Once each year, after making a new Lord Mayor, the aldermen and councillors, and chief officers, walked in procession to Church on the Sunday afterwards. There they were to pray for the good government of their city. Not very many went, but I always did — I didn’t believe a great deal in prayer, but I hoped to show friendship with the Council Members by joining with them.
So it was that in 1952 I walked alongside Alderman Stringer (the Labour Party Leader) in procession to the church service, at that time in Holy Trinity (the new Cathedral not yet in being.) It seemed an opportunity to pursue the interests of architecture, and the new city.
I had recently been quite ill, with an allergic rash over most parts of my body, and after recovery my doctor sent me away for a holiday. I took a cycle— master, in the back wheel of my bicycle, and went 1100 miles across France to Switzerland and back, on one gallon of petrol and a lot of pedal ling. On the way I stayed with all our several au pair girls, who had lived in Coventry with my family.
One evening, up on the hill of old Geneva, I was intrigued by some beautiful mosaics. These showed the history of Geneva and were signed — Antionietti. They were made with all sorts of stones, and brick, and even coal, and also bright enamels. I longed for one of these in Coventry.
So when I paraded with Alderman Stringer, I spoke of the mosaic and how nice it would be to have one in Coventry. The Alderman seemed sympathetic, he asked what would be the story to tell? I needed to think quickly: I said how about the story of the “Coventry Martyrs”? They were burned to death in Coventry (both Catholics and Protestants) and they have a very poor memorial.
Alderman Stringer thought this to be a good idea. so I asked him how could it be accomplished? He asked how much money? I said c£500 (I took a guess). He advised me to raise the matter at the next meeting, which I did. I raised it under any other business — the Chairman supported my idea. The Treasurer (Dr Marshall) said it was not included in the estimates. Then Alderman Hodgkinson seconded the proposition and it was carried.
So I went back to the office. I found Antonietti’s address in Geneva and he agreed to come for £500. I got Dick Hosking — our Principal of the College of Art, to prepare a design. To save costs I agreed to take Antonietti into our home at Allesley, where we had him for six months. The next problem was a new one to me. The Trade Union of Tiles and Mosaics opposed a Work Permit to an Italian. They said there were plenty of competent workmen in Britain, who could even do Fishmonger’s slabs in mosaic. I had to explain that I didn’t want flat smooth mosaics. I wanted to use many materials and moulded surfaces. Women’s breasts should bulge, and not be flat, etc. In the end after a three hour battle, I hoped they understood, and I got a permit to employ Antonietti.
The mosaic was to brighten the pavement under the bridge, and would form the entrance to the subway, to the lifts and to the stairs up.
Antonietti was a good craftsman. He spent most of his evenings, after supper, at the “Rainbow” our local pub at Allesley, and after a month or two he was pestered by a French Hospital for a new mosaic, and so he introduced his pupil, Lino Melano, to help him and shorten the time. I didn’t wish to complicate my arrangements with the City Council, so I put a camp bed in my office for Lino and he had his meals in the Pub, which was just below my office in Warwick Row.
They both worked well together. They had been trained at the famous School of Mosaics at Ravenna on the Adriatic. We went touring and got stones from Derbyshire and Ireland, and different bricks from Warwickshire, which all were used in the mosaic.
When the Mosaic was completed, the Committee unveiled it. They invited Antonietti to the Council House to thank him for his work. (I had discovered that the £500 fee had already been spent, also Antonietti had broken his Grandfather’s Meachaum Pipe during his work. So I told the Committee.)
So when Antonietti was reluctantly present at the committee to be thanked for his work, he was invited to select a new Meachaum Pipe and given another £500.
He felt the U.K was the best country in the world.
I hope that this Mosaic will be enjoyed for many years. I am grateful for their help, and also for the partnership of my wife — who did all the extra cooking, and washing for six months without a murmur. It was completed in 1953.