Monthly Archives: July 2011
We are really pleased to report the History Centre is now open as normal after being closed for repairs. Whilst we were closed two of my colleagues worked on an enquiry about a character from Coventry’s past, Edward ‘Duckfat’ Bradshaw.
In September 1820 a group of men including Edward planned a robbery at the Punch Bowl Inn, Spon End. The men intended to rob the inn and enjoy a meal there at the landlord’s expense. The landlord disturbed the men and all escaped apart from Edward who was found eating a pie at the table. A neighbour, Mr Lines, hearing the men escape, came to help the landlord but was fatally stabbed trying to disarm Edward of a knife he was holding.
During his trial Edward was asked if the knife he had been holding was to cut the pie or to defend himself. He replied that the knife was for self-defence and was duly found guilty and sentenced to hang. To the right is a copy of the original execution warrant from the History Centre Archive Collection, available to search online at Coventry Collections.
Despite the tragic death of Mr Lines there was a lot of sympathy for Edward in the city. Edward had been educated at Bablake School but appeared to later fall in with a bad lot of pickpockets and gamblers. Whilst awaiting execution he was sent on errands and given several opportunities to escape from Coventry Gaol but always returned. On the morning of his execution at Whitley Common on 18th April 1821, he shook hands with his fellow prisoners who were reported to be ‘truly affected’ by his parting.
Edward’s execution was witnessed by over 15, 000 people (Coventry Herald & Weekly Advertiser 20 April 1821). He was just 18 years old.
History of Coventry and its Antiquities by Benjamin Poole
Humorous Reminiscences of Coventry Life by T.W. Whitley
Coventry Herald and Weekly Advertiser 20 April 1821
BA/E/K/114/109 Execution warrant 17 April 1821 Edward Bradshaw
Always a fan of new inspiration I have been a regular viewer of the TED talks and podcast series.
They always provide me with some optimism and spark new creative ideas.
I recently enjoyed this talk by Jacek Utko on how he has reversed all newspaper sales trends through the creative use of design … something we are passionate about here at the Herbert. Have a look for yourself … I found this fascinating – although I worked in papers for over 13 years so forgive me if you yawn.
… this month I have given our designers the freedom to go wild on our next What’s On cover as a lead in this direction …. watch this space…
There’s just one week to go before we start installing “Wild Worlds” the Herbert’s summer exhibition aimed at families. From last year’s “In the Big Treetop” installation we discovered that mole-hill shaped piles of MDF shapes were incredibly alluring to children. Many children just wanted to stand on top of them, or jump from one to the next, or claim them as ‘territory’. We also observed toddlers just beginning to walk would hang on to mum’s hand and walk back and forth over them again and again, seeming to love how they were irregular, yet dependable.
Lindsay, one of our learning team who has heaps of experience as an artist in early years’ settings, told us she found platforms offered something special, that there is almost a taboo on playing off the ground while indoors.
Our designers have taken these ‘floor blobs’ and put them at the core of our installation this year, and we can only wait to see how well they work.
I’ve observed a category of things (for which I don’t have a name) which seem to work especially well in creative play. These things need to be both unfamiliar and immediately understood by children. A mini-hill of layers of MDF is something quite new, but they understand what it does very rapidly. They sometimes check if the pieces come apart, or if it slides on the floor – both critical qualities to understand how safe it is – and then walk across it, stand on top as if it is a mountain, all with complete confidence.
Another example we’ve used repeatedly are wooden pebbles. We made these from light timber from packing crates, all differently shaped, but roughly the shapes and sizes of seaside pebbles. Children immediately understand what they do and don’t do, and they are collected, arranged, hidden and balanced on top of each other.
Perhaps lengths of cloth fall into this category – children can wrap themselves, build dens, create rivers or skies, but often they check for permission, possibly because different rules apply to cloth (eg curtains) at home.
These sorts of objects are dramatically neutral – they can be used to represent anything at all, and don’t exclude themselves from any sort of fictional game. Things which are more clearly themed, for example a badger hand puppet, would be far harder to include in an undersea world.
I suspect there are some interesting reflections on the wider context of a museum, the place devoted to the idea of things having meaning, but I’ll ponder on that another time.
Little Europa Sewing Machine
This sewing machine was made by Smith and Starley of Coventry in the 1870s. By the 1850s most processes in the textile industry, including weaving, knitting and spinning, were done using machines. Only sewing still had to be done by hand, using a needle and thread. This included sewing leather and canvas as well as clothes. Richer people had their clothes made to order by seamstresses – women who worked long hours in poor conditions for very little money. Poorer people made their own clothes or wore hand-me-downs.
The first machine for sewing was invented in the late 1700s. For about 50 years various inventors worked on new and better versions. It was an American, Elias Howe, who patented the first really successful machine in 1845. Further improvements were made by Isaac Singer and Allen Wilson in the 1850s and soon sewing machines were being sold in huge numbers. As a result clothes became cheaper and more readily available and could be bought ready made in shops.
In 1861 Coventry was in an economic depression caused by the collapse of its main industry, ribbon weaving. A number of local businessmen set up a company to make sewing machines in a disused ribbon factory. James Starley and an American called SC Salisbury both moved to Coventry to work for the company. Starley had previously worked for the Newton and Wilson sewing machine company in London. Starley was a skilled inventor and he and Salisbury patented several improvements to the sewing machine.
In 1868 the company won an order from France to make 500 velocipedes, an early type of bicycle. This was the birth of the cycle industry in Britain. Starley turned his inventive mind to improving the velocipede and his work led to the development of the high ordinary bicycle, which is more popularly known as the penny farthing. The company, now called Coventry Machinists, went from strength to strength and Coventry became the centre of cycle making in Britain.
In 1871 Starley left Coventry Machinists to set up on his own making cycles. He also set up a sewing machine company with Borthwick Smith. Smith and Starley produced several models of sewing machine including the Little Europa.
The Little Europa is on display in our History Gallery, where you can also see a European sewing machine made by the Coventry Machinists Company, a velocipede and a penny farthing. Starley’s role as an inventor of sewing machines and bicycles and his importance to the city is marked by a statue of him on Greyfriars Green in Coventry.