Fascinating Imagine Hillfields exhibition depicts changing post-war life in Coventry suburb

John Blakemore

An exhibition which is part of a research project has drawn out some amazing never-seen-before photographs of the Hillfields area of Coventry, and added in some new pictures.

The Imagine Hillfields Exhibition is on at the Box in Fargo in Far Gosford Street, Coventry, until the end of the month. It is part of a project of the same name run by a team of sociology researchers from the University of Warwick which in turn is part of a national project looking at the way society imagines its present and future.

There are work by five photographers on show, all showing post-war Hillfields. John Blakemore (one photo top), born in 1936, had wanted to be a social documentary photographer, and his photos from the early 1960s have never been seen before. They are quite astonishing, some looking much older than they are, especially a chimney sweep and his wife in their home with the wallpaper hanging off damp walls.

In many labelled Urban Playground, children play amongst rubble and a terraced street stops dramatically with a gap where a house once stood. In Eric Green’s Triangle lots of terraced houses disappear into the grey background and in another a cheery shopkeeper, cigarette in hand, smiles for the camera. There is a young child in a mosque, and a Sikh family walking down Primrose Hill Street, reminding us Coventry has been welcoming new people for a long time.

Richard Sadler

Richard Sadler, now 87, used to photograph celebrities visiting Coventry, but his pictures on show here document a day in the life of his grandmother, Minnie Sadler (one image above), who lived in Hillfields. She’s seen sitting on the edge of the bed in her tiny attic room, all tussle haired, then looking much smarter when done up. She’s seen washing the doorstep, like a good 1950s woman, going shopping, pictured artily from behind a street display of prams, and having tea. There’s also a little boy dressed as a sailor at the Coronation celebration.

MasterjiMasterji, now 91, came to England from Mumbai in 1951 and became the owner of Master’s photographic studio in Stoney Stanton Road. His images are all portraits of South East Asian families through the decades, and so document changing fashions and styles. There’s strict moustaches on men in 1965, and a more laid –back cool look in 1975. A Sikh family pose in their own home, husband and wife either side of the big TV also in 1975, and Indian weightlifters with long hair show off their muscles at Sidney Stringer School. They are all very atmospheric (one image right).

Jason TilleyJason Tilley, former Coventry Telegraph photographer, has created new works in response to the Blakemore ones, showing in vivid colour portraits of the varied population of Hillfelds today, often looking away from the camera in the street, or proudly outside their own homes, showing the continuing changing make up of the population (image left).

In the entrance area, Nick Stone’s photographs use ghosting to merge old pictures, including a horse-drawn drinks cart, with photos of the area now to show change and continuity in one.

It’s a fascinating exhibition and essential viewing to those keen on photography, social history and Coventry.



One comment

  1. Hi, I’ve just found this image of my grandad who used to own the toy shop and barbers shop in hill fields. I was wondering where I could get a copy and if there are anymore? His name was Herbert Arthur Lindon, and I believe he was the first toy shop to get a license to sell fireworks after the war ended.. You can see some just behind him.

    Much appreciated
    Sarah Lindon


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