Assuming you didn’t lose your plane tickets in Cork, Ireland while visiting the pubs, come along as our journey around this ‘small world’ takes us to Coventry, England. Comprised of just over 300,000 blokes and bloke-ettes, it is the ninth largest city in jolly old England. The city formed its first twinning relationship (sister city) with Stalingrad, Russia (now Volgograd) during WWII. The city’s name is shrouded in myth, but most assume that the name evolved from Cofantreo. Cofa, an early settler that marked his boundary with a tree (Cofa’s tree) was said to have staked his claim in 1053 A.D.
Its name is used in many other historical and cultural references, such as the Coventry Blitz of 1940 and the Coventry music festival that took place in 2004 with the band Phish in Coventry, Vermont. The former was a series of bombing raids that took place on November 14, 1940 over Coventry, England. There were 515 German bombers that flew over the city with the intent of destroying its numerous factories and industrial sites. The end result was destruction of more than 4,000 homes and a loss of nearly two-thirds of the city’s buildings. Miraculously with all that destruction, only 600 lives were lost. On a lighter note, the latter reference was the rock n’ roll band Phish’s “farewell” shows. The band was breaking up (they reunited in 2009), so its faithful fans were expected to come in droves (110,000). Unfortunately a week of rain and flooding leading up to the shows caused many to be turned away which led to gridlock on the highways. Many fans abandoned their cars and simply walked to the festival.
A phrase has even been coined around the city’s name: ‘To send someone to Coventry.’ It is a British idiom that means to ostracize someone, typically by not talking to them. But we don’t want to send Coventry to Coventry, so let’s return to the matter at hand. The city’s motto is translated as “The Prince’s Chamber,” a reference to Edward, the Black Prince (1330-1376). The nickname is said to refer to the Prince’s black armor and shield, but also to his demeanor. He was said to be a proponent of burning and pillaging French towns to keep them from gaining power.
Perhaps the most important historical aspect of Coventry is its most famous inhabitants, Leofric and Lady Godiva. Godiva’s given name was Godgifu (meaning God’s gift), but over time pronunciation corrupted the original enunciation. Legend has it that Lady Godiva rode horseback naked through the streets of Coventry in protest of her husband’s oppressive taxation of his people. This legend bears another, that of the “peeping Tom,” as allegedly a man named Tom watched her ride and was struck blind. I guess there are worse things to see for your last vision…
Coventry’s large industrial base has drawn in many Asian and Caribbean immigrants since the end of WWII to work in its factories. It is also home to one of Britain’s first mosques, and has a growing Islamic community as well. Nearly one-quarter of its population are ethnic minorities, so it is quite a diverse island in an otherwise predominately white country (83%). Coventry is also well-known for its bicycle industry, so if Lady Godiva were alive today, perhaps she would deliver her news on the seat of a beach cruiser instead.
Look closely to see the ghost of Lady Godiva riding on horseback through Coventry (But don’t stare). This 50-cm image was captured by the WorldView-2 satellite on March 25th, 2011. Imagery courtesy of DigitalGlobe and enhanced by Apollo Mapping.