Higher Education Postcard: Coventry University

This week Hugh Jones’ postbag has a card that tells us a story of ribbons, cars and quiz questions.

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

Here’s a card sent in 1971, at which time its caption was already out of date.

That’s how things go in the industrial West Midlands.

Back in 1843 Coventry, facing competition from French manufacturers of ribbon, became home to a Government School of Design. Here’s a write-up from the Coventry Herald of Friday 19 May 1843:

COVENTRY SCHOOL OF DESIGN. The following extract, having reference the School of Design at Coventry, is from the Report of the Council the Somerset House School, lately presented to Parliament:

In March, 1842, Mr. Williams, M.P. for Coventry, attended at a meeting of the Council, and brought with him a memorial from the Silk Trade Coventry, very numerously signed, and urging the Council to aid in forming a School of Design at Coventry.

Mr. Williams represented forcibly to the Council the depressed state of the trade at Coventry, the active and too successful competition of the French manufacturers of ribbon, and the extreme importance, especially to the lowest and most numerous class of manufacturers in Coventry, of effecting some improvement in their taste which might put them on a par with their rivals in France.

As an illustration of the important results which arise from well-imagined pattern, Mr. Williams informed the Council that the depression of the trade would have been still greater had it not been for a novel article recently introduced from Coventry; and which had met with a most extensive sale, as to compete effectively with French goods.

It appeared to the Council that the circumstances of Coventry were such as call for all the assistance which they could bestow; and upon Mr. Williams satisfying them that proper arrangements would be made for providing adequate accommodation for a School at Coventry, and for defraying its annual expenses, and obtaining the services of a Committee of Management, the Council agreed to supply, or defray the charge of, a Master for the School, not exceeding £150 per annum, for three years, and likewise furnish the necessary outfit and casts to the amount of £300.

From various local circumstances, the promoters of the School of Design at Coventry did not obtain the necessary amount of subscriptions until the commencement of the present year. This has now, however, been effected. The Director has since visited Coventry, and has communicated personally with the Managing Local Committee, and assisted the choice of rooms, &c. Measures are in progress for supplying them with casts and books, and with a Master, and the School will probably open in the course of next month.

Coventry School Design became, in 1852, Coventry School of Art. And in 1902 it transmogrified again, becoming Coventry Municipal School of Art. This wasn’t enough change: in 1954 it became Coventry College of Art.

Separately, and to address the need for higher technical training in Coventry, the Lanchester College of Technology was founded. Opening in 1961, it was named after Frederick Lanchester, polymathic engineer, whose work included building the first motor boat in the UK; building engines and cars; working on the engineering principles of flight; and formulating Lanchester’s Power Laws, which were (and are) used to compute relative military strengths.

(Picture from the Illustrated London News)

In 1970, the College of Art and the Lanchester College of Technology were merged to form Lanchester Polytechnic. There was a third party to the marriage – the Rugby College of Engineering technology, which had been opened in 1956.

Lanchester was not, in marketing terms, a successful name. Peter Knight claimed that the name was a neutral choice, to avoid favouring Coventry or Rugby. Allegedly, a Radio 4 “Brain of Britain” question asked where Lanchester Polytechnic was, and none of the contestants knew. Is it an amalgam of Manchester and Lancaster?

In 1987 the institution as renamed as Coventry Polytechnic, and in 1992 it became Coventry University. Its motto is Arte et Industria – by Art and Industry, and is relatively unusual, for a former polytechnic, in being in Latin.

The card was sent in 1971

Had a good trip up, and a nice day. Kathy and Lionel were at Bus-station to meet me. Have been to [unclear] 3 times. Jess, Reg and Doll send their very best. K is fed up with the slow progress here – she’s out gardening now. All the best, from Fred

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