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  • Writer's picturePhil

Mouldy Old Dough, Dr Who and an Ancient Egyptian

When I was growing up I would often hear my grandma, my dad and other older native Coventrians lament the lost "character" of their city. Despite being a centre of industry Coventry was still considered one of the country's best preserved medieval towns into the early decades of the twentieth century. We can still get a feel for that lost character when strolling along Bayley Lane, or admiring the almshouses of Ford's and Bond's "Hospitals" or viewing the buildings in Spon Street (several of which were relocated to this ancient throughfare into and out of the city after redevelopment of the town centre).

Ford's Hospital in New Union Street dates back to 1509 and encountered a direct hit which tragically killed eight of its residents during the raids in 1940. The building was saved and reconstruction work saw it restored to its former very impressive state. Towards the end of last year I attended I guided walk given by established local tour guide Jo Phillips and learnt that the building had been used during the filming of an epsiode of Dr Who which was set in the times of William Shakespeare and featured the Bard himself!

Another Dr Who connection with Coventry comes in the form of the music of Delia Derbyshire. Delia was born in Coundon and her experiences of living through the raids during the blitz influenced her experiments as a pioneer of electronic music. She composed the music for the long running BBC series and the influence of air raid sirens and the ensuing events can be discerned when listening to it.

These Dr Who connections fit nicely into themes that I'll be exploring as I begin to relaunch my guided walks as lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted. My city centre "The Bard. The Blitz and The Tudors" is one that I shall initially be offering on a one to one individual basis from mid July. See for more details and bookings.

Apart from walks which I offer myself, I would thorougly recommend those offered by Jo Phillips and also Paul Curtis. Paul gives a very informative tour of the medieval wall which takes in the other almshouse mentioned above - Bonds Hospital. He visits the sites of the gates, towers and surviving sections of the wall and throws in some little known facts. I was very impressed that local 70s band Lieutenant Pigeon (of "Mouldy old Dough" fame) was named after a piece of artillery used to breach our city wall! There are displays featuring the band and the work of Delia Derbyshire at the Coventry Music Museum (Ball Hill / Marlborough Road) - also well worth a visit as restrictions ease.

Back in January 2020 I attended a fascinating talk hosted by the Coventry Society and delivered by Roger Bailey, city councillor and blue badge tour guide. I contacted Roger when first considering the idea of offering guided walks around the city and have always found him very supportive and knowledgable.

Several months earlier Roger’s parents had attended a talk I was giving at the Priory Visitors Centre about the history of Coventry’s canal, coal mining and industrial loop railway (themes covered in another of my relaunched walks). Both had worked on Coventry's buses and added many interesting memories and facts about the city's industries and transport networks. I took the opportunity to have a chat with them ahead of Roger’s talk and again found their recollections very interesting.

I was sorry to hear of Roger’s mother’s passing very shortly after – a real reminder of how important it is to have a record of the working lives and reminiscences of people who have worked in times which are starting to slip from memory and the invaluable role played by organisations like Coventry’s Civic society.

Roger introduced us to the rarely told story of the influence of the ancient Egyptian town of Amarna on the design of Coventry precinct which was to replace the ancient town centre following the wartime raids which had seen much of it "Coventryiziert" - a new German word which followed the blitz meaning "razed to the ground". Even before the war much had already been lost to redevelopment and justified slum clearance.

As we have seen plans for a redevelopment of Coventry's City Centre went back to the decades before World War 2. The destruction of large swathes of the town during that conflict meant that re-construction was essential and Donald Gibson, the City architect of the day looked back to ancient Egypt for inspiration.

Roger (ably supported by Colin Maddox) gave a fascinating talk about how the design of Coventry’s post-war precinct and wider pedestrianised area was influenced by the designs and principles behind the architecture of the ancient Egyptian settlement of Armana. Colin shared details of actual how dimensions and ratios taken from the design of Armana were directly pulled into the moulding of our City Centre. I would recommend a visit to to read more about this (you'll need to scroll down it slightly) and also how the next redevelopment is taking into account the need for more greenery.

Armana was founded by Akhenaten (father of Tutenkhamen) who promoted the cult of Aten. This is the first known monotheistic faith and worshipped the sun god. This was very much opposed to the traditionall multi god Egyptian outlook at the time and the rule of Akhenaten could be seen as one of reformation. However Akhenaten's "reformation" was short lived and the reign of his more widely known son was one that saw a return to traditions.

Armana was more of a "classless" society than had earlier been seen in Egypt with working artisans sharing the same spaces as the "royal" household. The architecture of the town was based on themes similar to those used in the design of modern "garden cities" and used wide avenue like walkways to open up and focus on impressive views. These themes were incorporated into our own original post war pedestrianised centre featuring much greenery, fountains and views centred on the Cathedral spire beyond a green Broadgate. Much of this has been lost in subsequent developments but thanks to the work of those such as Roger and Paul those involved in current works are at least aware of the ancient influences which should be encouraged as new changes take place.....

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