History of Coventry

The history of the city of Coventry begins in Saxon times. It was originally a small settlement in the forests of Arden. The settlement was called Cofantree. The name Cofantree was probably derived from a combination of the settler’s surname “Cofa” and the word tree and meant a tree belonging to Cofa. The foundation of the Benedictine Order of 24 monks in 1043 was a landmark event in the history of Coventry. The founder of this order was Lord Leofric Duke of Mercia and his wife Godiva. Lady Godiva, who, according to legend, rode naked on horseback through the streets of the city to convince her husband to abolish the heavy taxes he imposed on it. The Benedictine monastery continued to undergo expansion until the mid-13th century when St. Michael’s Church was built and was the largest parish church in England.The city was granted a charter in 1153.

As historical sources indicate from the early 12th century Coventry was divided into two parts. The northern part was controlled by the Priory Prior, while the southern part was controlled by a lord. The Prior, however, lost his power over time and after 1265 leased his half of the city to the Lord. In 1345 a charter was issued giving the citizens of Coventry their rights and enabling them to form a city council. The merchants formed a city council and elected a mayor and magistrates. Ten years later in 1355 the Prior relinquished his rights to part of the city. According to historians, the town had about 1000 inhabitants in the 11th century. In the 14th century the town flourished and became the 4th largest town in England. The city’s main industries have been weaving and dyeing since its beginnings. Textiles from Coventry, especially woolen ones, were in demand throughout medieval Europe. At the beginning of the second half of the 14th century the city was surrounded by walls. In 1340 the merchants of Coventry established guilds, or associations looking after their interests. In the 13th century monks began to come to Coventry. Around 1234 French friars called “Grey friars” came to the city because of their grey costume. The Carmelites came to the city in 1342 and were known as the “White friars”.

In 1538 King Henry VIII closed the religious orders. In the 16th century times were hard for the weaving industry and the town declined. During the Civil War between King and Parliament Coventry supported the Parliamentary forces, in 1642 King Charles I (Charles) tried to enter Coventry with an army but was refused entry and Coventry remained in Parliamentary hands until the end of the war. During the Civil War prisoners were kept in St John’s Church and as a result King Charles II ordered the city walls to be destroyed. In 1603 the city suffered a plague epidemic like most other cities of the time, and in the 18th and 19th centuries the textile boom and industrial revolution saw the city grow rapidly. In the 20th century Coventry became the center of the English engineering and motor industries. During World War II the city was severely damaged by German air raids. The most serious raids took place on the night of November 14, 1940. To commemorate the heavy bombing of 1940, the ruins of the demolished cathedral from the 14th century were left as a memorial. A newly built cathedral was erected next to it. After the war Coventry’s fortunes were changeable. At first it rose from the ruins and developed, only to fall into trouble during the recession.

Coventry enjoyed a period of prosperity in the 1950s and 60s, during which time it was known as ‘Britain’s Detroit’. Models from Jaguar, Triumph, Hilman-Chrysler, Talbot and Peugeot rolled off the production line in their thousands. All of Britain and half of Europe drove Coventry cars. The population of the city grew from 220,000 in 1945 to 335,000 in 1970. Today, the Transport Museum, located in the city center, is a reminder of its former glory. A quarter of the city’s population is made up of visitors, mostly Indians, who flocked here during the automobile boom to find work in the local factories, 1970 being the last of the fat years. One by one other companies in the city began to collapse. Unemployment reached 20 percent. One in nine of the city’s residents went out into the world in search of new work. The population of Coventry decreased by 35 thousand people, currently there are about 310 thousand people living in the city, including about 40-50 thousand Poles.

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