Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

1
The Cathedral and the City: The Blitz, Civic Ideology and Reconstruction

The 'Myth' of Coventry

COVENTRY was the first British city to suffer sustained bombardment when, in the autumn of 1940, the German air force turned from the bombing of London to the more compact targets of provincial cities. Occurring just five months after the fall of France, the Coventry blitz exacerbated anxiety about Britain's increasingly isolated position and triggered fears about the fate of other cities. As the focus of official and unofficial propaganda designed to arouse outrage among potential allies abroad and stiffen resolve at home (where continued production of armaments and aircraft was imperative), the Coventry blitz soon assumed almost legendary status. Accounts of the London blitz are dominated by discussion of the state of civilian morale, a topic which in Ian McLaine's words 'subsequently assumed the quality of myth'.1 Accounts of the Coventry blitz instead stress the damage inflicted by blanket bombing on a defenceless city. The blitz is represented in terms of the Nazi terror raid visited upon innocent civilians, and of the senseless destruction of the fabric of the city. Despite the attempts of historians to create a more rounded picture, by suggesting that industry was the real target, these concepts have continued to dominate discussions of the Coventry blitz. The emphasis placed on the physical damage sustained by the city stemmed not merely from the particular circumstances of the Coventry raid, but also from an important shift in the way in which news of air raids was presented to the public. It was to have a decisive influence upon the way in which the city approached the task of reconstruction.

Coventry was the target of several air attacks during the late summer and autumn of 1940; during the night of 14-15 November it experienced a raid lasting almost eleven hours, during which 568 people were killed and 863 severely injured.2 The small scale of the city, with a

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1
I. McLaine, The Ministry of Morale ( London, 1979), 1. He defines 'myth', 'in the sense of a story which encapsulates for its believers all the qualities they see themselves as possessing in circumstances of extreme adversity'.
2
T. Mason, "'Looking Back on the Blitz'", in Life and Labour in a Twentieth Century City: The Experience of Coventry ( Coventry, 1986), 321.

-7-

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Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Color Plates ix
  • LIST OF BLACK AND WHITE PLATES xi
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I. Architecture and Politics 5
  • 1 The Cathedral and the City: The Blitz, Civic Ideology And Reconstruction 7
  • 2 The Cathedral Project 1940-1947 22
  • 3 'towards a New Cathedral'? 37
  • Part II. The Creative Process 69
  • 4 Modernism and Tradition: The Genesis of Spence's Competition Design 71
  • 5 The Competition Design Refined, 1951-1954 81
  • 6 The Architect and the Artist 102
  • Part III. Design into Building 131
  • 7 The Licence to Build, 1954 133
  • 8 The Turning-Point, 1954-1956 141
  • 9 The Design Recast, 1956-1958 148
  • Pa IV. For and Function 193
  • 10 The Modern Church 195
  • 11 Provost and Architect 206
  • 12 The Cathedral Completed, 1960-1962 216
  • 13 The Cathedral and the Post-War World: Austerity and Triumphalism 243
  • Conclusion 254
  • APPENDIX: DONATIONS 276
  • Bibliography 278
  • Index 283
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