I was born In Keresley, a mining community on the outskirts of Coventry. My family at that time lived within sight of the blitzed cathedral and the ruined city centre, but the maternity hospital had been relocated to Keresley due to bomb damage. I was born within sight of the end of the 1940’s: less than a month later a new decade dawned. The 1950’s, with all their hope, expectation and promise for the future began.
“The Village” (as Kereseley is still occasionally known) did not finally transfer administratively from Warwickshire to the City until the 1960’s. Keresley Pit, later known as Coventry Colliery, is now long gone: capped and sealed below the city. For all but the first few days of my life my childhood and adolescence was spent within the city boundary. My Primary school was surrounded by the commerce and industry which made the city prosperous. Our first family home was in central Coventry. It echoed day and night to noise from nearby factories and there was a railway yard at the top of the street. I could walk from my front door to the city centre and view the Phoenix City rising again from the ashes any time I liked.
My story was that of many Coventrians. For centuries, regardless of World Wars, Recessions or Pandemics, people have moved there and met there. Seeking a new future. And largely (but not always) the city has welcomed each new generation of Incomers. My father and grandfather were both born in Nuneaton, a town 10 miles away. Coventry and its many manufacturing industries drew them in like a magnet, along with thousands of others. My mum had run away from a Yorkshire Mill village, seeking reunion with her father, Edgar Oldfield. He had been lured away from the West Riding before the end of World War One, head-hunted for a job as an engineer. Although it was not their "home town," my Mum and Dad first met and fell in love there. Courtship blossomed through the Blitz, which they both experienced. They married there and started a family there.
Given this background, on the day of the re-scheduled launch of the City of Culture Year, on Saturday May 15th 2021, I was intrigued (but not surprised) to hear BBC Radio Four News referring to the city as “George Eliot’s Home Town.” This was not strictly true. In later bulletins it was rightly amended to explain that she was (in part) educated there. She (in part) also lived there and (in part) wrote there. But Nuneaton and Warwickshire (and later London) also played a bigger part in her development.
Her story in that sense is similar to mine and it is similar to many others. Where she and I differ is that I grew up in Coventry and I was educated there. After attending a College in London I returned to live there. I worked for Coventry City Council for 38 years unbroken, right up to retirement. In my spare time I too wrote stories and poems as well as songs and features for a local newspaper. And, in 2021,Coventry’s City of Culture Year, my first full length novel will finally be published. It will take me a while to catch up with Mary Anne, but my name will finally have an ISBN number.
I remain immensely proud of my Coventry (and Warwickshire) roots. I live now back in the same Warwickshire village that my Great Grandfather moved the entire family away from. In 1892 he uprooted them and moved them to the nearby Industrial town of Nuneaton. Over time that same cycle continues. The larger towns and cities of Warwickshire offer succour and support to those drawn there by better opportunities. It is a continual process. The cycle repeats as village children (like mine) relocate once more, drawn by improved employment prospects and cheaper housing elsewhere.
I hope that the Coventry City of Culture Year reflects this diversity and shines with an Inclusivity which takes on board the heart of Coventry itself but also the migration to and from the city from satellite towns. Celebrating not just those still living within the city but also those who like George Eliot have been touched by their connections with it over time. After all, this was the basis of Two Tone and the music which helped put the old place back on the World map again.