. 97) By 1872 the Manchester Unity, the Foresters, and the London Unity were also represented, the latter by a single lodge in Foleshill. (fn. 98) The Coventry district of the Manchester Unity was opened in 1842, when it comprised three lodges, the Philanthropic (1838) and the Earl of Craven (1840), formerly in the Birmingham district, and the Fountain of Friendship (1840), formerly in the Atherstone district. By 1846 there were sixteen lodges with 638 members, and some rationalization followed, so that by 1860 the number of lodges had been reduced to six. (fn. 99) In 1872 these had a membership of 1,140. (fn. 100)
There were also several attempts at co-operative enterprise in this period. Groups existed in Coventry and Foleshill in 1829 and in 1838, though none lasted long. In 1843 Charles Bray and Joseph Cash founded the Coventry Co-operative Labourers' and Artisans' Friendly Society which provided 400 working men with allotment gardens, and in premises in Gas Street sold coal, groceries, and flour to a membership of at least a thousand. The slump beginning in 1859, combined with an unwise credit system, however, brought it to an end. Meanwhile a group in Lockhurst Lane, started in 1832, survived this critical period and in 1888 had 3,000 members. (fn. 101)
Middle-class observers of working-class conditions concluded that although they had lost ground to other artizans (fn. 102) the purchasing power of weavers' wages in 1838 was far greater than in the late 18th century, the first-hand journeymen having 'notions of living' which the undertakers had had fifty years before. They were generally better clothed, better fed, and better housed than before and 'would feel the same condition with which they were formerly contented as one of suffering'. (fn. 103) After 1838 periods of distress in the ribbon trade were less frequent and less prolonged than before, until 1860, and development in factory employment also led to higher standards of living in some directions. By the later 1850s it was in the factories that female and child labour was most evident. About 1857 four large factories contained together 426 men over 20, 119 under 20, 501 women over 20 and 226 under. Generally speaking the factory employees came from the class previously providing undertakers' journeymen and half-time apprentices, and since they received in the factories a third more wages they were better off than before. (fn. 104) In their new prosperity they aspired to a degree of respectability previously unattainable by them. (fn. 105)
In addition to these changes in ribbon making the watch trade produced a sizeable working-class élite in the years between 1830 and 1860. In watchmaking men could average 25s. a week, and apprentices up to 7s. with overtime. Their wives and young children did not normally have to work and many watchmakers belonged to building societies and social clubs. (fn. 106)
The change for the better, however, had its limitations. It could be upset by trade depression, as happened in the early 1840s. Thus in 1841 wages in the silk industry fell 50 per cent. and unemployment rose. (fn. 107) Two years later it was reported that 'bread, potatoes, and tea constituted the staple diet' of the Coventry workers and that inability to maintain decent appearances in clothing and household comforts was leading to a 'low and grovelling mode of living'. Even in periods of steady employment the openings for women and children in the factories had disadvantages, despite the comparatively good wages. Young girls were attracted by the 8s. or 10s. a week they could earn and fell into bad company. (fn. 108) Joseph Gutteridge found factory life coarse and 'very demoralising to youths with any pretensions to refinement' and sought to avoid employment in a place where 'moral depravity' resulted from the 'indiscriminate association of adults and young people of both sexes with but little restraint in a tainted atmosphere'. (fn. 109) Moreover the outdoor weavers resented the competition of the factories which threatened to reduce their earnings, and it was this as well as opposition to the factory system as a way of life that led to 'cottage factories' being established in Coventry at this time. (fn. 110)
It is also true of this period that among the few single-hand weavers left in the central area, as with the many in that category in the outlying districts, (fn. 111) real grinding poverty remained as a normal state. The head of police revealed in 1838 that in their hovels there was often 'only a little straw and a coverlet for a bed . . . plenty of children but scarcely a chair to sit down upon'. (fn. 112) In this group, too, bastardy was common, girls commonly being pregnant before early marriages without incurring any censure from the community in which they lived. (fn. 113) The children were put to work at winding at about eight years of age, toiling for many hours a day for less than 1s. 6d. a week. At the age of about twelve children of both sexes were introduced to the loom. Three-quarters of the single-hand weavers were female and of the males about one-third were under sixteen. (fn. 114) The tendency of operatives of this class to drift from the country areas into the engine trade of the central districts represented another danger to the standards of the second-hand journeymen with whom they then competed for employment. (fn. 115)
The Handloom Weavers' Commission found 'an extensively prevailing indifference' to the education of children throughout the weaving districts (fn. 116) and their report on the state of school education in the city in 1838 was not flattering. (fn. 117) Nevertheless there was evidence of growing intellectual and political interests among the working classes. Although the older weavers generally had 'no intellectual excitements whatever', the younger men were more actively-minded. In 1819 a society of 'political protestants' aiming at radical political reform, existed in Coventry. In 1837 a socialist speaker addressed an audience of Coventry artisans on the Owenite system, and this was followed on the next year by more socialist meetings at St. Mary's Hall. Consequently the Handloom Weavers' Commission reported in 1838 that young workers in the town had a great interest in 'socialism' which was considered to be fostered by the factory system. (fn. 118)
Whether the young Gutteridge, who read Voltaire and Paine, (fn. 119) was typical is doubtful but some of the new class of factory workers were, by the 1850s, tending to educate their children and to apprentice them if possible to the superior calling of watchmaking. Watchmakers at that time were keeping their children at school until fourteen. (fn. 120)
Working-class interest in cultural matters can be seen clearly as early as the late 1820s and the 1830s, but the impetus to organized activity came from the middle class. There were adult schools in Coventry in 1815, held in private houses. They then had 103 'learners' who were 'very fond of the Bristol Spelling Book for Adults' as well as 45 who had learned to read the testament. (fn. 121) It was, however, the Mechanics' Institution, founded in 1828, which was the chief means of advancement for young weavers in the 1830s, and many of them were members. It provided them with classes in writing, arithmetic, geometry, geography, grammar, and music. (fn. 122) As well as several classrooms, the institution's building in Hertford Street (acquired by 1834) possessed a museum, a library, a reading room, and a lecture hall capable of holding 500. The library had some 2,000 volumes in 1838. The reading room was said to be very popular and in 1850 was supplied with four daily papers and many periodicals. The museum was founded in 1834 and soon acquired a substantial, if unselective, collection. (fn. 123)
The aim of the institution was 'to instruct the members in the principles of the arts they practise, and in other branches of useful knowledge' but 'party politics and controversial theology', as in most mechanics' institutes, were specifically excluded. (fn. 124) Nevertheless the founders of the institution, J. S. Whittem, a shroud manufacturer and wine merchant, Dr. John Southam, a Mr. Grant, and a Mr. Whitehead, were said to be 'men of very advanced opinions who thought working men were in need of better education'. When in the early 1830s Owenite socialists became prominent among the members a breach occurred and an Anglican minority withdrew in 1835 to form a rival institution, the Coventry Religious and Useful Knowledge Society, Little Park Street, sponsored by Dr. Hook, Vicar of Holy Trinity. This, too, provided a library, a reading room, courses of lectures, and classes in elementary subjects as well as in design, philosophy, architecture, and music. In 1855 it rejoined the Mechanics' Institution to form the Coventry Institute.
By 1839 the socialists in the Mechanics' Institution had, in their turn, quarrelled with the majority, and a group of 60 or 70 left to form a third institution, the ephemeral Coventry Universal Community Society or Coventry Education Society. (fn. 125)
Another religiously sponsored institution was a book club, connected with chapels in Cow Lane and Vicar Lane, which provided for the working classes a library comprising works on religion, biography, history, and travels. Several booksellers in this period lent novels at 2d. a volume. (fn. 126)
The Mechanics' Institution, weakened by the defections and by financial troubles, gradually became a middle-class club, and by 1849 it was lamented that support came mainly from 'those who cannot properly be called working men'. (fn. 127) William Andrews, as an ambitious apprentice living at home, earned less than £5 in 1853, but was able to join the institution in the following year. (fn. 128) Nevertheless the 10s. annual subscription was considered too high by many workers, especially those who were married. (fn. 129) The changing role of the institution was reflected in the type of lectures provided. In 1834 the subjects had included the steam-engine and human physiology. (fn. 130) Twenty years later poetry and history were the topics. (fn. 131)
Another society of the same type in existence at this time was the Lockhurst Lane Mutual Improvement Society whose extant minutes run from 1837 to 1843. Its object was the improvement of the literary and scientific knowledge of its members who met weekly at each others' houses. There were classes in spelling, writing, arithmetic, and other elementary subjects indicating that some of the members were probably working-class. The topics of papers and discussions, however, suggest the activities or at least direction of educated men, and it is probable that like the Mechanics' Institution its membership became largely middle-class without having set out to be so. The society did, nevertheless, have a certain radical political and non-religious, probably agnostic, atmosphere and included amongst its members Charles Bray and John Gulson. (fn. 132) It was probably the same society of 'free thinkers called the Coventry Mutual Improvement Class' joined by Joseph Gutteridge in the late 1840s and still in existence in 1858. (fn. 133) Charles Bray certainly set up a club aimed directly at working men about 1845, with a reading room and rooms for meetings. It did not, however, prosper because, he alleged, his own weavers preferred the public house.
The non-religious bias of the Mutual Improvement Society alienated the local clergy (fn. 134) underlining the division between secular and religious groups in the city (fn. 135) already evident in the early history of the Mechanics' Institution. (fn. 136) There was, however, another division which cut across these differences and this was the opposition of an amalgam of Anglican-Tory sentiment to the nonconformistradical alliance. This cleavage was much more important in Coventry than any clash of classes, for Coventry's industrialism was not yet factorycentred. (fn. 137) The burning of the first steam-powered factory in Coventry in 1831 by irate weavers only deferred the employment of steam for five years, (fn. 138) but in 1838 only 598 of the 4,088 looms in the city were in factories or loom shops, and most of the factories which existed were small, most of the looms being owned by the weavers and worked by their families. (fn. 139) Thus they were 'working men from necessity and not from choice', (fn. 140) and their individualism was not conducive to the growth of such political and social action as was found in the factory centres of the north. (fn. 141)
In 1838 there still existed a community between the classes resulting from the large-scale residence of numerous small employers, many themselves working men, from the existence of a middle class of shopkeepers largely dependent on the weavers being paid sufficient wages, (fn. 142) and from the fact that over 3,500 Coventry men had the parliamentary vote, making it one of the most popular borough constituencies. (fn. 143)
Nevertheless from the 1830s onwards there was a worsening of relations between different groups in the ribbon industry. Already by 1838 some of the newer masters were proving harder employers than the 'old manufacturers' and their influence in the reformed city council was looked on by the weavers with apprehension. (fn. 144) Quarrels and strikes occurred from time to time, and the masters sometimes forced acceptance of a revised list. Nevertheless during the 1830s the majority of masters supported the weavers' associations and even the strike weapon as a means of enforcing the list on other masters who sought to undercut. (fn. 145) On the whole the atmosphere was harmonious.
The altering structure of the industry, however, gradually wrought changes. The newer, smaller, masters increasingly resented the idea of a list at all and their feelings slowly became dominant within the ruling element in the city. It became more and more difficult, and eventually impossible to obtain general acceptance of a list. Moreover the growth of factories in the 1840s and 1850s not only represented serious competition to the outdoor weavers but also created a class of well-paid operatives whose interests were not identical with those of the outdoor weavers and who at first felt no need of the protection of the list. (fn. 146)
As divisions of interest between manufacturers, undertakers, and workmen became more distinct trade unions in the modern sense began to develop, although in Coventry the growth was slow. It is true that a United Committee of Ribbon Weavers existed in Coventry as early as 1805 aiming not only at maintaining the list but protecting journeyhands against low wages. (fn. 147) There is no record of this body after 1806, (fn. 148) however, and it appears to have disappeared in the subsequent years of poor trade.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars there emerged a Coventry Weavers' Provident Union for Trade and Burial, which appears to have been a journeyhands' union. (fn. 149) This or an identically named union with the same declared aims existed in 1826. (fn. 150) In 1816 a Weavers' Association having as its aims the prevention of combinations of journeymen (fn. 151) may have been an opposing association of undertakers. Nevertheless the old feeling of common interests had not disappeared, and in 1819 this association, or another committee of weavers, was co-operating with the masters, in the interests of the trade and its workers as a whole, to maintain a price list. It is ironic that an 'aggregate committee' administering money subscribed by this weavers' group and the manufacturers had its funds confiscated as a result of the only prosecution in Coventry under the Combination Acts. The 'aggregate committee', however, continued to exist. (fn. 152)
After the repeal of the Combination Acts combination against the masters began to replace combinations with them, although in Coventry these associations were still considered 'on such terms of amity with the great body of the masters, as to be constantly recognized and used as part of the trade system'. (fn. 153) New combinations of weavers and of masters were, however, more permanent than the older ones. The Coventry Silk Manufacturers' Association in existence by 1826, (fn. 154) for example, continued at least until 1838. (fn. 155)
Coventry was only slightly affected by the movements for a general union in the early 1830s. In the winter of 1833-4 weavers' meetings determined to join a 'National Trades Union', (fn. 156) and later Owen's Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (fn. 157) just before its collapse. But nothing came of this movement, and though some feeling of solidarity with workers elsewhere is evident in the petitions of Coventry weavers on behalf of the Tolpuddle martyrs, (fn. 158) strong class feeling was slow to evolve at Coventry where the smaller masters and the firsthand journeymen were of the same class and the more ambitious of the second-hand journeymen aspired to first-hand status.
By the 1840s and 1850s, however, the new masters opposed to the list were gaining the ascendancy, while at the same time the shopkeepers and the magistrates, previously also upholders of the list, began to turn against the weavers. Forced in on themselves the weavers began to organize more permanent unions. (fn. 159) In 1842 a distinct union for Coventry workmen in the plain trade appeared with the cumbersome title of the Weavers' Association for the Protection of Weavers' Interests in the Plain Ribbon Trade. It lasted for some twenty years, (fn. 160) but various unions for the figured trade formed from 1842 onwards were less successful and had short lives. (fn. 161) Nevertheless by about 1857 a Coventry Ribbon Weavers' Association was catering for outdoor weavers both in the plain and the figured trades. (fn. 162)
In 1850 the factory hands organized themselves into a union. (fn. 163) The Factory Operatives' Association concerned itself particularly and with some success with enforcing the Factory Acts. (fn. 164) An attempt in 1856 to unite factory and outdoor weavers in one union (fn. 165) was not successful. (fn. 166) The two groups, however, appear to have worked together with a joint committee in 1859, (fn. 167) and following the crisis of 1860 one union was formed for all branches of weaving in the city, although in the years of bad trade membership declined. (fn. 168)
By this time the distinction between the interests of workmen and employers was more sharply felt than ever before. (fn. 169) In 1858 a new Coventry Silk Manufacturers' Association was formed (fn. 170) with very different views on co-operation with the weavers' organizations than had prevailed earlier in the century. It opposed any price list and managed to avoid involving itself in the joint boards of conciliation which were projected. (fn. 171) Masters in the watch trade, also experiencing bad times, likewise refused to co-operate with the Coventry Watchmakers' Association which had been formed in 1858 with the object of fixing minimum wages. (fn. 172)
Taking the period as whole, however, the rift between the classes did not usually take as violent a form in Coventry as elsewhere. Owenism waned, and Chartism, for example, was generally less militant than in other places. (fn. 173) Differences over the Chartist movement, education, the corn laws, church rates, and other topics did not inevitably reflect the division between employer and worker. The radicals tended to be dissenters, and to support the AntiCorn Law League, to favour Chartism, and naturally to object to paying church rates. (fn. 174) They disliked the nascent monopoly of Anglican education in the 1830s and hastened to found non-denominational schools. Over such issues as poor relief, freemen's land, and public health party loyalties were more blurred.
All these matters were aired in the local press. From the 1850s with their reduction in price consequent on tax repeals and with the expansion of education, Coventry newspapers multiplied. The Coventry Herald remained the organ of Whig and later of Liberal opinion. Charles Bray, who acquired the paper in 1846 and held the editorship until 1867, transformed it into a significant force in local affairs and in the formation of public opinion. Among the causes advocated were those of co-operation, allotment gardens, voluntary medical insurance, charity reform, and popular education. Literary criticism was also a feature of the paper, and Bray published a series of essays contributed by his friend George Eliot. (fn. 175) The Herald although Liberal in politics was unsectarian in religion, reflecting the standpoint of the editor, whose opinions were described as pantheist. Such views inevitably caused uneasiness in dissenting quarters, and John Gordon, minister of the Unitarian Great Meeting, is said to have encouraged T. A. Marrs, a member of his congregation, to found a rival liberal sheet, the Coventry Advertiser, in 1852. This, however, survived only a few weeks. (fn. 176)
The Conservative organ, the Mercury, ceased publication in 1836, to be replaced immediately by the Coventry Standard and Warwickshire Advertiser. The editorial policy was one of protection for agriculture and manufacture, and defence of the Established Church. One of its editors was Benjamin Poole, the historian of Coventry. (fn. 177)
The Herald experimented briefly in 1858 with penny Saturday and Wednesday editions, and a penny Saturday edition of the Standard was published in 1857. These papers did not, however, become wholly penny publications until 1863 (Herald) and 1887 (Standard). (fn. 178) The first real penny paper in Coventry was the Coventry Times, founded in 1855 as a nonconformist organ. (fn. 179) Its circulation rose from 2,000 in 1855 to 5,000 in 1859, a figure claimed as 'almost five times' that of the Herald or the Standard. (fn. 180) Another new journal, the Coventry Free Press, also sold for a penny, was established by W. F. Taunton in 1858 as a radical week-end paper. Taunton, afterwards the editor of the Labourers Union Chronicle, itself for a time published at Coventry, gave space in the Free Press to labour and temperance causes, and his paper sponsored the first temperance social and working-men's club at Coventry. Taunton also organized a series of 'popular penny readings' at the Corn Exchange in connexion with the paper. (fn. 181) In 1859 he began to publish a second paper, the Midland Express, intended to serve several midland towns too small to support separate papers alone. This was absorbed by the Free Press in 1862, and the combined papers amalgamated with the Herald in 1863 as the Herald and Free Press. (fn. 182) Two other new Liberal papers, the Coventry Examiner, launched in 1859, and the Coventry Liberal, founded in 1868, survived for a few months only. (fn. 183)
THE MID TO THE LATE 19TH CENTURY. Coventry's claim to have been a cultural centre in the mid 19th century largely rests on the residence from 1841-9 at Harnall of Mary Ann Evans (later Cross), better known as the novelist 'George Eliot', and of Charles Bray at Radford. Bray was a wealthy ribbon manufacturer who had married Caroline Hennell, daughter of another Coventry ribbon manufacturer and sister of Charles Hennell whose Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity, published in 1838, had a considerable effect on George Eliot's religious outlook. (fn. 184)
Bray himself was radical in outlook and dabbled in Owenism and other working-class movements. He was a free-thinker, in touch with the current intellectual trends, and a prolific writer on philosophical, religious, and social matters. His interests drew him into Coventry public life in all sorts of ways, and his house, Rosehill, which he bought in 1840, attracted visiting intellectuals, many of whom became mutual friends of the Brays and George Eliot. (fn. 185)
Bray claimed that these acquaintances were 'of the better sort of literary people'. (fn. 186) Many of them were educationists and philosophers, some of whom shared Bray's and George Eliot's interest in phrenology. (fn. 187) Apart from the attachment to phrenology the Rosehill connexion was not a scientific circle like the 18th-century Lunar Society at nearby Birmingham, and was indeed much less closely knit having no pretensions to formal organization. Apart from Bray himself those who attended the Rosehill gatherings appear to have had little interest in Coventry itself, though George Eliot did write for Bray's Coventry Herald (fn. 188) and George Dawson gave a lecture at the Mechanics' Institution. (fn. 189) On the whole, however, Rosehill was not a focus of Coventry life. It is true that George Eliot's impressions of the town and its neighbourhood found their way into her novels. Her house was within sight of slum dwellings and the poverty of the occupants impressed her. (fn. 190) In Middlemarch, which has been identified with Coventry, she depicted the life of the upper and middle classes in and about the town, (fn. 191) but Coventry had greater impact on George Eliot than she on it. Indeed on first coming to the district she remarked on the 'thick wall of indifference behind which the denizens of Coventry seem inclined to intrench themselves'. (fn. 192) Bray, too, admitted that for the intellectual companions they sought they 'were obliged to go beyond the town'. (fn. 193)
Among those who visited Rosehill (fn. 194) were Cornelius Donovan, a London phrenologist who gave Bray and George Eliot lessons in organology; (fn. 195) George Combe, the Scottish phrenologist, whom George Eliot visited in Edinburgh and found agreeable; James Simpson, another Scot, with an interest in education and who was associated with Combe in establishing the Phrenological Journal; George Dawson, preacher and lecturer, active in political and educational movements in Birmingham and companion to R. W. Emerson and Carlyle whose works he did much to popularize; (fn. 196) Emerson himself, who admired George Eliot's 'great calm soul' and whom she called 'the first man I have ever met'; (fn. 197) James A. Froude, the historian, who was 'charmed with his new Coventry friends' and whose Nemesis of Faith George Eliot had reviewed in the Coventry Herald; (fn. 198) Herbert Spencer, the sociologist, at one time thought a likely husband for George Eliot whom he met through John Chapman, the political writer; (fn. 199) Chapman himself and Robert William MacKay, the philosopher, both of whom were associated with George Eliot in the Westminster Review; (fn. 200) John Conolly, the inspecting doctor for lunatic asylums in Warwickshire, and a reformer of such institutions; (fn. 201) and Robert Owen whose 'system', however, George Eliot felt could prosper only 'in spite of its founder and not because of his advocacy'. (fn. 202)
Phrenology probably had its following in Coventry outside the Rosehill group. William Andrews as a young apprentice ribbon designer in 1851 went to have his 'phrenological bump' examined in the town. (fn. 203) In music too, an incidental interest at Rosehill, there was a following in the town. The old Choral Society, which had lapsed, had been revived in 1834 as the Coventry Choral Society, again uniting members of church and chapel choirs. It was led by Edward Sims, organist of St. Michael's where a series of 'public rehearsals' was held from 1840 to 1845. The society had a membership of 80 or 90 when it was dissolved in 1849 at the instance of the new vicar. Music lovers almost immediately transferred their allegiance to a new Coventry Choral and Instrumental Society, over which Sims presided. This society appears to have foundered in the general depression of the early 1860s but between 1856 and 1861 it was responsible for a number of symphonic and choral concerts at the Corn Exchange, opened in 1856. Other musical groups at this period included the Harmonic Society which staged a concert at St. Mary's Hall in 1847, and the Glee and Madrigal Society, established in 1850, whose members sang annually at St. Mary's Hall from 1851 to 1854. (fn. 204)
The Corn Exchange had a hall capable of seating 1,500 to 2,000 people (fn. 205) and it was here that in 1857 a season of 'people's concerts' was inaugurated with prices 'available to the humblest of our operatives'. (fn. 206) During the same year Dickens gave a reading of his Christmas Carol, and other concerts and entertainments were promoted from time to time. (fn. 207)
Less intellectual entertainment continued to flourish. Wombwell's Menagerie with its parasitic side-shows was still visiting Coventry in 1849, and Holloway's London Company of Melodramatic and Pantomime Players continued to be popular. (fn. 208) Somewhat more serious fare was provided at the Theatre Royal which appears to have reached the peak of its success in the 1850s. Then a critic once reported 'overflowing houses throughout the week, in fact too overflowing on Tuesday night . . . more than 700 people in the gallery alone, full of fun and pancakes, and little could be heard of the play, and we fear even the ghost (in Macbeth) could not be seen by many'. (fn. 209) With the economic depression of the 1860s, however, the theatre's popularity declined and it became a music hall, later known as the Empire Palace of Varieties, eventually closed in 1889. (fn. 210) Other mid-Victorian music halls included the Parkgate Concert Room, Little Park Street, opened in 1848, (fn. 211) and the Britannia Theatre of Varieties (later the Britannia Vaults and Music Saloon) which had become defunct by 1892. (fn. 212)
Perhaps the earliest record of amateur performances in modern Coventry dates from 1853, when the Coventry Dramatic Amateurs acted Pizarro and The Irishmen in London at the Theatre Royal, for the benefit of the Freemen's Seniority Fund. The same group also took a production to Warwick, and, later in the year, presented The Mutiny of the Nore and Eugene Aram at Coventry in aid of the Kidderminster carpet-weavers, who were on strike. The following year there were further performances. In 1855 the officers of the 1st Royal Warwickshire Militia put on a play at the theatre, and in 1862 the Volunteer Rifle Corps acted A Change of System and Rumplestiltskin. The following year the 1st Battalion Warwickshire Rifle Volunteers gave a performance for the benefit of the north Warwickshire relief fund for distressed weavers. (fn. 213)
A growth of library facilities also occurred during this period. In 1850 the Coventry Library Society had about 10,000 books together with a news and reading room providing London and provincial weeklies. In 1840 there were 145 subscribers, and by 1850 about 200. In the 1860s, however, the institution declined. (fn. 214) This was probably a result of the economic depression combined with the high subscription of one or two guineas, rather than of any fall in the demand for reading matter. When the society was eventually forced to close in 1866, its volumes were bought from funds raised by public subscription (fn. 215) and in 1868 the library was reopened by the corporation as a free public library. Over 4,000 persons registered as borrowers and more than 60,000 volumes were issued in the first year. (fn. 216)
The establishment of a civic library open to all was perhaps symptomatic of a change in the attitude towards working-class educational advance. Joseph Gutteridge was astonished when in the 1850s his employer deigned to discuss botany with him and gave him copies of the Edinburgh Review and the Westminster Review 'notwithstanding our different social positions', for he felt at that time that the educated few were 'jealous lest their inferiors should taste of the tree of knowledge'. (fn. 217) Now Gutteridge sat with three other working men on the committee of the Free Library, side by side with John Gulson, mayor in 1868, who presented the city with a site for a new library building. (fn. 218) The Gulson Library replaced the Hertford Street building and was opened in 1873 on the site of the disused gaol and adjoining County Hall. It included a reading room and a circulating library and a new wing was added in 1890 to serve as a reference library. (fn. 219)
As a consequence the library of the Coventry Institute, formed in 1855 as an amalgamation of the Mechanics' Institution and the Religious and Useful Knowledge Society, became less important. The Institute's museum appears to have been dispersed about 1882. Like the old Mechanics' Institution the Coventry Institute had by 1871, few of the artisan class' amongst its members, who were mostly 'middle and upper class'. Lectures continued to be given and classes, including some in science, but the institute came to approximate more and more to a literary centre and social club. It lasted until 1888 when the building in Hertford Street was sold and the institute was amalgamated with the new Technical Institute. (fn. 220)
In the early 1860s weekly 'penny readings' were held at St. Mary's Hall and the Corn Exchange. Readings and musical performances given by local 'ladies and gentlemen', together with free gifts of books, attracted large audiences. They ended in 1864 but out of them grew in 1865 the Coventry City Club with reading and recreation rooms managed by a committee of working men and middle-class citizens. It aimed at uniting the classes in fellowship, 'perfect social equality being observed in the club house'. (fn. 221) A working men's club founded in 1861 still existed in 1903, (fn. 222) and in 1885 there was a debating and lecture group known as Crane's Literary Society. (fn. 223)
This period saw the establishment of the Coventry Perseverance Co-operative Society which took premises in Cook Street in 1865, opening a shop in 1867. The society was successful and gradually expanded weathering both trade depressions and attacks and boycotts initiated by private traders' associations in the 1890s and in 1902. (fn. 224) The society from at least 1870 was active in promoting adult education, organizing classes and lectures both by itself and in conjunction with the university extension schemes and the local education bodies. (fn. 225) The local Y.M.C.A., which found rooms in Little Park Street in 1860, also provided classes and lectures, largely on literary, historical, and moral themes. (fn. 226)
The comparative prosperity of Coventry's working population by the middle years of the century was rudely shaken and threatened to disappear altogether when the crisis in the ribbon trade of the early 1860s hit the town. Thousands were thrown on poor-relief and charity: the number receiving out-relief rose tenfold between 1859 and 1861. The unemployed included designers and managers, like William Andrews who sought work on the continent, and the thriftiest of the skilled artisans who often lost everything in the crash. Even for those in employment wages fell. Strikes and lock-outs embittered relations with the employers the smallest of whom anyway went bankrupt. (fn. 227) William Andrews on return from abroad found even John and Joseph Cash, for whom he went to work again, changed as a result of the collapse of trade having become 'arbitrary and exacting, and harsher in their manner'. (fn. 228)
The way seemed open for the conversion of Coventry into another typical Victorian textile town with large units of production and a homogeneous mass of underpaid mill hands kept docile by competition for employment. In fact developments in the town were considerably more complex. The trend towards factory working was checked by the collapse of trade and by 1866 many factories had closed and almost half the trade was carried on outside. Nevertheless conditions worsened. By then two-thirds of the ribbon weavers in the area were women and children; employment averaged only six months in the year and wages had been reduced by 30 or 40 per cent. Not only that but child labour being cheap was exploited, particularly in the 'cottage factories'. Boys of 9 to 15, and even as young as 7, were used extensively to turn looms by hand to save steam power. Some 300 boys in 1866 toiled for twelve to fourteen hours a day at an occupation denounced by the Children's Employment Commission as cruel, injurious to health, and, at times, fatal. (fn. 229)
Fortunately by then ribbon weaving was only part of the industrial picture in Coventry. In a remarkably short period of time the town was transformed by the advent of new industries. Already in 1864 the working classes had been reported 'in a hopeful state' enjoying fetes, picnics, and excursions as never before. (fn. 230) A general fall in prices offset somewhat the fall in wages in the ribbon industry, and at the same time diversification of employment offered better opportunities. The number dependent on the ribbon trade in 1861 had been cut by the early 1880s to about a quarter, (fn. 231) and by 1888 the cycle trade had become one of the chief industries. In addition specialized forms of ribbon manufacture developed and there was then a cigar factory and an iron foundry. Drug production, electro-plating, printing, book-binding, and box-making were also being carried on. (fn. 232)
T. W. Bushill of Thomas Bushill and Sons, boxmakers, was perhaps an unusual employer at this time. He 'did not see how the average workman had a fair chance of a man's share in life' so he inaugurated in the early 1890s a profit-sharing scheme for his employees, without distinction between union and non-union men. (fn. 233) By this time, however, many Coventry workmen looked to trade unions for protection and advancement of standards. In 1890 the Coventry Trades Council, to which most unions belonged, published its first annual report, and in 1891 the following unions, whose names indicate the growing variety of employment, were members: Associated Society of Engineers, Toolmakers, Coachmakers and Wood-cutting Machinists, Steam-Engine Makers, United Machine Workers, Associated Brass-founders, Amalgamated Smiths and Strikers, Electrical Trades, Building Trades, Shop Assistants, Co-operative Employees' Union, National Union of Clerks, Furnishing Trades, Tailors and Tailoresses, Bakers and Confectioners, Ironfounders, Pattern Makers, Brassworkers and Metal Machinists, Coremakers, Tinplate Workers, National Union of Coppersmiths, Tramway Workers, Gas Workers and General Labourers, Workers' Union, Midwives, National Federation of Women Workers, National Union of Railwaymen, Railway Clerks' Association, Printing and Kindred Trades, Civil Service Postmen's Federation, and Postal Clerks. (fn. 234)
The great improvements in public health, initiated in the 1840s and 1850s, (fn. 235) combined with a high level of employment to make Coventry's workers' social position by the 1880s 'superior to that of most manufacturing towns', 'better housed', working in 'better factories and workshops', and living in 'a pure atmosphere' with many communal facilities. (fn. 236) Nearly every workman now belonged to one of the benefit societies. (fn. 237)
Even the ribbon trade took on a new lease of life. (fn. 238) By 1865 the factories were attracting a better class of workman than before, (fn. 239) although it is true that by 1884 the factory system, as opposed to 'cottage factories', was largely abandoned, most of the work being done in weavers' homes. (fn. 240) In 1888 ribbon manufacture was regarded as clean work with good conditions, though still somewhat underpaid. (fn. 241) It was also still irregular; slumps such as the one that started in 1889, for example, could still bring stagnation with hundreds 'silently . . . starving'. (fn. 242) Nevertheless it was still an industry in which it was possible to succeed as the career of William Andrews shows. Andrews was apprenticed as a designer in the early 1850s and became a manager before going into business on his own. His diary covers the years of upheaval in detail. In this period he attended the School of Art assiduously and educated himself, being interested in a variety of topics including astronomy. He appears to have lived comfortably and was able to indulge a taste for travel at home and abroad even during times of unemployment. He was earning £200 a year before setting up for himself in 1866 after which he became an alderman and a magistrate and thus ranked as middle class. (fn. 243)
Joseph Gutteridge, another self-made man, reckoned that with the growth in education 'intellectuality and morality have risen and criminality has declined'. (fn. 244) Nevertheless as Coventry society emerged changed from the crisis of the 1860s increased activity in recreation and amusement became more evident, particularly from the 1870s, than purely cultural interests.
It is true that the civic library was established, (fn. 245) and a Musical Society was revived in 1875. This society aimed at 'study, practice, and public performance of high-class compositions' but support fell off in the 1880s and it was wound up in 1893 when a new Choral Association was founded. (fn. 246) The Opera House in Hales Street was opened in 1889, a red brick building with stone dressings designed by Essex and Nicoll of Birmingham. It could accommodate 2,000 people, and, following a lowprice policy with seats as cheap as 4d., its usual fare was a mixture of melodrama, musical comedy, and pantomime, though there was an occasional Shakespeare season, sometimes Gilbert and Sullivan, and even grand opera. (fn. 247)
An important development in the last quarter of the 19th century, at Coventry as elsewhere, was the growth of organized sport. Local cricket predated this tendency. A Coventry cricket team had played a match against Barwell (Leics.) in 1807, and this match became an annual fixture. Among clubs flourishing in the mid 19th century were St. Michael's and Coventry Craven, with a pitch on Gosford Green. The Coventry and North Warwickshire club is said to have originated as a loosely organized team of 'Coventry Gentlemen', who in 1851 played the 'Young Saxons' on the Bull Fields. The full title was not adopted until c. 1870. In 1860 the club played a team from Edgbaston, and the following year a Warwickshire county team. In the next few years a wide fixture list was built up, and by 1870 the club had established a permanent headquarters at the Butts. (fn. 248) The Butts - before inclosure the Bull Fields - was laid out as a recreation ground in 1880. In 1900 it covered 12 acres and comprised cricket and football pitches and a cycle track, as well as other amenities. (fn. 249) The first county match to be played on the ground was between Warwickshire and Staffordshire in 1882. In 1900 the Coventry and North Warwickshire club moved to a new ground off Binley Road, Stoke and the Butts ground was taken over by the Coventry Cricket Club, formerly St. Michael's Cricket Club. During the First World War the ground was acquired by the Rover Company and the two cricket clubs were eventually united at Binley Road in 1919. (fn. 250)
Association football was being played about 1870 on the 'Old Gentleman's Green', Stoke, near Kingsway, Binley Road, but apparently hardly anywhere else in Coventry, for a contemporary press report remarked that 'this excellent outdoor game is so little participated in about Coventry that it is a rare occurrence to hear of a match'. One such occurrence was met with in 1873, when a game was played between a Royal Artillery team of fourteen from the Barracks and a Stoke team. The gunners played in their jackboots. By 1888, when the Warwickshire Football Association was formed, most Coventry districts and several works had their representative teams. In 1897, when the Coventry and North Warwickshire Football League was constituted, local amateur clubs were numbered in scores.
The Coventry City Football Club, familiarly 'the Bantams', originated in 1883 or 1884 as the club of the Singer works in Alma Street. The Singer F.C. played its first matches on a ground off St. George's Road, known as Dowell's Field. Other pitches used were situated near St. Joseph's convent, Stoke Road, and Britannia Street. In 1898 the club was suspended by the Coventry and North Warwickshire League for professionalism. It subsequently adopted the Coventry City title as an earnest of future development as a representative professional club becoming a limited liability company in 1907. It acquired a new permanent ground at Highfield Road in 1905, and was admitted to the Southern League in 1908. In 1919 the club secured a place in the 2nd division of the Football League, (fn. 251) and has since remained a member of the league.
In 1874 a Coventry rugby fifteen comprising several members of Stoke Cricket Club played Allesley Park College at Allesley. This appears to have been the origin of the Coventry (Rugby) Football Club, with headquarters at Bull Fields, later the Butts. The Butts ground was lost in 1911 to a Northern Union club which did not survive the First World War, and the Coventry rugby club eventually moved to a new ground at Coundon in 1921. (fn. 252)
The Coventry Golf Club was formed in 1887, and the first games were played in fields at Pinley, until a nine-holes course was laid out on Whitley Common. Membership was at first restricted to thirty. A ladies' golf club was founded in 1892, with a course at the Butts, but as this ground was not available during the cricket season, a separate sixhole course was laid out on Whitley Common, near to the other. Both courses were replaced in 1901 by a new eighteen-hole course but the common began to prove increasingly unsuitable for use as a permanent links. The freemen resisted the improving activities of the club as they affected pasture. Other difficulties resulted from the use of the common by the Royal Artillery garrison for drill. In the first decade of the 20th century, football teams began to crowd the course, and the common was increasingly used for recreation by the townsfolk. Eventually a new private course was acquired off Howes Lane, in a crook of the Sowe. This was known as Finham Park, and was opened in 1912. (fn. 253)
Hearsall Golf Club was formed in about 1895 on land on Hearsall Common rented from the corporation. The fact that the course was on common land caused difficulties and the club moved in 1908 when land in Beechwood Avenue was leased and an eighteen-hole course was laid out covering some 60 acres. In 1924 the club formed a new company and adjoining land was acquired by lease and purchase. The course was reconstructed over 84 acres and opened for play in 1925. In 1939 all the land on lease was purchased. (fn. 254)
Of the popular sports only racing was a casualty during these years. The races had been revived in 1834 on a course in Stoke, at the east end of the city, but in 1849 the venue was moved to the west end. A new course was laid out on Conduit Meadow, between Radford village and Allesley Road, on a site later to be flanked by the Coventry-Nuneaton Railway. In 1859 this course was described as a mile round with a straight run in of more than a third of a mile. It was said to be one of the best of British mile courses, and for some years Coventry, with Warwick, opened the flat-racing season. Racing was later discontinued but the annual meeting was again revived in 1874, in the face of local opposition. (fn. 255) It survived until 1876, (fn. 256) but was probably then closed by action of the Jockey Club in response to the agitation against improperly conducted courses that preceded the Racecourses Licensing Act (1879).
THE LATE 19TH TO THE MID 20TH CENTURIES. The change in the pattern of Coventry's industry from the later 19th century had a considerable effect on the life of the inhabitants. By 1890 the ribbon trade was largely a female occupation and by the early 20th century female labour was increasing both relatively and absolutely in watch-making. In one watch factory in 1909 only 12 per cent. of the workers were males. Employed men and boys were becoming concentrated in the cycle and motor industries. The hours of work in the cycle trade by 1890 were shorter than was legally required and the factories were light, airy, and clean. The trade, however, suffered from considerable seasonable variations and the men worked overtime up to 8 or 10 p.m. for over half the year, a practice involving some strain on health. (fn. 257) In 1911 the Coventry Herald remarked on similar conditions in the motor as well as the cycle trade. Then with overtime excessive hours, up to 70 a week, were worked and life for long periods consisted only of working and sleeping. Wages were higher than in most other engineering centres and in consequence people 'make money and enjoy themselves in their own fashion. That is all Coventry means to them'. There was no community spirit as existed in the mid 19th century. (fn. 258)
This development no doubt stemmed partly from the exodus of native Coventrians in the 1860s and the later large-scale immigration into the city of workers attracted by the high wages in the new industries. Influx of this kind became a feature of Coventry's social life repeated in times of prosperity later in the 20th century. The ten years 1901-11 nevertheless rank as the period of Coventry's greatest relative increase in population (52 per cent.). The motor trade in the years that followed and the munitions industry during the First World War drew in more workers, though in the post-war slump there was emigration, at least from the central areas. (fn. 259) Even so Coventry had a smaller percentage of unemployed after 1928 than the country as a whole for it possessed little heavy industry and the motor-vehicle trade was one of the few industries that continued to expand in the slump years. Between 1933 and 1938 the percentage of unemployed in the city was as a rule only half the national average. Population increase in the 1930s was again due largely to an influx of workers from other areas, (fn. 260) for working-class society in Coventry in those years was more prosperous than in most British cities. (fn. 261)
In the early 1880s the working classes in the city were alleged to lack interest in further education, (fn. 262) and it may be significant of the outlook of Coventrians at that time that after the extinction of the Coventry Institute in 1888 the city for many years had no society devoted entirely to the advancement of the humanities. Nevertheless Coventry was not entirely bereft of intellectual interests or of educational advancement in these years. The adultschool movement, usually connected with local churches and chapels, was, for example, active in the town before the end of the 19th century. The schools, catering for men and women of 17 or over, combined instruction with a religious bias with social and literary facilities. A school in Cow Lane opened in 1883 with five pupils had 560 on the roll ten years later, and generally before the First World War the schools attracted large memberships. From the 1930s, however, the number of schools declined. (fn. 263)
In 1912 the Coventry and Warwickshire Society of Artists was founded 'for the culture and dissemination of art'. The members organized the first of many public exhibitions in the town during that year. (fn. 264) There was also some musical activity. By 1912 the chief musical society appears to have been the Coventry Musical Club, which arranged concerts at the White Lion Hotel, Smithford Street, in 1913- 1914, and in 1923 sponsored a competitive musical festival in the town. A Coventry Philharmonic Society existed in 1919, and a Coventry Choral Society in 1928. A Coventry Amateur Operatic Society, formed in 1910, was still flourishing after the Second World War. Other groups formed between the wars which survived into the post-war period included the Guildhall (formerly St. Mark's) Amateur Dramatic Society founded in 1919, the Coventry Musical Play Society (1923), the Coventry Musical Guild (1930), and the Y.W.C.A. Blue Triangle Operatic Society (1933). (fn. 265)
Catering for more general interests the Workers' Educational Association formed a local branch in 1917; in 1935 it had 97 members and was still in existence in 1964, (fn. 266) by which time it was working in conjunction with the extra-mural department of Birmingham University which had begun work in Coventry in 1946. (fn. 267)
Another society with a long existence was the Coventry City Guild, formed in 1914, with the object of promoting public interest in Coventry's historic buildings. By 1925 it had already done much work in identifying such buildings in order to preserve them from chance destruction. (fn. 268) From 1924 it served also as an antiquarian society providing lectures and visits to places of interest. (fn. 269) In the late 1930s it acted as a civic society interesting itself in car-parking problems, and such matters as the proposed civic centre developments. After the Second World War the society was revived and in 1946 drew up a list of a hundred buildings of historical and architectural importance to serve as a guide in discussions on the replanning of the city. The guild also interested itself from time to time in the fate of individual buildings, such as St. Mary's Hall, the chapel of St. James and St. Christopher, and in the new cathedral. It ceased to exist in 1961, when it had been relatively inactive for some years. (fn. 270)
The Coventry City Guild, nevertheless, was partly responsible for Coventry at long last acquiring a city museum. A museum had been founded in 1834 in connexion with the Mechanics' Institution, but had disappeared after the reorganization of the institution in 1855. (fn. 271) There was also an anatomical museum in the Corn Exchange in the late 1850s, which Joseph Gutteridge considered 'a most comprehensive and excellent collection'. (fn. 272) Gutteridge himself began in 1848 to build up his own private museum of 'fossils, minerals, and natural history specimens', and it was still available for inspection at his home in Yardley Street in 1893. (fn. 273) At the end of the century his collection, together with T. Browett's collection of sea-shells, W. G. Fretton's collection of antiquities, and J. S. Whittem's geological specimens were all acquired by the corporation, and there were many proposals for a civic museum. (fn. 274) The Royal Commission on Technical Instruction called in 1884 for a technical museum at Coventry, (fn. 275) but although the corporation adopted the Museums Act of 1891 no further steps were taken. About 1910 the collections were lent to a number of schools and most of them have since disappeared. In 1920 the Coventry City Guild opened a 'folk museum' in St. Mary's Hall to the public. In 1921 this was moved to the old Bablake School, Hill Street, and in 1930 was taken over by the corporation to form at long last the City Museum. (fn. 276)
In 1939 the museum held the Pridmore collection of tradesmen's tokens, presented to the city in 1915, (fn. 277) and items from the Roman, Saxon, and medieval sites at Baginton, where excavations began in 1928, (fn. 278) as well as much general local material, (fn. 279) and H. W. Bartleet's collection of cycles, presented in 1937. (fn. 280) The museum was closed on the outbreak of war in 1939. (fn. 281)
Apart from the encouragement given by the larger firms to the formation of clubs and societies by their workers over the years, the growing importance of engineering and allied industries in the city stimulated an interest in technical and scientific knowledge at least for the minority. The Technical Institute was founded in 1883 (fn. 282) and in 1884 the Coventry Oddfellows, moved by W. G. Fretton, the local antiquary, was running a field club. (fn. 283) The Coventry Photographic Society was formed in 1883, (fn. 284) and, more important, the Coventry Engineering Society was formed ten years later. The originator of the engineering society was H. Moore, a student at the Technical Institute and a working draughtsman at Alfred Herbert Ltd., and the first recruits were all technical students. At first little support was received from civic leaders, who still moved in 'an atmosphere of weaving and watchmaking' or from the employers, some of whom were hostile to the members' display of independence. J. K. Starley, who was an early president, was the first local industrialist to interest himself actively in the society, although Sir Alfred Herbert also gave valuable support. In 1898 the corporation at length showed that it recognized the practical value of the society by making a small grant in aid. The introduction of motor-car manufacture in 1896, and of the Ordnance works in 1900 brought a fresh influx of engineers to Coventry, and by 1904 membership of the society had risen to 463. In 1938 it stood at 1,200. (fn. 285) The journal of the Coventry Engineering Society began publication in 1919.
In the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th annual 'Science Lectures for the People' were arranged by a town's committee, (fn. 286) and in 1908 a series of public science lectures is said to have stimulated the foundation of the Coventry Natural History and Scientific Society in the following year. (fn. 287) The Proceedings of the society, dating from 1909, indicate that the interests catered for were catholic and included archaeology and history as well as geology, biology, and botany. When, in 1930, the corporation decided to create a bird sanctuary and nature reserve on the Stoneleigh estate, the advice of the society was sought. As a result the Tile Hill sanctuary, approximately 80 acres of woodland, was selected for preservation. The society was given the privilege and responsibility of appointing official 'watchers' to help to protect the sanctuary and to list the flora and fauna. (fn. 288)
One of the most significant effects of the growth of engineering in Coventry was the development of the publication of trade journals relating to the new industries. The initiation of this was the work of William Isaac Iliffe who joined his father's printing business in Smithford Street and Vicar Lane in 1864. (fn. 289) Iliffe and Sons began to publish the Cyclist in 1879, Bicycling News, bought as a going concern, in 1885, the Autocar in 1895, and the Motor Cycle in 1903. The Amateur Photographer was also launched by the firm, in 1884. (fn. 290)
In 1885 the young Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, was invited to Coventry to help to edit and manage Bicycling News. Within a few months his new techniques and the introduction of the 'brief, pithy paragraph' are said to have raised sales from a few hundred to 16,000. A favourite feature of Bicycling News was the 'answers to correspondents' column, and it was, amongst other things, his experience in editing this column that encouraged Harmsworth to leave Iliffe's to found Answers in 1888. Although published in London, the first few editions of Answers were printed by Iliffe and Sons at Coventry. (fn. 291)
Meanwhile a new type of local week-end paper had begun to be published at Coventry in 1885, in the shape of the Athletic Reporter, later the Reporter. Its appearance was in part a reflection of the increasing importance of organized sport. The founder, Thomas Vaughan, promised that all reports would. be 'terse and business-like', and offered his paper at ½d. Its politics were cheerfully described as 'imperialist'. (fn. 292)
The introduction of the 'new journalism' at Coventry is, however, primarily associated with Iliffe who entered the newspaper business in 1879, with the acquisition of the Coventry Times, (fn. 293) the North Warwickshire Times (with a readership in Atherstone and Nuneaton), (fn. 294) and the Leamington and Warwick Times. (fn. 295) After a brief period in partnership with W. F. Dawson, Iliffe became sole proprietor in 1888. (fn. 296) In 1891 he launched the Midland Daily Telegraph, a Liberal daily priced at ½d., of which four daily editions were circulating before the end of the year. (fn. 297) Prospective readers were offered 'a bright and chatty' sheet '. . . including special features never before introduced into daily journalism in the midlands', (fn. 298) and extensive use was made of the telegraph to obtain 'hot' news. (fn. 299) One of the 'new features' was apparently a pink sporting edition, published on Saturday evenings from 1897. (fn. 300) Other experiments in lively journalism followed, a khaki edition being printed to welcome back Boer War volunteers. (fn. 301) The relief of Ladysmith in 1900 elicited a special edition which was distributed through the country districts by two suitably decorated motor cars. (fn. 302) On the other hand, as late as 1895, the Coventry Standard and the Reporter were the only Coventry papers prepared to break up their columns for the insertion of blocks; (fn. 303) the Standard had already agreed to this technical innovation by 1883. (fn. 304) Despite its vigorous promotion, the Telegraph did not achieve a circulation of 10,000 until 1906. (fn. 305) Meanwhile, in 1897, the early commitment to Liberalism had been dropped. (fn. 306)
The publication by Iliffe's of a news daily resulted logically in a remodelling of the sister weekly, the Coventry Times. The Times's new role had already been foreshadowed in 1883, when it was described for the first time as 'a business and family newspaper'. (fn. 307) In 1892 the former nonconformist organ was advertised as 'read by "all sorts and conditions of men" - and women', while the use of 'many special features' was said to render it 'particularly bright and readable'. (fn. 308) As a popular family weekly, however, the Times faced strong competition. Renamed the Coventry Graphic in 1911, and restyled as an illustrated paper, the former Reporter raised its circulation to 12,000 by 1916. (fn. 309) Less direct competition was provided by the Sentinel, published 1908-11 as the organ of the Independent Labour Party at Coventry. (fn. 310) The Graphic survived the First World War, but was discontinued in 1919. (fn. 311) The Times was absorbed by the Herald in 1914, (fn. 312) and the Herald itself was acquired by Iliffe's in 1915. (fn. 313) It continued to advertise itself as Liberal until 1924. (fn. 314) The Herald survived until 1940, when the printing works shared with the Telegraph in Vicar Lane were destroyed by bombing. (fn. 315) Publication was afterwards resumed only of the Telegraph, which began to be issued as an evening paper in 1941. By 1947 the circulation of the renamed Coventry Evening Telegraph had risen to more than 80,000, (fn. 316) and by 1959 to more than 100,000. The Standard, with a circulation in 1959 of 11,216, (fn. 317) was the only Coventry weekly to survive the Second World War. From 1875 it was in the hands of the Burbidge family until it was acquired in 1941 by a new company. (fn. 318) From 1888 to 1909 the Coventry Mercury, another Conservative paper, originally known as the Coventry Independent (first published 1873), was published at the Standard office. (fn. 319)
By far the most popular recreational activity between the wars was the cinema, and the rise and decline of this medium of entertainment in the first half of the 20th century is strikingly illustrated in Coventry. In 1901 Edison's animated pictures were screened for several weeks at the Corn Exchange. The programme included films of the Boer War and a version of Joan of Arc. As the Empire Theatre the Corn Exchange building later became one of Coventry's earliest cinemas; conversion took place about 1914 and programmes at first usually included variety acts as well as films. The 19th-century building was burned down in 1931, being replaced by a new cinema on the same site which opened in 1933. (fn. 320)
The first licences for cinematograph performances under the Act of 1909 were issued in April 1910 to the Empire and Hippodrome theatres; (fn. 321) the first building to be licensed solely for film shows was T. Clements's salerooms, Hertford Street, (fn. 322) later the Star picture-theatre. (fn. 323) Licences were also secured later in 1910 by the Grand, Foleshill Road, (fn. 324) and a cinema in Stoney Stanton Road. (fn. 325) By the end of 1912 four more cinemas existed: the Royal Electric, Hales Street, the Coronet, Payne's Lane, (fn. 326) the Imperial (later the Continental Imperial), Earlsdon Street, (fn. 327) and the Picture House, Smithford Street. (fn. 328) The Scala (later the Odeon), (fn. 329) and the Crown, (fn. 330) both in Far Gosford Street, may also have been built in 1912, although they were not licensed until the following year. (fn. 331) The Crown (as the Paris) survived as a cinema in 1963. Other early cinemas included the Prince of Wales, (fn. 332) the Globe, Primrose Hill Street (1914), and the Palladium, King William Street (1915). (fn. 333)
More cinemas were opened before 1930, including the Broadway (later the Astoria), Albany Road (1922), (fn. 334) the Alexandra, Ford Street (by 1919), (fn. 335) the Brookville, Jackson Road (1928), (fn. 336) the Lyric, Holbrook Lane (1929), (fn. 337) the Plaza, Spon End (1929), (fn. 338) the Dovedale, New Inn Bridge, Foleshill (afterwards the Rivoli and the Ritz), the Rialto, Moseley Avenue, Radford, (fn. 339) and probably the Carlton, Stoney Stanton Road, listed in 1933. (fn. 340) In 1930 there were more than 20 cinemas in the town, most of them equipped for sound. (fn. 341) Their number was later increased by the Gaumont Palace, Jordan Well, opened in 1931, (fn. 342) and the Redesdale, afterwards the Roxy, opened in 1934. (fn. 343) The Lyric was rebuilt in 1936 to seat 850. (fn. 344)
By 1954, however, Coventry had only nineteen cinemas and average attendance was still declining significantly. (fn. 345) A period of retrenchment began in 1955, when the Brookville which had not reopened after suffering bomb damage in 1941, was sold for conversion into a factory. (fn. 346) The following year three cinemas were closed. The Prince of Wales was acquired for the use of St. Finbarr's Hurling and Football Club, an Irish social and sports club; (fn. 347) the Globe and the Redesdale were reopened as dancehalls. (fn. 348) In 1959 the Astoria closed its doors, (fn. 349) and in 1961 the Opera House did likewise. (fn. 350) Other cinemas adapted themselves to falling attendances in different ways. The Imperial, was renamed the Continental Imperial in 1951 to indicate its intention to specialize in continental films, (fn. 351) and the Crown, Far Gosford Street, was similarly transformed into the Paris in 1958. (fn. 352) The Odeon (formerly the Scala) became a 'bingo' club in 1963, by which time there were only eight cinemas operating in the city. (fn. 353)
It was apparent that post-war Coventry, in line with other parts of the country, was preferring television and other amusements to the cinema. The theatre, however, often a casualty to the cinema itself, survived in Coventry. It is true that the Coventry Repertory Company, founded in 1931 with its headquarters at the Opera House, was dispersed in 1940 when the Opera House was damaged by bombing, the building being reopened as a cinema. (fn. 354) There still remained, however, another Coventry theatre. This was the Hippodrome, opened originally in Pool Meadow in 1903, in 1907 in new premises in Hales Street, (fn. 355) and in another new building in 1937, on an adjacent site, with accommodation for 2,500. (fn. 356) It was renamed the Coventry Theatre in 1955. (fn. 357)
Between 1943 and 1957 various companies played at the Technical College theatre. (fn. 358) In 1958, however, a municipal theatre, named the Belgrade in recognition of a gift of timber from the Yugoslav capital, was completed and officially opened. (fn. 359) It was designed by A. Ling, the city architect, (fn. 360) to seat 911, and incorporated, as an unusual feature, a number of performers' flats. It was arranged that the theatre should be managed by an independent, non-profitdistributing company, the Belgrade Theatre Trust (Coventry) Ltd., and a permanent repertory company was recruited. (fn. 361)
A renewed interest in amateur dramatics also stemmed from the period of the Second World War. A drama festival in 1938 had attracted only six entrants, but in 1943 21 groups took part in the first of a series of annual festivals sponsored by the corporation; by 1948 there were 33 entrants. (fn. 362) The flourishing state of the amateur theatre in the city was reflected by the publication from 1945 of Footlights, a monthly periodical, and the formation in 1957 of the Coventry Theatre Guild, a liaison body for the separate clubs. (fn. 363) The new cathedral has also become a centre for music and dramatic performances. (fn. 364)
Music, too, was stimulated by the Second World War. The number of amateur societies which survived the war has already been noted. (fn. 365) In 1942 Mr. J. E. Parbury established the Coventry School of Music in rented rooms in Cheylesmore Council School as a voluntary organization with facilities for training amateur musicians. Its success resulted in 1964 in the city education authority providing a former school building in Dover Street and complete financial backing including the provision of professional tutors. The city's music adviser became the director of music at the school. (fn. 366) In 1943 the Coventry Philharmonic Society was founded under the auspices of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, to perform works and arrange concerts, recitals, and lecture-recitals. Within a year it had 350 members.
The 20th century and particularly the years after the Second World War has also seen the expansion of museum and library facilities in the city. Before the First World War branch libraries were set up at Holmsdale Road, Foleshill (1901), replaced in 1913 by a new building in Broad Street, and at Earlsdon (1913) and Stoke (1913), all of which were built with the aid of a Carnegie grant. Branch libraries were opened at Longford (1931), Holbrooks (1938), Radford (1949), Jubilee Crescent (1949), Canley (1953), and Willenhall (1957). (fn. 367) The Gulson building was almost completely destroyed by bombing in 1940, together with 100,000 books and the minute books of some of Coventry's early trading companies. A temporary central library was opened at the Methodist Central Hall, Warwick Lane, in 1942, and in 1948 the former Baptist chapel in Cow Lane was converted for administrative and reference purposes. In 1952 the central lending and reference libraries were transferred to a surviving portion of the Gulson Library that had been repaired and slightly extended. (fn. 368)
Some of the more important specimens of the museum - coins, medals, and ceramics - had been placed in the strongrooms of the Gulson Library and were lost when it was destroyed. What was salvaged was deposited, with some archaeological specimens, at Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, for the remainder of the war, and in 1941 the remaining contents of the museum were moved to a place of safety in the country, along with the Bartleet collection. (fn. 369) After the war the collections returned to Coventry, and a full-time museum curator was appointed in 1948. Neither the former Bablake museum nor any satisfactory substitute building was available, (fn. 370) and it was not until 1951 that a small selection of the exhibits was again placed on permanent public display, in a room of the Herbert Temporary Art Gallery, Earl Street. (fn. 371) Other temporary exhibitions also followed from time to time. (fn. 372)
A number of important accessions were made in the immediate post-war years, including J. B. Shelton's 'Benedictine Museum', a private collection open to the public since 1957, which was presented in 1949, (fn. 373) and J. I. Bates's collection of geological specimens and antiquities, bequeathed in 1933 and acquired in 1949. The balance of H. M. Yardley's excavation material from Baginton was also added in that year, (fn. 374) and in 1954 a number of items from R. G. J. Nash's collection of aircraft, motor cars, and bicycles at Brooklands (Surrey) were purchased. (fn. 375)
By two gifts in 1938 and 1955 Sir Alfred Herbert presented a total of £200,000 to the city for the erection of an Art Gallery and Museum. The basement had been completed by the outbreak of the Second World War and in 1949 was opened to the public as the Herbert Temporary Art Gallery, and used for art and museum exhibitions. A new, permanent combined art gallery and museum, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, in Jordan Well, was officially opened in 1960. (fn. 376)
Apart from the increasing interest in cultural matters dating from the period of the Second World War, the war was in other ways too a dividing mark in Coventry's social history. Significant developments in the post-war city stem from the destruction of the old centre, and from the great expansion in these years of the motor and ancillary industries. The extent and nature of these changes have not been fully investigated and it may be too soon to arrive at very definite conclusions. What is evident is that the prosperity of the motor trade, which with other types of engineering was employing a very high percentage of workers in the post-war city, has given Coventry something of 'a boom-town quality'. (fn. 377) Its high employment rate and good wages have attracted, as in previous periods of relative prosperity, immigrant labour. The city has consequently been described recently as 'cosmopolitan'. By 1961 over 13 per cent. of Coventry's population had not been born in England and Wales and large numbers of other residents were recent settlers from other parts of England and Wales. (fn. 378) Residents born outside the British Isles numbered 10,615 (3.4 per cent. of the population). Of these 4,285 were from British Commonwealth countries, mostly from India, Pakistan, and the West Indies - a three-fold increase over figures for 1951. It is estimated that between 1961 and 1963 the Indian population increased by over 10 per cent. and the Pakistanis and West Indians by over 17 per cent. each; and by 1965 there were some 4,300 Indians, 2,000 West Indians, and 1,000 Pakistanis in the city. (fn. 379)
Coventry was described in 1913 as 'an artizan town', (fn. 380) and after the Second World War this was still one of the most striking features of its social structure. The percentage of professional, managerial, and executive classes in the city was in 1951 well below the average for cities of comparable size, and while Coventry had a very high proportion of skilled men compared with other centres, the lower occupational grades were below the national average. These features also are no doubt due in part to the influx of skilled workers following the continued expansion of the motor and allied industries. They may also partly derive from the residence of the professional, technical, and administrative classes in dormitory areas outside the city limits, and from the fact that Coventry's expansion in modern times has been recent compared with that of neighbouring Birmingham which had already established itself as the commercial and financial centre for the midlands. Continued migration into Coventry has also resulted in the city having a high proportion of young people. Nearly 39 per cent. were under 25 in 1961 compared with an estimated average for England and Wales of 36 per cent. (fn. 381)
In 1953 a sociological survey of part of a new working-class estate in Coventry was undertaken, (fn. 382) and produced certain conclusions about the results of modern developments on Coventry society. It suggested that some native Coventrians felt swamped by the newcomers, who in turn tended to be antagonistic to the Coventry-bred. (fn. 383) The influx of immigrants and the rapid growth of new suburbs tended to make older Coventrians feel strangers in their own city. The newcomers, while losing their traditional background, (fn. 384) did not immediately accept Coventry as their own, while the native-born had seen the old city centre destroyed by bombs and demolition, and in the words of one middle-aged citizen 'we can't adjust ourselves to the change: it can never be the same again'. (fn. 385)