Coventry Photographic Society and its links with George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)

During our research into the history of the Coventry Photographic Society we came across several newspaper articles published in 1919 which referred to a Photographic Survey of George Eliot's Warwickshire being undertaken by the members of our Society.

The Survey was undertaken at the request of George Eliot Centenary Sub-Committee [1] & [2] and was to form part of Coventry’s George Eliot Centenary celebrations and was intended to be a pictorial record of the locations known to George Eliot and used by her in her books. These photographs along with other artwork were displayed in an exhibition organised by Coventry City Council celebrating the Centenary of her birth.

Online research identified a digitised record held by the Gutenberg Project which listed, amongst other items on display at the Exhibition referred to above, details of the all the photographs taken at the various locations and detailing which member(s) of the Society that had taken it.  As part of those celebrations the Coventry Library Committee produced a bound book called “A Record of the Centenary Celebrations held at Coventry, November 1919”. This book contains 30 of the original 53 photographs known to have been taken along with other items associated with the celebrations. The whereabouts of the other 23 photographs are unknown but presumed destroyed during the bombing raids on Coventry during the Second World war.

The only known copy of “A Record of the Centenary Celebrations held at Coventry, November 1919” is held by the Coventry Archives, which is part of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum and to help preserve those photographs the Coventry Archives have recently completed a project to scan all the images in the book. 

As our research was fortuitously taking place in early 2019 it was decided by the Society membership to try and reproduce those 1919 photographs showing the locations 100 years on as part of the Bicentennial celebrations. It was at this point we approached the George Eliot Fellowship for help and assistance regarding the locations and access to some of them. I am pleased to report that the Fellowship and particularly John Burton (current Chairman) could not have been more helpful. A list of the main locations photographed are detailed at the end of this article.

To facilitate the organisation of the Project a sub committee was formed comprising Mandip Seehra LRPS, Andy Naughton and ourselves to coordinate the Project.

With the help of the original 1919 photographs members tried, as far as possible, to recreate those earlier photographs and the exercise was completed in good time for our first exhibition in September 2019 at the Chilvers Coton Heritage Centre which was held in conjunction with the George Eliot Fellowship as part of their two Heritage weekends.

The exhibition was also held at the Albany Theatre in Coventry in October 2019 and coincided with their own celebrations of George Eliot. In total we displayed some 200 images and judging by the feedback it was a great success with the Society receiving many favourable comments from those that saw it. 

The core of the exhibition then moved to Nuneaton Library in the town centre during November 2019 and again in March 2020 and feedback has again been incredibly positive.

 22nd November 2019, Andy and ourselves accompanied members of the George Eliot Fellowship on a trip to Highgate Cemetery where George Eliot is buried followed by a wreath laying ceremony at Westminster Abbey where she is commemorated with a memorial stone in Poets Corner.

In January 2020, the exhibition moved to Holy Trinity Church for three weeks and looked particularly good displayed in such historic surroundings.

Further exhibitions were planned for Spring 2020 at Southam Library and Nuneaton’s Museum and Art Gallery but due to Covid 19 and lockdown restrictions these exhibitions have had to be postponed but both venues are very keen to have the exhibition once restrictions have been lifted.

Locations Visited

Arbury Hall & South Farm,

Astley Church & Castle,

St Nicholas Church Nuneaton,

Chilvers Coton Church, Graveyard and Vicarage,

Griff House (Beefeater) Nuneaton,

Griff Hollows (Red Deeps) Nuneaton

Bird Grove & Nant Glyn (Lovetts Estate Agents) Coventry.

Steve & Christine Simmonds

Updated May 2020

[1] 

[2]

Taken from The Midland Daily Telegraph,  Thursday 10th April 1919 on its report on the Society's Council Meeting.

Extract from The Midland Daily Telegraph 30 January 1919

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