Pioneering Coventry: the post-war photography of Richard Sadler

Exhibitions of people, industry and arts at the Old Grammar School, Hales Street, Coventry, between Feb 8th and May 30th.
0012 Sadler Exhibition Wee Gee 0003
WeeGee the Famous, 1963 © The Estate of Richard Sadler

Coventry has always been a pioneering city with a spirit of friendship and innovation that is as true today as it was in the post-war era. Exhibitions generously funded by the City of Culture Trust

Dr Richard Sadler documented the city of his birth throughout the second half of the twentieth century as a commercial and artistic photographer. He was the official photographer at Coventry Cathedral, Belgrade Theatre, RSC and Courtaulds for many years. He also undertook arts projects, exhibiting locally, nationally and internationally, finding fame in particular with his portrait of Arthur Fellig, known as WeeGee, the American crime photographer. Richard exhibited regularly, both locally, nationally and internationally. His website, www.richardsadler.co.uk, has more details on his many accolades and successes. In 1968 he joined what is now Derby University as a member of the arts faculty and remained there until his retirement in the 1990s. Richard sadly died in 2020 aged 93.

As part of the City of Culture programme, Photo Miners are excited to present Richard Sadler's photography of the immediate years after the Second World War in Coventry.

In this period, Coventry not only recovered from the horrors of the multiple bombings that devestated the city but also renewed its character through hard work and forgiveness.

Coventry became a city of the future, a welcome home to displaced and migrant people and one that pioneered new ways of living through its architecture and planning and innovative industry.

Richard lived through this period and, in a time of scarce photographic resources, committed to documenting Coventry's story. Thanks to his work, we have high quality visual evidence of 1950s Coventry.

At the Old Grammar School, Hales Street, Coventry, Photo Miners are working with communities to curate three sequentiual exhibitions that try to do justice to both Richard and that time.

The exhibitions are:

Pioneering People: Sadler and the City

In this first exhibition, we present the people of post-war Coventry: the children, teenagers and young adults that inherited a damaged city and set the common ground to transform Coventry into a city of peace and reconciliation.

You'll see the Umbrella Club, opened by the Goons in 1955 as well as Foleshill Jazz Club from earlier in the decade. We'll show you dancing in the streets too, as well as how to hang out at the precinct in 1950s Coventry.

We also present some photograpy of Coventry at the time, the damage and the recovery, including a series on the famous Godiva Cafe and Broadgate - to illustrate Coventry's belief then that it is city of the future, a belief we believe applies today.

Pioneering Industry: Sadler and Courtaulds

Courtaulds was an internationally-renowned man-made fibre manufacturer, producing products used by the military as well as by civilians. It was so strategically important that, as a condition of the USA joining the Second World War, the Courtaulds Company had to give up its manufacturing base and product rights in America.

Courtaulds had facilities across the UK but Coventry was its beating heart - its research centre that developed the products that made its name.

In this second exhibition we use Sadler's 1951-54 photography to showcase the scientists, workers and processes that made the company such a huge success.

In particular we focus on how Courtaulds in Coventry employed more women that men, and in particular Vera Furness, who led the research team which eventually created another world-changing product - carbon fibre.

Coventry remains an innovative city and elements of the Courtaulds Company, and their specialisations, have been inherited and built upon, and so we also feature a few examples about specialist companies today.

Pioneering Arts: Sadler and the Cathedral

The new Cathedral appeared in Coventry not just as an extraordinarily high-quality building designed and built to last for a thousand years but as one that was a home to new art. In a time when so much of the past was lost, and so the clamour to return to known ways was strong, the committee that oversaw the new cathedral was steadfast in its commitment to new art. Today we know they made the correct decision and are grateful for it.

This third exhibition, held to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral, celebrates the time when the cathedral was new. We present unseen images of the Sutherland tapestry being offloaded and moved to the cathedral, of it being hung before the internal space was complete. We see the Ramsey-Hoskins nativity scene, now partially lost, making its first appearance. We also present previously unseen images of early mystery plays performed in the ruins.

As with the City of Culture today, we're seeing in this exhibition an investment in emerging and new artists whose ways of seeing provide fresh but unfamiliar persepctives. Trust in art and you will be rewarded for years to come.