· 2 min read · Features

Coventry: England's own 'motor city' has a natural talent for invention and reinvention


The story of Coventry is a story of two halves: the need for speed and heart.

Coventry is truly the home of motoring, as you can trace the evolution of man's development on wheels here – from cycles to cars, Coventry has always been at the forefront. And that adaptable quality and skill set has manifested itself in a number of other motor-related areas.

But more than that, this is a place to visit if you want to marvel at the spirit of a people. From Coventry's very own Lady Godiva and (legend has it) St George, England's patron saint, to the symbolism of the burned-out cathedral and the subsequent show of spirit from the postwar city, this is a place to come if you want to feel a real pride in being English.

Coventry could quite easily claim the moniker 'the home of the car', given that the country's first car was produced here way back in 1897. There are no fewer than five museums in the area devoted to speed. In the centre is the Coventry Transport Museum, with the world's largest collection of British road transport: 240 cars, 100 motorbikes, 240 bikes, loads of buses. This is no fusty museum full of old pieces; this place brings to life the development of road travel, the pioneers who made it happen, and even what the future of motoring may hold. Moving upmarket, Jaguar is a name synonymous with the city, and the Jaguar Heritage Museum celebrates the marque's 100-year-plus history. In nearby Gaydon, the Heritage Motor Centre houses the world's largest collection of historic British cars.

So if you like four wheels, it's all here in one place. The famous London black cabs? Built here. The famous scenes of Mini Coopers driving through Italian sewers? Filmed here!

If two wheels are your passion, then head to the nearby National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull, the biggest and best in the world. Or if you'd rather be up in the air than on the road, try the Midland Air Museum and the Sir Frank Whittle Heritage Centre, named after the Coventry-born inventor of the jet engine.

Few cities can claim to have suffered as much as Coventry during World War II. Described before the war as one of the finest medieval cities in England, it was pulverised during the Blitz. But what a show of resilience and strength followed. The Levelling Stone, which depicts a phoenix, was laid in 1946 to show a city pulling itself up; and, as a huge gesture of peace and reconciliation, the city was later twinned with the German city of Dresden. Indeed, Coventry has a habit of showing moral support for others - it was the first ever city to twin with another, Stalingrad, to show support for its plight, and now twins with a massive 27 other cities.

A visit to the new cathedral, which was recently voted the country's favourite 20th century building, against the backdrop of the illuminated remains of the old cathedral is a truly poignant sight. But get under the skin of the history of this fascinating city and you'll find a story of legends, heartbreak and genuine breakthrough invention. Go back in time to Coventry's most famous sons and daughters: Lady Godiva, who rode naked through the town to rid the people of the city of a terrible tax burden, and St George, reputedly from Coventry, who died slaying a dragon to protect the city (or so one version of the legend goes). This place simply has heart in abundance.

So, for a business in any way connected with petrol-heads or the need for speed, Coventry is ideal. But for any others who simply want to be reminded of what's good about the character of England, this place will make you feel proud, strong, resilient and even energised.

Nigel White, author, City Essence