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Explore Your Archive: A Week in Pictures

A view of the entrance to the Coventry Archives via the Herbert's covered court

This year, Coventry Archives participated in #ExploreYourArchive week! This is a national social media campaign aiming to raise awareness about the treasures that can be found in archives, special collections and record offices. Far from being dusty, neglected places, archives are constantly growing and evolving – whether that’s through research, digitisation or new donations. In the case of Coventry, our collections document a unique, dynamic city with history dating back to the medieval era. 

The Explore Your Archive ‘Focus Week’ ran over 9 days, from the 28 November to the 6 December, with a different theme for each day. We delved into our collections, discovering everything from the personal photo album of a suffragette, to Belgrade Theatre programmes. In case you missed our social media updates, we’ve listed them all in this blog post, along with reference numbers so that you can explore the items yourselves. 

Maps and Plans - Monday 28 November 

A map of Coventry with areas marked in red indicating places that were damaged by bombs during the Blitz. There are shadows of fighter planes around the edges of the map. Text in the top left corner reads, "Central Reconstruction Area | Bomb Damage Map"

For the first theme, maps and plans, we’re touching on Coventry’s unique and tragic history. 

We recently marked 82 years since Coventry was bombed during the Blitz, on the 14 November 1940. This was the single most concentrated attack on a British City in WW2.  

This map from our collections shows the extent of the damage – with areas shown in red either partially or completely destroyed.  

Reference Number: CCD/AP/1/62/2 


Time - Tuesday 29 December  

A handwritten Freeman's Oath in italic script with the City of Coventry Elephant and Castle coat of arms printed at the top.

You’d have no trouble telling the time in nineteenth-century Coventry thanks to the booming watchmaking business. By the 1880s, there were over 3,500 watch workers in the city. They had workshops called ‘topshops’ situated on the top floor of their houses. 

This document is a Freeman’s Oath for James Fenton, a watchmaker living in Bishop Street Ward in 1814. You could become a Freeman if you had completed a 7-year-long apprenticeship. This earned you special rights to land, trading and defending the honour of the city.  

You can search our microfilm Freeman’s Register here at Coventry Archives! 

Reference Number: BA/C/17/23/3 


Beards - Wednesday 30 November 

An open photo album with gilt edging and a metal buckle fastening. On the left hand page are Edwardian sepia portrait photographs of four men, the top two of whom have beards. On the right hand side is a larger photo of a young woman in a heavy, long-sleeved dress with a white lace trim around the collar and cuffs.

When you search ‘beard’ in our catalogue, the top result is an 1875 photo album that once belonged to Annie Fridlander. Annie was a women’s suffrage activist, and the daughter of Alfred Fridlander, a watchmaker and founder of the Jewish Synagogue.  

We do not know who the bearded men are in these photographs, but perhaps they knew Annie personally. The photo album is decorated with beautiful gold foliage around its edges and a buckle. Who knows what you may discover in our archives? 

Reference Number: PA1861/3/24/1 


Throwback - Thursday 1 December 

A black and white photograph of the inside of the Muniment Room at St Mary's Guildhall - a medieval building with an arched ceiling and gothic windows. Inside the room are books resting on top of a filing cabinet.

Did you know: from 1894, part of Coventry Archives was kept in the ‘Muniment Room’ at St Mary’s Guildhall? 

This was purpose-built to hold council records, and was used up until 2009 when all of our collections were permanently moved to the Herbert Art Gallery. You can visit the Muniment Room in the beautiful, newly renovated Guildhall just a few doors down from us! 

(photo from Coventry City Council, via flickr


Party - Friday 2 December 

Open programme for the Festival of Britain Lady Godiva procession showing a headshot of Ann Wrigg on the right and a photo of her dressed as Lady Godiva riding a horse on the left.

For today’s #ExploreYourArchive theme of ‘party’ we think there’s no better location than Coventry, with our annual Godiva procession. This has been a tradition since the seventeenth century, and in 1951, there was an extra special celebration as part of the Festival of Britain.  

100 applicants tried out for the role of Lady Godiva, and the spot went to Ann Wrigg, a TV and theatre actor. Find out more in our Discovering Godiva gallery! 

Reference Number: PA2137/6 


News- Saturday 3 December  

Today’s #ExploreYourArchive theme of ‘news’ is well-represented in our collection of newspapers, available as originals, microfilm or on the British Newspaper Archive database. Our oldest newspaper is the Coventry Mercury, starting from 1747.  

More information about the Coventry Mercury can be found here.


Languages – Sunday 4 December 

A pamphlet for learning Panjabi with pictures of different animals and objects, their names in English and Panjabi and pronunciation guides. Featured words and images include: bicycle, snake, elephant, hand, chair, camera,  donkey, cow, flowerpot, horse and watch.

For the #ExploreYourArchive theme of ‘languages’, we want to celebrate Coventry’s diversity. This 1984 pamphlet is an educational guide to Panjabi, the second-most spoken language in the West Midlands. 

The guide uses pictures to familiarise learners with Panjabi words and scripts – can you spot the Coventry elephant? 

The author, J. N. Nagra, calls this guide ‘an exciting intellectual adventure’. Why not see what else you can learn in our extensive pamphlet collection? 

Reference Number: PA2600/2/15 


Humour - Monday 5 December  

An open programme for Half in Earnest at the Belgrade Theatre featuring a list of cast and creatives and a scene breakdown. The programme is being held up in front of a bookcase in Coventry Archives

Here’s a bit of humour – a programme for ‘Half in Earnest’, a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy. This was performed in 1958 for the grand opening night of the Belgrade Theatre.  

Find out more about the Belgrade’s history in our dedicated Research Guide

Reference Number: PA2275/2/1 


Your Archive - Tuesday 6 December  

Bookshelves filled with rows of beautifully bound first edition George Eliot novels

#ExploreYourArchive week has come to an end. We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing sneak peeks of our collections, which range from the medieval Borough Archives to the online Coventry Digital. For our final post, here is Archive Assistant Francesca’s favourite section – the George Eliot collection. 

Eliot was an author born in Nuneaton in 1819, and lived in Coventry for several years. These beautiful first editions date from 1860. 

What’s your favourite part of Coventry Archives? 

Reference Number: GE (George Eliot Collection)  


Exploring Our Archive 

The posts above show just a miniscule fraction of the thousands of documents we have stored in our archive – three basements worth! While some of these items we featured in the Focus Week were already known to us, others were completely new, showing that archives are always full of surprises.  Any of these items can be requested and viewed in our Research Room free of charge. We just ask that you book an appointment and let us know at least 24 hours in advance of your visit which materials you would like to see.  

We are open every Wednesday to Friday, from 10:30 – 3:30. You can browse our catalogue here and book an appointment by emailing And if you’d like to see even more behind the scenes, we hold guided tours of the reading room, research room and the underground archive space! These are available to book here for £5 per person