Inevitably once a book is published, especially involving such a visual medium as old photographs, there are requests from groups wanting an illustrated talk. I have been giving such talks for almost 25 years, first using Ektachrome slides via a carousel projector, and now using a laptop and digital projector. The flexibility the latter offers rearranging and adding photographs without having to shuffle the whole carousel. It also allows better framing and presentation of the originals, especially when copying from glass negatives. I always scan original photographs in colour, despite the monochrome finish, as the variation in the tone is part of the charm of the photograph – this is too expensive to reproduce in our books, but fortunately, not on the webpage! All talks are about an hour long and mainly made up of photographs that are around a 100 years old or more. Most have not been published before.
Topics Covered for Talks on Coventry and Warwickshire
1. The Coventry We Have Lost
There are many variations on this talk. Traditionally views from the Edwardian city centre form the introduction and then, depending on what part of the city the group is based, I select views/events from that area.
2. Coventry’s Victorian and Edwardian Photographers
This talk is structured around photographs produced by the earliest commercial photographers in Coventry (mainly in carte de visit and cabinet form), then moving to the photographers who exploited the cheaper materials that were becoming available to produce the photographic postcard of Edwardian times. Although some photographs show contemporary portraits, most are of street views and events, including some of the very earliest photographic scenes of Coventry life. I usually start off the talk with a demonstration of how to use an original Victorian plate camera on a tripod – it shows how amazingly patient early photographers must have been when taking outside views.
3. Coventry’s Industrial History
Given that the earliest photographic views date from the mid nineteenth century, and few show Coventry industry before 1900, this is a challenging talk given how little of Coventry’s craft industry survives in photographic form. But with a little detective work it is possible to find photographic evidence of how the ribbon weaving industry functioned in Coventry, though, illustrating the later watchmaking and later engineering industries is a lot easier. The period covered finishes in the inter-war years.
4. Coventry’s Victorian Suburban Development
Coventry was late to the Industrial Revolution, this was partly because its growth was restricted by a ring of landowners who would not release land for development. The story of one organisation, The Coventry Freehold Land Society, between 1850 and 1860 and the development of its five estates (one of which was Earlsdon) created a pattern of suburban development in a number of parts of the city that still defines those areas today.
5. Earlsdon, One of Coventry’s First Housing Estates
The story of the suburb of Earlsdon that was just fields until the second half of the nineteenth century which formed the basis for our book published in 2010.
6. Why Coventry Should Have Been Demolished in 1914
Coventry has been though many changes in the last hundred years and yet again plans are being made to redevelop the city centre. This is the third time there has been upheaval in the city centre during that time, twice due to the planners and once due to Nazi bombing (though the planners were already cooking up a new scheme before the bombs struck!). Using photographs from the early twentieth century as well as comments/cartoons and pictures from the Coventry Graphic of the 1910-1914 period, an argument is put forward for why Coventry was already considered not ‘fit for purpose’ by 1914 and what was going to happen next – if it were not for the First World War getting in the way! (PS You may be surprised at the views expressed in the local press by the residents of our beloved Coventry)
7. Coventry in the First World War
Although Coventry was a rapidly growing city before the war, it was the war effort that turbocharged its growth. There was an influx of women workers in the munitions factories that gave a special character to the town. The factories themselves changed almost overnight from making domestic products to churning out airplanes, military vehicles, tanks and not least of all, munitions by the ton. Much of the activity was captured on postcards to send to family and friends, some of which have survived to help illustrate this talk.
8. Why does Coventry Have So Many Boring Postcards?
This is an excuse to show some of the many topics that can be found on photographic postcards of the Edwardian period from all over the country and compare it with the efforts of Coventry photographers. It is a bit of an uneven competition given the bigger geographical spread of the UK, but despite having some fun at Coventry’s expense the city does come good in the end.
9. Victorian and Edwardian Photographers in Warwickshire
As well as collecting old views of Coventry I have also been interested in the work of early photographers in Warwickshire and have given many talks based on the most prominent local commercial firms operating throughout the county. With so many to choose from I tend to focus my talk on the locality of the group I am giving the talk to. I usually start off the talk with a demonstration of how to use an original plate camera on a tripod – it shows how amazingly patient early photographers must have been when taking outside views.
10. Fred Hancox: An exceptional Edwardian, Amateur, Coventry Photographer
Twenty years ago a few glass plates turned up at a car boot sale in Warwickshire. This led to the discovery of many more that had been found in the attic of a house in Earlsdon. With a lot of detective work the photographer tuned out to be a Coventry carpenter born in 1876 who appeared to take up the hobby in about 1900. Unusually he not only captured family life and holidays but also his workplace, events in the city, sporting events and military life from his time in the Royal Warwickshire Territorials. It is unusual to find such an extensive collection of working class amateur photographs from a period when the hobby was so expensive – normally it would be the domain of the middle classes with their own particular cultural interests. There are three talks based on this catch of plates that have evolved as more has been found out about Hancox. The first is a general view of the collection based mainly upon the pre-war years. The second includes more views from this early period as well as the inter-war years reflecting the additional information uncovered about some of the individuals shown in the pictures as well as holiday fashions – the family were always at the cutting edge of fashion! The third talk brings the extra dimension of the recent contact made with Hancox grandson’s which revealed more material on Hancox’s early life together with a few more photos.
11. The Coventry Canal
Work started on the Coventry Canal in 1769 and had an immediate effect on the Foleshill area. The talk deals with the changes the canal brought to the five or so miles from the Canal Basin at the top of Bishop Street to Hawkesbury Junction on the border with Bedworth. The focus is on the evidence that still exists for the changes that the canal made those 250 years ago. Consideration is also given to the way it allowed Foleshill to become an invaluable industrial suburb of Coventry in the second half of the nineteenth century.
12. Coventry’s Trailblazing Post-War Precinct: A tale of two architects
The appointment of architect Donald Gibson in 1938 as Coventry’s first Planning Officer and Architect was a bold move. He had already created a plan for a new city centre before the bombing raids in the Second World War cleared away the biggest obstacle to his progress. The result was one of the earliest traffic free pedestrian shopping areas in the world. Yet his replacement in 1955 by Arthur Ling was to affect the eventual look of the finished Precinct with a number of iconic developments that are assumed to be part of the Gibson plan.
13. Being a Local Historian
The talk considers the changing status of local history from a pastime for amateurs to a valuable tool supporting the work of most historians. Incudes many reflections on the speaker’s changing attitudes over the years as he entered the world of publishing articles and books.
14. A History of the Coventry Silk Ribbon Industry
Weaving Silk Ribbons dominated Coventry’s economy for more than 250 years up to 1860. Much that has been written about the origins of the industry is just plain wrong. I addressed these issues in a 2021 article in Warwickshire History -‘Lies, Damn Lies and the eighteenth- century Coventry Ribbon Industry’. This talk takes a broader view of the misconceptions that have developed about ribbon weaving in Coventry from the types of looms used and the special cottages where they were installed to the variety of products made. Some of the original woven materials will be on show.
15. A Subject of Your Choice
With so many views illustrating so many locations/events/social life from Edwardian Coventry and Warwickshire it may be possible to make a selection on a specialist subject not mentioned above.
Arrangements for booking a talk
I can provide all projection equipment necessary except for a screen (though a blank wall would be fine). I am happy to speak to any size audience large or small. I charge a fee of £50 which goes to the Marton Museum of Country Bygones. I am happy to provide my services for free for suitable charitable fund raising events. Contact email@example.com