Coventry Archives

Continuing with our series on the Midlands collection holders involved in the UOSH project, Elizabeth Gray explores the sound collections held at Coventry Archives. The Archives, as part of Culture Coventry Trust, have been based at The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in the city centre since 2008, following the decision to bring together materials from the Coventry Record Office, the Central Library’s local studies collection and Coventry Transport Museum archive. In a previous blog we used Coventry Archives as a case study to examine the digitisation process for sound recordings. In this post we will take a closer look at the three collections which the Midlands team worked with. 

A photo of the The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry
The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry

One of Coventry’s most famous features is its historic transport industry, particularly its motor industry. The Coventry Car Workers oral history collection explores the everyday workings of the industry during the 20th century, as well as home and family life. What is really interesting about this collection is the diverse range of experiences it shows. For example, whilst some interviewees remained at the same company for the majority of their career, others seem to have frequently changed employers. The collection thus gives an insight into the changing dynamics of the industry, and how these impacted Coventry as a city. As the interviews were undertaken by Paul Thompson, one of the leading figures in establishing oral history as a research methodology, the collection also acts as an important case study for reflecting on the development of oral history practice. 

Triumph 1978. Copyright Graham Richardson, Our Warwickshire

Memories of the Coventry car industry can also be found in the Oral History Project collection held at Coventry Archives. However, this collection has a much broader scope, recording the stories of interviewees with a variety of backgrounds. The project was set up by the City Record Office with the majority of interviews occurring between 1984 and 1988. The collections comprise over 200 interviews, mainly focusing on life in Coventry from the 1910s to 1970s. Many different topics are discussed including: war, local politics, entertainment in the city, and housing. Interviewees worked in a diverse range of professions from manufacturing to the medical and fire services, providing a wealth of material to interest listeners and researchers. A particularly enjoyable interview is that of Mary Hobley, who worked as the official hairdresser to Coventry Repertory Theatre during the 1930s and ’40s. During her career she worked with many famous performers including Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and she was even one of the hairdressers at Grace Kelly’s wedding.

Mary Hobley talks about preparing a wig for Laurence Olivier.

The final collection that the Midlands team worked with was the ‘Attitudes to Authority’ collection. These interviews were collected between 1995 and 1996 as part of a project aiming to record an intergenerational view of attitudes towards authority, both within the family and in society more generally. With this research focus in mind the interviews mention topics including: discipline, values, and family dynamics. However, as the interviews provide a broad overview of life in the 1920s -1960s, the collection is useful for a multitude of research projects. 

A photo of archive boxes on a shalef.
Archive boxes containing Coventry oral histories.

If you are interested in finding out about some of the other sound recordings held at Coventry Archives why not browse their collection? For more information on the Archives themselves visit the Coventry Archives website. You can also use the British Library SAMI catalogue to explore the sound collections further. 

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Colin Hyde

About Colin Hyde

Colin Hyde is currently managing the Sounds for the Future project, which is based in Special Collections. He has run the East Midlands Oral History Archive for many years.

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