Co-op store columns by John Skelton
The columns of the colonnade at the front of the Co-op store, in Corporation Street, have a series of line carvings by John Skelton who is a significant artist and letter carver. He was assisted by John Trawbridge. The columns are an important example of the city’s desire in the 1950’s to incorporate public art into architecture. John Skelton was born in Norwich in 1923, the nephew of Eric Gill the famous artist, sculpture and type designer. He had trained with his uncle after leaving Coventry School of Art (1939-40). After Eric Gill’s death he worked with the carver Joseph Cribb 1940-42. After war services he joined the stone yard studio of Percival Bridgeman at Lewes. He set up his own practice in Sussex in 1950. He was able to work in mediums of stone, wood, bronze even cement or ciment fondu, getting lots of commissions around the country including the cathedrals of Norwich, Portsmouth, Lincoln and Hereford.
Three of the eight columns that support the Co-operative Wholesale Society building have incised line drawings upon them depicting the rebuilding of Coventry and emblems of the Co-op’s activities as a world wide organisation. From the first store to Food, grocery, coal, transport and leisure are all shown in a series of carved pictures.
The carvings include farm buildings, fruit, tomatoes, sunflower, a hay stack, a farm truck, pit head gear, mining, wheels, dividers, flames. chemists bottles, glasses, eyes, and a swimmer diving. It had been hoped that John’s designs would be on all the columns throughout out the city cenre, but this did not happen. One other that was done was the carving of a weavers loom and a Coventry cap on one of the columns on the corner of Broadgate and the Precinct. On the other side of it is the Princess Elizabeth’s Pillar which marked the occasion when Her Royal Highness, the Princess Elizabeth, laid the foundation stone for the precinct.