Coventry City of Culture: The women who helped shape a 'city of justice'

2 weeks ago 13

By Vanessa Pearce
BBC News, West Midlands

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image captionThe wives of Chrysler's striking workers protested successful 1975 - 1 radical demanded men spell backmost to enactment portion others supported the strike

From Lady Godiva's conflict for fairer taxes to the combat for amended housing, wage and conditions, Coventry's past is packed with women who person spoken up connected behalf of the oppressed oregon voiceless.

Acts of rebellion and absorption successful the metropolis person included the combat for the vote, the tragic decease of an carnal rights campaigner and schoolgirls protesting for the close to deterioration trousers.

According to legend, Godiva, who was joined to Leofric, the Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, rode bare done the city's marketplace successful bid to trim taxes imposed by her husband.

"I would beryllium the benignant of idiosyncratic that would thrust connected a equine bare if it meant radical successful Palestine oregon Syria could beryllium free, oregon women tin locomotion the streets safely oregon the LGBTQ assemblage wouldn't get the maltreatment that they do," said Reena Jaisiah.

The subordinate teacher was chosen arsenic 1 of 14 women from the metropolis to enactment arsenic modern-day Godivas arsenic portion of Coventry's City of Culture festival opening lawsuit for her enactment championing the tone of activism and societal justice.

"I deliberation I'm a dependable for the voiceless," said the 41-year-old, who has helped rise issues specified arsenic casteism, play poorness and the intersexual exploitation of women.

image copyrightMarianne Taviner Vortex Creates

image captionReena Jaisiah said she could empathise with Lady Godiva's attitude

"The indignation I faced increasing up gave emergence to this dependable wrong of me," she said.

Running a theatre radical successful Coventry, she has besides written a play astir experiences of caste prejudice.

"I similar to bash protestation successful a originative way, I don't privation to outcry and shriek - I usage creation and theatre for my voice, and astir importantly, different people's voices."

The metropolis has a affluent past of women warring for societal change, according to historiographer and writer Dr Cathy Hunt. But sometimes their stories are skipped implicit due to the fact that they "just got connected with it".

"As a moving metropolis determination has ever been a request to absorption connected radical successful work, conditions and wage and women person ever had the spot and resoluteness to beryllium astatine the bosom of that struggle," Dr Hunt said.

"In a metropolis renowned for innovation, alteration and welcoming newcomers, it's important and timely that determination is designation of women's contributions, past and present, to making definite that justness and fairness widen to all."

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image captionThe Coventry Miners' Wives Support Group ran a crockery room and attended rallies successful 1984

The City of Culture opening event, Coventry Moves, culminated successful the 14 Godivas handing implicit their demands to the city's archetypal pistillate person of the council.

Ann Lucas was watched by pistillate councillors and the city's 3 women MPs which was successful itself significant, said Dr Hunt.

The taxable of societal justness besides spurred trade radical organiser Niki Doughty-Lee, 60, to get progressive successful the lawsuit by helping sew the banners that accompanied the Godivas connected their metropolis journey.

The retired probation serviceman said lasting up for the underdog had ever been an important operator for her.

"The ocular interaction [of the banners] was greater than a load of radical lasting protesting successful Trafalgar Square," she said. "Some radical don't person precise affirmative images of activists retired determination shouting, truthful doing it this mode I deliberation is multi-faceted."

image copyrightFiveSixPhotography

image captionThe banners each carried messages of what Lady Godiva mightiness basal for today

Coventry's past is chequered with examples of women lasting up for what they judge in.

In October 1938 a peculiar bid was chartered to instrumentality much than 100 radical from Coventry to London successful a protestation organised by the city's archetypal pistillate politician Alice Arnold.

She led a procession from Euston presumption to the Home Office to manus successful a petition signed by 60,000 of the city's citizens.

image copyrightCulture Coventry Trust/Coventry Archives

image captionAlice Arnold (left) pictured with Coventry's Labour radical and chap councillor Ellen Hughes

Through doorway knocking and nationalist meetings, the councillor had been capable to stitchery the signatures from astir a 3rd of the city's colonisation successful favour of her alleged "Peace and Plenty" petition, which called for a much conscionable and peaceful society.

The cavalcade, implicit with band, stretched a 4th of a mile agelong and was cheered connected its mode to Whitehall.

Miss Arnold, calved into a workhouse successful 1881 and moving by the property of 11, was a hugely important fig successful Coventry's past of women's protest, said Dr Hunt, writer of A History of Women's Lives successful Coventry.

"She grew up moving successful the factories and developed a beardown consciousness of wanting to assistance radical and service her community, getting progressive successful socialism and trades unionism.

"When she became 1 of the archetypal 2 women councillors, on with Ellen Hughes, successful 1919, she didn't hide the mill workers and stood up for issues that often got overlooked and neglected similar maternity rights, kid payment and decent housing.

"Coventry was everything to her," she added. "She would person loved the City of Culture and the world's eyes connected the metropolis and nary uncertainty she would person ensured that issues of societal justness were fixed afloat attention."

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image captionMiners' wives from Coventry travelled to London to protestation during the 1972 UK-wide strike

President of Coventry Trades Union Council Jane Nellist puts the city's beardown contented of women activists down to its aboriginal past with the socialist movement.

The trades unions were incredibly beardown successful the city, she explained, with immoderate successful engineering negotiating the "Coventry rate" of pay, which was higher than astir different places successful the country, and the men backing the women's campaigns.

"Looking backmost done Coventry's past determination person been immense protests of women who demanded adjacent wage successful the factories, and immoderate of them adjacent got it," she said.

But overmuch of the history, including that of a "formidable" postulation of striking miners' wives, often got overlooked, she said.

The women acceptable up a radical successful 1984 to protestation against the pit closure successful Keresley colony and travelled the state raising funds and boosting morale, arsenic good arsenic helping to provender families affected by the nationalist onslaught action. Twelve years earlier women had besides joined protests during the 1972 UK miners' strike.

"What was astounding astir those women was the powerfulness and respect that they had and the relation that they played," said Mrs Nellist.

She describes however Coventry women were besides astatine the bosom of a run against the canvass taxation "which is rather apt erstwhile you nexus that to Lady Godiva".

The national person herself went to tribunal for non-payment of the arguable Community Charge on with her hubby Dave, past a Coventry Labour MP but who successful 1991 was deselected by his enactment and its person Neil Kinnock for his links to the near helping Militant group.

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image captionGirls from President Kennedy School staged a walk-out successful 1976 aft the caput teacher refused to let them to deterioration trousers

"A batch of them had ne'er been progressive successful thing governmental before, but they were determination due to the fact that of the mode it affected them. Whether you were moving oregon not you were expected to pay," Mrs Nellist recalled.

"Men mightiness person been successful immoderate of the starring positions but astatine the bosom of it were women. Some were working, immoderate were not working, immoderate had young children.

"They were precise progressive successful attending meetings and rallies with galore besides refusing to pay."

A flagship argumentation of Margaret Thatcher's government, the Community Charge, much commonly called the canvass tax, was yet replaced after triggering wide civilian disobedience and riots and immoderate were sent to situation for non-payment.

"Coventry was rather important successful the improvement of the anti canvass taxation run - and of people we won," Mrs Nellist added.

On 14 February 1995 hundreds of radical including histrion Brigitte Bardot gathered astatine Coventry Cathedral to be the ceremonial of carnal rights protester Jill Phipps.

The young parent had been killed during a protestation astatine the city's airdrome successful Baginton against the unrecorded export of veal calves.

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image captionThe coroner's inquest ruled the decease of the 31-year-old mother-of-one arsenic accidental

According to chap protesters she had tally towards a lorry laden with the animals arsenic it approached the gates of the airport, escorted by police. A policeman yelled for the operator to stop. Ms Phipps was trapped beneath its wheels and died.

More than 25 years later, the authorities is looking to prohibition unrecorded exports of animals nether a caller bill.

From the suffrage conflict to the miners' wives, past often depicts women protesters arsenic bold and loud, but they were besides brave, said Dr Hunt.

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image captionDuring a 1996 Coventry Cathedral work to people the centenary of the British centrifugal manufacture a pistillate 'Angel' stripped bare arsenic an anti-car protest

"They were often women not utilized to nationalist speaking, but for their origin they stood connected nationalist platforms making themselves speech to crowds.

"In the lawsuit of the suffrage speakers, they often faced hostile crowds who threw things and connected juncture adjacent chased them done the streets.

"We should ne'er instrumentality for granted what women activists person enactment themselves through, trying to marque a quality to people's lives."

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