What an inspired choice to mix a visit to the romantic ruin which is Kenilworth Castle with a trip to Coventry – almost next door – home of the most recent, and possibly the last, CoE Cathedral to be built in England. Moreover, the Cathedral, “treasure house of 20th century works of art” was celebrating its jubilee, fifty years since it was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1962. Even more significantly, it was the occasion of its patronal festival of St Michael - Michaelmas – when a celebratory concert was in rehearsal for that evening.
First to Kenilworth, and a stunning view of the Castle from the car park, inviting the Civic Society members to explore. English Heritage has put a good deal into telling the history of the site, especially the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and her favourite courtier, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. His attempts (ultimately unsuccessful) to woo the monarch led to extravagant buildings in the latest fashion on the site, which we can still picture and wonder at. Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, cites the restoration of the Elizabethan Garden as one of his major projects and it is indeed an authentic recreation of the garden, made for the Queen by Dudley and lost for over 400 years. English Heritage is to be congratulated on the site: the audio guide is excellent, as are the exhibitions in the keep and stables. Along with the atmospheric tea room, it provided a wonderful morning and a fascinating visit.
Coventry is by contrast a modern, multi-cultural industrial city. The old Cathedral was destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940, and the ruins remain as a monument to a the church’s mission of reconciliation. The roofless space and cross of charred beams are moving, yet also provided a backdrop to a couple taking wedding photos when we visited. Inside the new Basil Spence building there was much activity for the concert, with a full orchestra and choir. Opinion is divided as to the success of the building, but the stained glass and amazing Graham Sutherland tapestry, together with many art works, make it a testament to mid-twentieth century artistic endeavour. There was a good deal to be seen and not enough time to appreciate Coventry the city, built on medieval foundations. Altogether a visit full of contrasts and interest, with heritage buildings symbolically showing us today the history of their times.
BIRMINGHAM 8 May 2010 (by Bryan Hanlon) So many of our members wanted to go that we needed a double-decker for our visit to Britain’s second city.The weather wasn’t particularly good and our bus broke down – not once but twice! – but, no matter, this really was a good day out.
We arrived at the massive Council House to be given a civic welcome by the city’s lord mayor, and also the chairman of the Birmingham Civic Society in a setting of true Victorian splendour.St Albans cannot of course expect to compete, but we were all rather in awe of such “grand” architecture.
Then it was back into our bus, for our very knowledgeable guide to give us a tour of the city (fortunately staying in our bus on a rather wet day), including of course the famous Jewellery Quarter, before we drove on to Bourneville.Here we were able to see some of the various architectural styles of this Quaker development, before a quick visit to the Cadbury’s shop where we filled the (now Kraft) company’s coffers with large purchases of mis-shapes etc.
Then it was on again, this time to Saint Nicolas Place, which won the first “Restoration” programme on BBC2 in 2004.Here, four excellent guides took us through the late mediaeval merchant’s house and nearby grammar school, explaining as they did so the various steps needed to win the multi-million pound prize.Finally, it was time for a much-needed sit down with tea and cake, before starting our journey home.
This gave us all a real “taster” of what Birmingham has to offer.If you would like us to organise a return visit (or of course a first, if you did not join us on this occasion), please let Bryan Hanlon know – 01727-851734 / email@example.com.
The photos below were taken during the visit by one of our members. Many thanks for permission to reproduce a selection here.