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Joseph Levi Memorial Clock and the Coventry Philanthropic Societies.

Where the children’s Play Area is now in Stoke Green, there once stood the 4 metre high Joseph Levi Memorial Clock. It was bought as a tribute by the people of Coventry at a cost of £650 in 1934. It was constructed by the Lion foundry in Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire, Scotland. The clock is the reason the play area is called "The Dr Dave Tick Tock Play Area". Dr Dave is in memory of Dr Dave Spencer, former Coventry City and West Midlands county councillor, who played a major role in getting the play area established. It was opened in February 2012 and sadly Dave passed away suddenly in April 2012.

Play area sign

Joseph Levi was the founder in 1854 of the Coventry Philanthropic Institution, based at the White Lion Inn in Smithford Way. This later grew until there were 8 Philanthropic Societies in Coventry with thousands of members. The work of these societies lasted for nearly 100 years – until the modern Welfare State was established in 1948. Before the Welfare State there were few state benefits if you became unemployed, sick or disabled. The members of the Coventry Philanthropic Societies were working people who donated and collected money and organised events to raise funds, in order to give to their fellow workers who had become unemployed or sick.

A founding principle of the Societies was that there was to be no discrimination on the basis of social class, religion or race – for either membership of the Societies or for the receivers of aid.

In 1854 Coventry relied on the trades of ribbon weaving and watch making. However there was a slump in these trades because of cheap imports and many workers became unemployed. Joseph Levi and his friends in the smoke room of the White Lion Inn decided to do something to help the unemployed. At the first meeting there were 17 members. By the end of the year they had 150 members and had delivered 5,000 quarts of soup and 540 4lb loaves.

Originally members donated 5 shillings a year and then collected donations from their workmates and neighbours. To get more money and publicity and to have a good time they organised dances, whist drives, processions, football matches and took part in the annual Lady Godiva Pageants.

The Butts athletic stadium was a popular venue and they held annual sports days and cycle races there. In 1888 one event at the Butts attracted 3,000 people. In 1913 the Societies organised an aviation display at what is now Coventry Airport. There are also records of baseball matches being played. They set up a special fund to help the families of Prisoners of War in the First World War. An annual event was the Christmas children’s party. There were Christmas parcel funds for families and one society records in one year in the 1930s delivering 500 joints of English beef at Christmas.

Eventually there were eight Philanthropic Societies in Coventry and their names and dates of founding were commemorated on the sides of the memorial clock. Their names were:

Coventry Society (1854) based at the White Lion,

Smithford Way; The Golden Cross Pub (1859)

City Centre; Chapelfields (The Watchmakers) (1883);

Hillfields (1888) based at the Swan Inn, Yardley St.;

Earlsdon (1900);

Foleshill (1904);

Stoke (1904);

Charterhouse (1925).

The people of Coventry are rightly proud of and grateful for the dedicated work of the members of the Coventry Philanthropic Societies.

The clock was a much loved feature in Stoke Green, but over the years it was neglected and fell into disrepair. When the Play Area was being built, the Clock had to be dismantled and put into storage as it was in danger of falling down. However, residents felt it was important that the Clock should not be forgotten. The Gosford Park Residents Association are working with the City Council to get the clock restored and put back up again. A specialist company in Leicester has taken x-rays of the fabric of the clock, and have advised that it can be repaired and are preparing an estimate of the works involved. Council officers will hold a meeting in April to discuss next steps – so watch this space.

Our Thanks go to Corinne Spencer, Chair of the Gosford Park Residents Group, for the story and Dave Lewis and Paul Maddocks for the photos.

The clock being removed from the Park:

Clock being removed from the Park

The clock in storage:

The clock in storage

Clock in storage 2

The clock in storage 3

You  can download a pdf file of photos of the clock in its original location and in storage here, courtesy of the City Council's Conservation Officer, Chris Patrick.

Reader Comments (2)

Very interesting article.Are there any plans to restore the clock and re erect it ?

By Colshy on Friday, March 21, 2014

I remember as a small child being taken to the paddling pool for an afternoon out. Mum, Dad my brother and I. Picnic with us, we stayed for a few hours in the sun.

By Marilyn Hughes - nee Howkins on Tuesday, May 6, 2014

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