• Phil

Habits of the future and a stroll through history

Our methods of working, learning and getting entertained are habit forming and it has certainly been the case over the last few months that we have had to change our habits whilst trying to hang on to social connections and some degree of normality.

Last weekend I took part in the United Kingdom Backgammon Association's UK Open tournament. This is the country's largest and most prominent backgammon tournament and attracts competitors from around the world. A few years ago I was joint tournament director for this tournament when it was held at Coventry's Ricoh Arena Legend's Lounge with players including the then world champion who had come over from Japan and other entrants from around the globe.

Backgammon predates chess as one of the oldest known board games currently to be played and its roots can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia (to a region in the current state of Iraq). The game spread across the mediterrean region and eventually reached Britain through the Roman Empire and has stayed ever since.

The game was widely played in England during medieval, Tudor times and beyond. A backgammon set was found on the wreck of King Henry VIII's flagship Mary Rose and I often wonder about the history of the game in Coventry. Lord Henry Berkeley of Caludon Castle was King Henry's godson and as well as taking up the usual aristocratic pursuits of hunting and falconery was known to enjoy playing both card games and "dice". I would think it almost certain that backgammon would have been played at the site.The game was also referred to as "tables" and at various times through history was banned as a pursuit to the common people as it was percieved as distracting them from more pressing matters such as developing skills in archery.

This year's tournament was held online for the first time meaning that the 193 entrants and their partners and guests would not be checking in to a local hotel (the event has been held at the Ricoh, Coombe Abbey and the Leamington's Woodland Grange hotel since its launch seven years ago). After mixed fortunes in my matches against players from Turkey, the Republic of Ireland and the UK I found myself eliminated after the first day's play on Saturday and freed up for the rest of the Bank Holiday. My next fix of competitive backgammon will be the Coventry Club's regular Thursday (now online!) tournament - it is free and all are welcome (email me phil@godivasfootsteps) if interested and I'll pass on details.

So on Sunday I moved on from backgammon to another pursuit I enjoy - strolling around Coventry reflecting on historical events and personal and family experiences in the city. I set out with my son, Rob, and dog - Spike, for a round walk for two or three hours. Prior to our walk myself and Rob had been discussing the fortunes of Coventry City FC and the coming season. We did have season tickets at the Ricoh up until the point when the club left the city for Northampton (before a return and subsequent move away again - this time to the current "home" at Birmingham). Once a habit is broken it can be difficult to re-engage and neither of my sons who in the past were season ticket holders have attended a match since (also the case with many friends who were keen fans). I have been a sporadic attender - mostly to away matches. I am trying to "tick off" visiting all 92 Premier League and EFL clubs and only have five to go, Burton, Salford, Lincoln, Barrow and Harrogate and look forward to planning visits to these as and when we get back to some sort of normailty.

One consquence of the virus restrictions has been an annoucement by the Football League that all matches will be streamed across the internet and fans may pay a fee to subscribe to watch their club's matches from the comfort of their own home (in my case about twenty miles closer than the Sky Blues current "home"!) Myself and son discussed this prior to our walk and decided to make a commitment to subscribe to each Coventry City match between us - setting up our own "new normal" for a Saturday afternoon.

Our Sunday walk took us out from my Hermitage Rd home, up along Ansty Road to Dane Road past Stoke Park school. The opening of that buiding was delayed at the oubreak of World War II when it was requisitioned as an auxillery fire station. We carried on turning into Shakespeare Street and Stratford Street. I have been reading John Kelly's "Aunty Nell's Table" which is based on his own and his family's experiences during the blitz in this area of the city and one of the first scenes of destruction described in that book were the attempted rescue operations carried out in Stratford Street. There are still clear signs of the impact of the blitz in the streets around that area - gaps between buildings and distinct differences in style in some of the housing.

We continued on to Barras Green. When I was a teenager I sometimes used to get up very early in the morning (which at the time was certainly not a habit!) and make my way to the Wholsale Market as sometimes casual work would be available loading up potatoes and other produce for distribution around the city and beyond. The site was one of many which in earlier times had been serviced by the local industrial loop railway line.

After a brief stop to give Spike a drink of water on the Barras Heath we cut across the field and past the location of the old Barras Hotel pub. This was known locally as the "Bolshie" as it was a meeting place for local Communists many of whom would have worked down the road at the Ordnance Works. Lenin, leader of the Russian Bolshevik revolution had written about this factory - aptly situated in Red Lane!

Across Swan Lane and over the canal bridge to take us into Red Lane. A look over to the left from the bridge gives views of the sprawl of the old Ordnance Works (the largest factory space in Europe when built in 1906). This was not the only record breaking factory space to spring up next to the Coventry Canal. The historic "Motor Mills" - birthplace of Britain's motor industry was the largest factory space in the country when brought into operation in 1896. I cover the stories of the development of these and other local industries in my guided walk "Canals, Coal, Cars and Cloth" which I offer every other Saturday. More information and booking details here.

This side of the Ordnance Works on the Swan Lane side of the canal is the marina which once housed the Co-op's fleet of around forty boats which delivered milk to factories shops and homes along the waterway. I shall be looking at the history of Coventry's Co-operative movement in detail in an upcoming blog post.

We then turn into Smith Street and walk down to the end - past part of the old Admiraly Complex on our right hand side. The building that is now a Mosque was once the headquarters for Coventry's Royal Naval Reserve - HMS Mercia and the flagpole on the outside of the building still bears witness to its history. At the bottom of Smith St we reach Wharf Road and the feature which I had wanted to see. Still intact in the road and running into the grounds and through into the factory space of the Ordance Works is the railway line which ran through the factory when it was used for the production of heavy munitions for the Royal Navy.

We walked back down to Red Lane and down to Stony Stanton Road opposite the site of Hemmings Brick works and the ancient Harnell Quarry. Broad Lane was once known as "Brick Kiln Lane" (not the only one in the city!) and going back further Harnell Quarry was owned by Coombe's monastic community and stone mined for there went into the construction of much of medieval Coventry.

Round into Cambridge Street and past the house where my grandma was born in 1901. The area she grew up in would become dominated by the Ornance Works and by the time she was fourteen she found herself working on equipment for the World War I war effort at the Humber factory.

We carry on down Harnell Lane crossing by the roundabout where I point out the "ghost painting" advertising typing courses. We then continue down over the road bridge across the A444 which follows the route of the old industrial loop line and is aptly named "Jimmy Hill Way" running past the Sky Blue's last two Coventry based homes and taking us back to the site of the old Barras Heath market.

A slight detour on the way home down Stratford Street we cross Dane Road, and pass Saxon Road, Welsh Road and Roman Road - reminders of our nation's past - and thoughts of how our Saxon ancestors took advantage of the retreat of our Roman ancestors to drive our Briton ancestors to the "fringes" of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and beyond. Locally we have the story of the Dane, Canute, teaming up with the Anglo-Saxons Godiva and Leofric to build the Abbey Church close to what is now Priory Row. The consecration of that church in 1043 is considered as the founding moment of "modern" Coventry.

So - it was an enjoyable weekend taking in and planning for "new normal" ways to enjoy sports and pastimes and a more traditional walk considering many aspects of our city's history.

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