Blog Archives

Lord Mayors of Coventry

Colonel William Fitzthomas Wyley

Colonel William Fitzthomas Wyley from

Whilst the debate over whether Coventry should have a directly elected Mayor continues, last Thursday saw Councillor Keiran Mulhall become Lord Mayor for 2011-12.

Coventry has held the right to annually elect a Mayor or Lord Mayor since the Charter of Incorporation in 1345. In 1953 the office title changed to Lord Mayor following the conferment of Lord Mayoralty on Coventry by Queen Elizabeth II on the eve of her coronation. It is thought this honour was in recognition of Coventry’s industrial importance and suffering during WWII.

We are often asked for information about past Mayors of the city by those interested in a particular period of Coventry’s history, street names or researching their family history. Being so prominent there is usually plenty of information in books, pamphlets, newspapers and news cuttings. The Archive catalogue includes a person database available to view online at, a good starting point for background information. The database is updated by a Senior Archivist and includes references to documents in the History Centre Archive Collection which may be of interest for further research.

Looking back 100 years Alderman William Lee was Mayor, serving his fifth term. Alderman Lee was a weaver born in Bedworth. Lee was replaced in November 1911 by Colonel William Fitzthomas Wyley. 

Colonel Wyley was a chemist and was involved with his family’s wholesale drug company. He was interested in public health, motoring and art. Colonel Wyley owned the Charterhouse from 1889 which he later bequeathed to the city on his death in 1940.

As well as factual information about past Mayors and Lord Mayors we are fortunate to have photographs or illustrations of many. Amongst formal photographs there are a few lighter examples such as these cartoons of Colonel Wyley and Alderman Lee from Hill’s Monthly Recorder, March 1912.

Colonel Wyley from Hill's Monthly Recorder, March 1912.
Colonel Wyley from Hill’s Monthly Recorder, March 1912.

Alderman Lee from Hill's Monthly Recorder, March 1912.
Alderman Lee from Hill’s Monthly Recorder, March 1912.


The Census, Past and Present

I expect you will have returned your census form by now but if you haven’t it doesn’t take as long as you think to fill it in (and apparently it’s even quicker to submit online). I’m probably sad but I quite enjoyed filling in the form knowing that I was part of a process that started in 1801. There is talk that the 2011 census may be the last…we shall see.

In England and Wales a full census has been taken every ten years since 1841, apart from 1941 during World War II. The information collected is used to plan services such as housing and transport. However once 100 years has passed information about individual people is released such as their name, age, family relationships, occupation and where they were born. These details are an invaluable aid for historians, especially those tracing their family history.

The first full census of England and Wales took place in 1841. Right is a page from the 1841 census showing Robert and Mary Ann Evans (writer George Eliot) at their house in Bird Grove off the Foleshill Road.

With every decade more information was asked during the census so later years show many more details as seen from the following 1901 census page showing Pepper Lane and Bayley Lane, just around the corner from where the Herbert stands today (pictured below).

The census images were taken from the genealogical website Ancestry which contains a wealth of family history resources. The History Centre has a subscription to the library edition of the website which users can access free of charge using our family history PCs. We also have census information for Coventry, Warwickshire and other counties on microfiche. Unfortunately the History Centre is still closed for repairs but we hope to re-open soon. When we do re-open please ask any if you have any questions about using the census and we will be happy to help.


Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Baby it’s cold…..inside!

Whilst very seasonal, the recent cold weather caused a heating pipe to burst in the History Centre Reading Room. We have been closed since the beginning of December and the last few weeks here at the History Centre have been trying for both customers and colleagues.

We expect to be closed to the public for a few more weeks whilst repair work on the heating continues. However we are making exceptions for students who have dissertation deadlines looming and for customers who need to access building plans for emergency purposes.

But there is no escape from the cold here at the History Centre! Putting other items away I had a wry smile at this news cutting about the demolition of an 18th century ice-house in Styvechale.

The chilly article in the local paper

The ice-house was part of Styvechale Hall, home of the Gregory family who owned the land for over 400 years. The ice house would have been used to store the family’s food just like our fridges today. According to the article the ice-house was filled with ice from local ponds and brooks cut during the winter. The thick walls of the ice-house prevented the ice from melting too quickly. Our weather this winter would have been perfect!

The ice-house was large enough to be recorded on past Ordnance Survey maps – the map below shows the ice-house and Styvechale Hall in 1925.

Styvechale Hall was demolished after World War II but the ice-house survived until 1963 when houses in Knoll Croft, off Knoll Drive were built.

Map detailing the location of the Ice House – click to enlarge


Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to  Twitter

A Look Back at the Herbert 50th Display

Some amazing objects held in the Herbert could be seen in two display cases in the covered court by the shop during 2010. What were they? Well they were 50 objects (one per week), each choice had been accessioned in one of the 50 years the Herbert has been open. They were all chosen by people who had worked with the Herbert in the past to celebrate our 50th anniversary.

Herbert 50th Display Cases

They ranged from paintings and prints to stuffed birds and toys but all were relevant to the person who selected them for many different reasons. Some of those that stand out in my mind are below for your enjoyment.

Rhino Beetles (1974 choice) were great with long projections that look like horns. Everyone shudders at creepy crawly insects. A card game called ‘The Pit’ (1975 choice) was simple to spread out and display. Toy and games were popular choices reminding everyone of their own childhood.

A red throated diver (1976 choice) was an interesting one and led to new bases being made for some of them for display. Shoes were a very popular subject choice but for the year 1987 a pair of child’s red shoes sat next to a pair of ladies court shoes.

Ladies knickers were an unusual choice for 1997 but the poem accompanying them is hilarious following an appeal by the Herbert as at the time we had few in the collections.

We had some 'Quackers' objects!

Bayko (1998 choice) was a fun choice where I had to build one of the buildings pictured on the construction set leaflet. It’s a hard job sometimes being a curator but someone has to do it!

This was an unusual project that resulted in many different objects being on display for just a week. The quick case change-overs and new labels were a challenge but a fun one involving all aspects of a curator’s job from research through to photography and text writing. This has been something I was very glad to be a part of given how special the Herbert’s collections are.

Paul Thompson

Keeper of Collections (Archaeology & Natural History)

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Lunch Break in 1896

My colleague Andrew has been busy the last two weeks finding information and photographs for a television programme about the history of the British bicycle manufacturing industry.

For me the downside of all Andrew’s hard work was a less than thrilling hour scanning photographs of the interiors of various Coventry bicycle firms but one photograph of workers outside the Coventry Machinists Company really caught my eye.

Commerce Dinner Hour at Coventry Machinists

The photograph is from Commerce February 26, 1896 just one of several cycling journals in the History Centre Cycling Collection.

Originally manufacturers of sewing machines, the Coventry Machinists Company was one of the most advanced bicycle manufacturers in the country. At their Cheylesmore works off Little Park Street over 10,000 people were employed. By 1896 up to 600 Swift bicycles and tricycles were produced every week and dispatched all over the world. The company had sales offices in Holborn, London and in Paris and supplied specially designed bicycles for the British Army.

The age of the boys at the front of the photograph is really striking. Some may have been as young as 11 (the school leaving age 1893-1899). There are no women on the photograph as their lunch was likely to have been in a separate part of the factory to the men but many were employed by the company for light production work and for the lacing-up of dress guards of ladies’ bicycles.

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Summer in the city?

Holy Trinity Bell Tower, circa 1960s

Summer can be a quieter time for libraries and archives but we have remained busy. I’m sure this is partly due to the new series of Who Do You Think You Are?

Now in its seventh season the series seems to be as popular as ever bringing visitors into the History Centre for the first time interested in researching their family history. More experienced family historians who have had their family history on the back-burner for a while have also returned.

The History Centre holds many resources to help trace your family tree whether your ancestors were from Coventry or further afield. We have a subscription to the library edition of the family history database Ancestry which holds a wealth of records for Coventry, the UK and rest of the world. Ancestry is free to use on our History Centre PCs – please give us a ring on 024 7683 4060 for more information.

Coventry Family History Week starts on the 16th August. 17 Family History taster sessions have been planned at libraries across the city and at the Register Office. The History Centre will host a Family History taster session on 17th August. The session will run from 10am to 12pm. Please give us a ring on 024 7683 4060 if you would like more information or book a place.

As well as helping visitors with their family history we have experienced a lot of interest in the photographs in our collection. Over 7000 images of Coventry and the local area can be viewed on our website Pictures of Coventry.  

In addition to our own website we regularly use other websites to try and track down photographs of local people and places for enquirers. Here are some of our favourites:

Images of England:

Windows on Warwickshire:

Earlsdon Online:


We have also found the website Geograph really useful when we have been trying to identify photographs to add to our collection:


In the last few weeks we have received some interesting donations: the quantity surveyor’s records for the building of the Council House (1912-22) and an architectural student’s drawings of Holy Trinity bell tower which formerly stood in Priory Row and was demolished in 1967.
Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Whatever next…

Well despite the reputation of dusty old archives things are anything but dull at the History Centre. One aspect I really enjoy about my job is the variety. We are asked an eclectic range of questions every week from local people and visitors from all over the world. This week we have helped visitors researching a slaughterhouse in Foleshill, a Hobson aircraft carburettor used by the Italian Air Force, the history of various inns of Coventry, haunted properties and a parachutist, Viola Spencer, who sadly died after falling on to a roof during a jump in Coventry in 1910. 

We are often asked to find historical information and photographs for television companies at short notice which can mean any plans for the day going out the window. However I admit to being rather envious of my colleagues Rob and Jane who were recently involved with the filming of a new BBC 4 series at St. Mary’s Hall presented by historian Michael Wood. One of the city’s most important archives, the Coventry Leet Book, 1421-1555, was used during the filming of this programme, due to be broadcast in 2011.  Read the rest of this entry

%d bloggers like this: