Category Archives: Coventry

The unfortunate case of ‘Duckfat’ Bradshaw

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


The Prince’s Speech

Midland Daily Telegraph 11.6.1920

A young Prince. Midland Daily Telegraph 11.6.1920 (taken from microfilm version available to view in Coventry History Centre).

Apologies to anyone who has heard enough about the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech, but almost twenty years earlier one of Prince Albert’s first official duties was the opening of Coventry Council House.

The Council House had already been in use for some time but the ornate oak Chamber within was completed only a few days before the Royal visit on 11th June 1920.

Looking at newspaper articles about the opening ceremony there is little mention of Prince’s Albert’s speech impediment as portrayed in The King’s Speech. The Prince was described as being nervous but having “evidently learned the value of speaking clearly and distinctly” (Midland Daily Telegraph 12th June 1920). 

It was also reported that the Prince enjoyed his visit to Coventry. His route into the city was lined by cheering schoolchildren and he was presented with a souvenir key to the gates of the Council House. Much was also made of him owning a Coventry manufactured car, most probably a Daimler.

Prince Albert made a later visit to Coventry to open the Technical College in 1935. He went on to reluctantly take the throne on 11th December 1936 and become King George VI following the abdication of his elder brother King Edward VIII.

As King he made a morale boosting visit to Coventry following the November Blitz in 1940.


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The Herbert’s Peace Collecting Project

Themes of peace and reconciliation are of key importance to the city of Coventry. This stems from experiences during the Second World War but continues today through the lives and work of people of Coventry. We have highlighted this in our Peace and Reconciliation gallery and we now want to expand our collections around these themes.

As part of this we are keen to collect stories of war and peace from local people. Together with Coventry Transport Museum we have created a new website where you can add your memories and images around a range of themes and events.

We are also interested in material linked to themes of peace and reconciliation with a local connection, for our collection. This could be banners, badges and clothing from peace demonstrations but also photographs and objects illustrating your personal story. If you have anything you think we might be interested in for the collection, please email Natalie:

Please note we can not accept everything offered. We can not accept any items left at the museum without prior arrangement with a member of staff.


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Peace and Youth

This November has seen an odd collision of events.  We host a number of events as part of Coventry’s annual Peace Festival, which attract many familiar and some new faces to the talks.  Sunday 14th November was both Remembrance Sunday and the 70th anniversary of the Blitz.   The sense of respect for the fallen, veterans’ military pride and peace activism sit side by side and it feels taboo to explore the contradictions, despite my feeling that Coventry’s Blitz is a symbolic moment in the shift in warfare over the last 100 years, from 80% of causalities being soldiers to become 80% civilians.

Artist Presha Dem teaching air-brush skills.

The other dimension, which has made this year remarkable, is our Street Art exhibition.   The ‘in your face’ essence of street art, even in a comparatively refined gallery context, sits strangely with the respect being offered veterans in the Herbert and the neighbouring Cathedrals.

Street Art shows work that is almost universally anti-authoritarian, and much of it is social commentary and calls for peace, often revealing hypocrisy as incisively as Gillray or Hogarth. Street Art is attracting a huge number of visitors, including younger people who so rarely visit galleries, and they are responding strongly to the content, putting the lie to the idea that young people only want the vacuous culture which is sold to them.

Working on the shirts.

Mohammed Ali’s installation portrays people who have been labelled both terrorist and freedom fighter.  Ghandi’s role in history is settled, William as Ouderland is less clearly decided, and when Mohammed talked about Salah Ad-din (Saladin)’s humanity upon liberating Jerusalem in 1187, I realised the weight of historical ideology I hold around the word “liberate”. His work also includes two moving images of Coventry’s Cathedral, and a disturbing piece in which falling bombs are rendered with a beauty resonant of Islamic lattice work.

As a community project linked to Mohammed’s forthcoming event “Breaking Down the Wall”, I was working with young people involved in the “Rep Ur Endz” project – about pride in representing

The CV6 tag on the sleeve.

their districts in the city. The day after we had 2400 visitors to our Blitz family event, I asked the young men about their thoughts about remembrance happenings.  The reply “I haven’t noticed anything” left me wondering how so much civic endeavour can fail to touch thoughtful young people.

These young men are not ‘dis-engaged’ with issues of peace however. The final t-shirt proclaims “Rep Ur Endz CV3” . . . but their preliminary sketches for artwork show a sense of responsibility  and connection to the broader world.

Early artwork sketches – Rep/ Palestine Ur Endz.

Breaking down the wall: featuring Mohammed Ali painting and poets live in the Herbert takes place on Friday 19th November 7pm.

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Exclusive Interview with one of our Street Artists

Here, Pahnl, one of the artists involved in our Street Art exhibition, talks to Dom about his artwork and the things that inspire him.  You can see his animation at the Herbert until January 16th.

Name: Pahnl

Where you lay your hat: Oxford

Occupation: Artist / Graphic Designer

How long have you been involved in the Street Art Scene? What made you pick up that first can of spray paint? I first started using stencils in 2003 and I started painting in the street three years after that. A mate got me interested in it and, although he stopped soon after, my passion for street art has only continued to grow since then.

How would you describe your artwork and inspires you?

My art is an amalgamation of signage-styled figures, comics and graphic design but on a small scale. I use little characters and animals to play with spaces I find in the street, hopefully making someone smile in the process. As a result, inspiration for street work comes from the street itself and it’s rare that I’ll paint a spot that I’ve not seen beforehand because I like to tailor my art.

How did you come to work with the Herbert?

One of The Herbert’s exhibition officers, Dominic Bubb, initially contacted me with regards to a personal commission and I happened to mention an animation I was working on. At that point I didn’t know Dom worked at The Herbert, it was just a by the by sentence but it was the beginning of a fantastic experience.

How did the idea for the animation develop?

The images of a dog running around the city at night simply came to me  out of nowhere as I listened to the track I used for the animation. I must’ve played the track over and over again thirty times because with every repeat, more scenes and ideas came to mind. The use of animation isn’t native to street artists but with the likes of Blu and Lichtfaktor pushing the envelope, I understood it’s potential.

After that, it was a matter of working out how I could actually portray all this idea; I considered photomontage or rotoscoping but I’ve always had a fascination with how light can be used and I came up with the idea for exposing the image of a dog into the photograph. The answer was a stop motion, long exposure animation using stencils with light. Thankfully I’m adept with a camera and I had experience with storyboarding narrative via my love of comics.

The animation was basically a combination of everything I love.

Is it true it took you over 300 hours to produce?

Give or take a day away from that total, yes. I think the idea was conceived sometime in August 2009 and I gradually storyboarded (textually), scouted locations and slowly started designing each stencil. Then from July of this year, right up until 2am on the day of the show’s launch, the work I did was more substantial as I cut all the frames, shot the scenes and edited it together.

Dogs and cats seem to feature a lot in your work, are you a fan of our canine and feline friends?

I think it’d be a bit strange of me if I didn’t like cats and dogs considering the amount of time I spend staring at them in the process of making my own work, haha.

I’m drawn to them as motifs because I like to think of them as polar opposites and I like to play them off with each other. There’s a tension between those two animals and they’re very different in nature. Dogs are messy, happy and crude, whereas cats are devious, subdued and sly creatures.

What’s next for you?

Whilst I was working on the animation, I told myself I didn’t want to touch animation for a long, long time afterwards but now it’s complete, I’m tempted to return to it sooner, rather than later. Despite the fact I spent so much time thinking, designing, cutting, photographing and editing every part of the animation, there’s something fascinating about seeing an idea come alive.

Other than that, I’m interested in dipping my toe into vinyl toy design but that will be a slow process of learning…and mistakes but I’m eager to explore new mediums for the characters and world I’ve created. I also want to start painting larger and more complex works, both on and off the street.

Where can people see more of your artwork?

There’s a lot of stuff around Oxford, albeit small, and then there’s stuff all around the country but my website,, is probably worth a look in.

Interview by Dominic Bubb, Exhibitions Officer

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Mysterious Knocking in Foleshill Church…

Foleshill Church around 1890-1910.....the site of those mysterious knockings...

With Halloween approaching I couldn’t miss an opportunity to mention a broadside (poster bill) from the History Centre collection about strange events at St. Lawrence’s Church, Foleshill.

The broadside, dated approximately 1827-1830, describes how parishioners heard loud knocking inside the church which could not be explained. The knocking was reported to have been heard over several days in different parts of the church.

Rather than deter the church goers of Foleshill the mysterious knocking really captured the imagination of the local people. There were constant visits to the church and the congregation swelled. However just like Chinese whispers, news of a few knocks soon transpired into airborne pews and sightings of hobgoblins!

Despite having a church “crammed to excess” Reverend Thomas Coker Adams was evidently less than impressed with the sudden surge in church going in Foleshill. The broadside reports him sternly admonishing the congregation for their curiosity and questioning their motives for coming to church.

Broadsides were displayed in prominent places and initially used for royal proclamations and

The broadside that would have been displayed at the time about those spooky knockings!

official notices. As printing processes developed they were frequently used to publicise elections, speeches, criminal trials, fairs, sporting events, advertisements, songs and poetry. The use of broadsides declined as newspapers became more affordable for ordinary people following the reduction in and eventual removal of the newspaper tax in 1855.

This particular broadside is just one from a large collection of broadsides that would have been displayed in the local area. The collection is useful for researching local, social and family history. Broadsides are available to view in the History Centre Research Room on production of a valid Archive Reader’s ticket or identification.

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“¿An illuminated script?”

I have been asked to take part in Coventry Pecha Kucha Volume 1 and share some of the bizarre facts I’ve picked up over the years about Coventry.   This lead me to realise how much I’ve learned through working at The Herbert, so here are ten bijou factettes I’ve learned through the Herbert Illumination talks which take place every month:

1) Far from being a commercialised American import, Trick or Treating still happens in an unbroken tradition in some places in England, for serious prizes too.  The craze started returning to England earlier than I thought too, with British newspapers having articles on how to make costumes in the 1920s or 30s.

2) The central figure in the Keresley Miners Wife’s Support Group banner is in a strong tradition of women leading people to victory, such as the goddess Nike or Liberty.

Delacroix's 'Liberty Leading the People'

John Yeadon's Miners Wife's Support Group Banner, on show in the Herbert's History Gallery

3) Littlewood’s catalogues and shops were built on their football pools empire.   The pools meant they had a wide network of people who could be trusted to collect money and who were already well know in their local communities.  This is vital for the weekly collections for catalogue shopping.

4) The excellent cheesemakers Fowler’s of Earlswood made use of the early days of the railways by guaranteeing any farm close to the railways a good price for their milk, enabling them to supply the rapidly expanding city of Birmingham with fresh milk.

5) Ralph Beyer based the letter shapes he used in Coventry Cathedral on painted letters from Roman catacombs.  This echoes one of his mentors, Eric Gill, who rather than learning Roman lettering in the usual way, from a cast of a cast of a cast of Trajan’s column, went back to the originals and found subtleties lost in the reproduction process.

6) In the 1950s the English Folk Dance & Song Society effectively re-constructed the Playford dances, originally published in 1652.  They decided (for no good reason) that before the dance started, everyone would rise up on the balls of their feet.  It you rose to far, they stopped the dance and tried again, and if you didn’t rise far enough the also stopped it and started again.

7)The wonderful woodland alongside Coventry’s Memorial was planted as a commercial enterprise to provide timbers for naval shipbuilders.

8 ) In Victorian times, sentimental paintings of rural cottages found a huge audience as rural workers moved to the growing industrial cities and wanted a reminder of their past lives.

9) When a car runs through a puddle the splash is actually travelling forwards, so stand behind the puddle if you want to stay dry!

10) Look at many canal bridges in Coventry and you’ll notice panels of more modern bricking and faded yellow painted circles.  This is because during the Blitz, many water mains were damaged, so canal bridges had sections knocked out of them where fire fighters could lower hoses into the cut.   The circles helped people find them in the black-out.  This one is on Stoney Stanton Road.

Canal bridge showing replaced brickwork and marks showing where to drop hoses

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Life Afloat….

The exhibition An Inland Voyage: Life on the Coventry and Oxford Canals features the evocative photography of Robert Longden. It opened at the Herbert on the 26th June and Exhibition Officer Dominic Bubb caught up with the curator of the exhibition and great grandson of Robert Longden, Stephen Pochin.

Name: Stephen Pochin

Occupation: Father, artist, photographic re-toucher, curator

Can you tell us a little about the exhibition?

Robert fortunately caught these working scenes just before the waterways were transformed into destinations for leisure. In so doing, he has left us with a precious document, of the people and their uniquely (for this country at least) intertwined domestic and working life.

How did the idea for the exhibition develop and how did you come to work with the Herbert?

I was never that interested in my family history or in the ancestor worship that usually comes with genealogical research. As a child I was always aware of Robert’s archive, but it didn’t occur to me that it would have any wider relevance. Then a couple of years ago I turned 40 and became a father, and last year my mother commenced medical treatment. As I reconsidered my role in life, my family history took on a new lustre, and I began to see Robert’s work in a newly resonant light.

I thought the archive deserved some public exposure. Being an artist and photographer myself helped me to appreciate both Robert’s technical achievements, and the means required to restore and re-present the archive. Read the rest of this entry

Coventry Zoo

Not being a Coventry native, I was unaware (until 10 minutes ago anyway) that Coventry had a zoo.

The Virtual Museum Willenhall has an interesting copy of an original zoo guide which you can view online. The animals do look a little sad, and it reminds me of school trips to the Memphis Zoo when I was younger.

Somewhat more lighthearted is MACE ‘s 1973 film clip of the resident dolphins getting their teeth cleaned!

I’m personally not a big fan of zoos and, after reading this article, perhaps I didn’t miss much by coming to Coventry years after the zoo closed. Except, perhaps, this.

I think it’s been said on this blog before, but you never know what to expect from a day working at the Herbert!! It’s wonderful to learn more about the history of where I live now and I look forward to more random (but exciting) discoveries. I’ll keep you posted!


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A View from the Front

Black Jack Gilpin

Black Jack Gilpin

Why did I do it?

Why did I agree to put myself through extra work and the stress of setting up an Armoury in the Undercroft for A Night at the Museum?

Well, one reason is for the last 31 years I have been involved in re-enactment work and have amassed a collection of costume and weapons. The first problem was making six free-standing frames for the armour to be displayed on. I was unable to get help from our Shaky (our resident Technician and all-around clever guy who builds stuff), since he was under pressure with other jobs, so I had to make it myself. The next problem was to find time to get them painted black.

Then I had a stroke of luck: two women happened to be painting some boxes the same colour as I was about to use. They offered to help, I offered to buy chocolates, and the deal was sealed.

By slipping in and out of the Undercroft at odd times I managed to get most of the set up sorted, but it took one last push on the Friday afternoon to get it finished.

On Saturday evening I was all ready for A Night at the Museum. I arrived at the Herbert, changed into my character, Black Jack Gilpin, entered the Undercroft at six of the clock and prepared for a long cold night. I had a constant stream of visitors as I regaled them with tales of ghosts and daring do. Lots of children arrived in their pyjamas but the one thing that sticks in my memory was my “story” of Sir Valentine…how his ghost was reported to walk down the Undercroft stairs, across the floor and up the other stairs leaving a cold draft of air as he passed by….

It had to happen – one of the visitors told me that she was a “ghost hunter” and had spent a night in the Undercroft. She sat upon the stairs in question and there was severe drop in temperature.

Could it be that “Sir Valentine” really walks the steps?


Eric Hodgkins, Site Management and Gallery Assistant

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