Coventry is famous for two things and this is neither of them, but it’s my favorite thing in town.
Here’s a close up of the important bit.
Looky there! Punched cards. This is a Jacquard Loom (actually, a British knock off of a Jacquard Loom I think). A chain of punched cards pulled the control strings to weave intricate patterns. A new pattern could be programmed simply by changing the cards used. The punched card idea from these looms was used by Hollerith for the 1890 US census. Hollerith’s company merged with two others to form the company that became IBM. So, that loom was one of the first programmable industrial robots, and was a direct precursor of modern computing.
OK, I can tell some of you are not impressed. Here’s a statue of a naked woman riding a horse instead.
This is of course Lady Godiva, one of the things that Coventry is famous for. She was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia in the 11th Century. A very devout woman, she was forever praying and founding priories. When she heard the common people protesting that taxes were too high, she went to her husband and asked him to lower them. Instead of saying, “I can’t cut taxes, you’ve spent all our money on bloody priories,” he said, “I’ll cut taxes if you ride naked through the streets of Coventry.” So she did.
In the original story the people gathered to watch and she had two knights escorting her. Her nudity was covered by her hair, apart from very white legs. In later versions everyone went inside and closed their shutters apart from the original Peeping Tom. The event was largely ignored for seven hundred years, though. There was one mention in a chronicle written more than a hundred years later, a bad painting in the Coventry guildhall, and that was about it. Then in 1824 Tennyson wrote a poem about her, and added the bit about Peeping Tom being struck blind.
Listen, if you’re a legendary figure and you need a publicist, you can’t do better than Tennyson. Before Tennyson, the Light Brigade had officers too stupid to say, “Are you sure?” and the Lady of Shalott was just an onion girl. After Tennyson the Godiva industry exploded with more paintings, some of them actually quite good…
and of course the Lady Godiva dandruff shampoo.
In case you are wondering how her husband reacted, the original chronicle says
ad virum gaudens reversa
This can either mean, “She returned to her happy man,” or, “She returned to her orgasm.” Those medieval chroniclers, such jolly chaps.
Which brings up the question, Did it really happen? Paula talked to one of the museum staff who had also studied the history of costume. She pointed out that Anglo-Saxon women were almost entirely covered by clothing all the time. The only time they would even show their hair in public would be on their wedding day, let alone any skin below the chin. For a devout woman such as Godiva to go naked in public she felt was unthinkable. My take is that people will sometimes go to remarkable lengths to use religion or morality to justify their personal kinks. I don’t think it’s entirely impossible that either Leofric or Godiva (or hopefully both of them) had a public nudity fetish, and found a way to gratify it without offending general public.
We are moored in Coventry Canal Basin, right next to a Poke Stop. I am hoping to see someone staring at their phone walk straight into the canal.
Let’s look at some more of Coventry’s statues. Here’s a guy taking a selfie.
OK, probably not, but I couldn’t be bothered to walk over and see what it was really about. No, don’t tell me, there are some things in life that are better left as mysteries.
The other thing that Coventry is famous for I am not going to try to be funny about. It’s the bombing raid on 14th November 1940 which destroyed much of the city center, and damaged two thirds of the buildings in the city, including setting fire to the medieval cathedral. After World War II the ruins of the cathedral were dedicated to peace and reconciliation, and visiting them is a surprisingly moving experience.
The new cathedral is built alongside the ruins of the old one.
The new one is lovely building, modern and surprisingly beautiful, but it doesn’t have the emotional impact of the old one. Perhaps I’ll write about it tomorrow.