Memories of Coventry

Many of you will know that I was born in Coventry and becoming a chorister at the cathedral there set me up to become the musician that I am. Before then, I remember having aspirations to become a fireman, but after a year of two as a chorister, all that was forgotten and all I wanted was to become a cathedral organist. I lived in Coventry until I went to university, and apart from returning for holidays as a student, I’ve only been back a handful of times in the last 40 years; my parents even moved away when they retired. Coventry has over those years suffered from having a poor reputation, high unemployment, and being considered an unattractive city in general.

But a few things have renewed my interest recently. Last week Robin, having joined The 20th Century Society listened to a very interesting talk on mid-century architecture. I caught the end of this talk and was struck by how some of the post war architecture in Coventry was looking very nice. In common with many other people, I’m just beginning to appreciate what I previously considered to be unfortunate post war building done in a hurry!

Coventry Cathedral is now a Grade I listed building as it represents one of the high points of mid-century architecture. Designed by Sir Basil Spence (who also designed the original Sussex University at Falmer) it also incorporated works by other artists of the time, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Jacob Epstein, John Hutton; the list could go on. And of course, we all know that Benjamin Britten wrote his War Requiem for the opening celebrations of the cathedral in 1962. I became a chorister just 2 and half years later. I once worked out that I’d probably sung over 1000 services in my time there, and I think I did appreciate that I was singing in a remarkable building. But I was reminded of that just this morning, when I heard the cathedral have just appointed a young Canadian lady as their next organist. Rachel Mahon will take over in a few weeks’ time.

If you can spare 4 minutes – have a listen to her playing a piece by Healey Willan on the lovely organ at Coventry Cathedral (she’s already the Assistant organist there, but has been promoted). There’s some lovely video of the cathedral, as well as her playing the instrument that I learnt on. Rachel Mahon playing Coventry Cathedral organ

Organ work at St Michael’s in Lewes

If you’ve been to any of the First Sunday Recitals at St Michael’s in Lewes, you will be aware that we have been fundraising over the last 2 years for some essential repairs to the organ, costing a little over £60,000. Thanks to our own fundraising together with some very generous donations and one very large legacy, we raised the money and the work will begin a week today. The organ is being dismantled and taken away for repair, cleaning and re-leathering. And we hope that it will be back by early November in fine working order, including one new Twelfth stop and a new piston system. I gave a recital on the current organ in March this year, shortly before lockdown, and you can hear it by following this link. Thanks to Terry Donoghue who made the recording. This link takes you to the homepage for the church, and the recordings are towards the bottom of the page. Nick Houghton recital at St Michael in Lewes, March 2020

A return to singing??

There’s just a sniff in the air that choirs may be able to sing together again soon. According to the latest government advice, small vocal groups will be allowed in church services, and small amateur choirs can rehearse providing they follow safety guidelines. Government advice issued 14 August.  Of course, most choirs use church halls or churches to rehearse, so we will have to wait for the Church of England to OK things before we can think of re-starting.

Have a great week.





  1. Thanks, Nick. Wonderful organ recital at St Michael’s.

  2. Hi Nick, thanks for including the St Michael’s organ recital. I hope to start recording you playing organ again soon. Also choral works if possible.
    I used a new recorder for this and had an incorrect setting which means you hear more hiss on quieter passages. I will fix this for next time.
    I was interested to see in your photos of Coventry, old and new, that the monument of Lady Godiva has changed direction. I wonder why?

    1. Author

      Hi Terry. Interesting observation about Lady Godiva. I hadn’t noticed, but in the 60s she was facing the clock (with her coming out every hour on her horse, and Peeping Tom emerged above her to watch her in her nudity), but the main vehicular entrance to Broadgate was under that clock (which was on a building, still there, but it formed a bridge over the road). I see that bridge is now filled in with a temporary looking building. In her new position, Godiva now faces down into the main shopping precinct.

  3. Great to have new members for the C20 Society – it’s not only C20 architecture which can be revelatory, it’s the designed landscapes too. Historic England has today designated 24 new C20 landscapes – gardens, housing and factory landscapes among them- for protection, celebrated in articles on the BBC, in The Guardian and on the Garden Trust Campaigns page.
    Great recital too..

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