Wroth, Films and a Random House that Feels like Silver String: Martinmas Remembered

For me, the 11th of November was quite a busy day. There were stacks of Coventry events just starting, and the aim as to get to as many as possible. But the day started with an alarm at 5.50am to attend something that hadn’t been picked up by City of Culture. While the 11th of November is now known as Remembrance Day, for millennia it has been known as Martinmas. That’s relevant because Martinmas is the day of the year on which Wroth Silver, the Middle Ages tax that had been payable since before the Norman Conquest had to be paid. Paying Wroth Silver at dawn every year on the 11th of November remained a legal requirement throughout England until the 1800s, and of course soon after it stopped being a legal requirement, everywhere stopped bothering with the ceremony.

That’s everywhere stopped bothering apart from the Knightlow Hundred, an ancient subdivision of Warwickshire you have probably never have heard of. The Knightlow Hundred at the northern end included Arley & Bedworth, went over to Rugby in the East, Kenilworth stuck out to the West in the same way Coventry sticks into Warwickshire on the map today with the Leamington side of the Avon then making up the border with the Kineton Hundred, and the southern end going past Southam to Ladbroke and Napton. What consisted of the ancient County of Coventry wasn’t in the Knightlow Hundred, but places now in the City like Whitley, Caludon, Binley and Willenhall were.

This makes the Wroth Silver ceremony which takes place on Knightlow Hill just next to the A45 the oldest surviving ceremony in England. It’s a genuine heritage event of cultural significance, the only problem being it takes place at dawn (about 6.45) in a field which is now next to a dual carriageway.

The last ‘proper’ version of the ceremony only involved 25 parishes from the Hundred being called out in turn, because it is thought that other places had negotiated less public taxation agreements from the landowners. The amount- now of course decimalised money – to be paid is called out and someone from the parish walks up the mound and pays the money by throwing it into a hollow stone (hollow because it was originally the base of a long since lost cross), saying ‘Wroth Silver’. as they do it It seemed that this year not all parishes turned up and someone else had to pay for them, with the most delinquent parish being Hopsford as it is about 400 years since that village died out completely, whilst Toft should at least have some sort of discount given that almost all of it now lies under Draycote Water.

Afterwards it was off to the Queens Head in Bretford for breakfast, speeches, hot milk and rum and the present of a clay pipe with ‘Wroth Silver’ written on it.

Next for the day was work and as I had just one person for the morning walk, which at Thursdays at the moment is the Jigsaw of History, (afternoons of Thursday being Godiva’s Cathedral Quarter) it meant we could save time by walking and talking and get to the Remembrance Day poppy drop at West Orchards.

The evening was super busy, as it seems November 11th was the day jut so much started happening. There wasn’t just all the things surrounding the Being Human part of the Peace Festival, but Drapers Hall would finally have it’s full opening and it was the first day for both House is a Feeling and Random String.

While Tom Robinson at Drapers was all booked out far too quickly, I had managed to get tickets for House is a Feeling and Random Strings though, and better than that, the first slot for House is a Feeling, which I know from long experience of such things that there’s always a chance at the first one of free booze, and indeed there was! And relieving their table of its leftover fizz was certainly a safer option than going to the bar, as they actually had Mad Dog 20/20 available for sale.

Oh dear…

To make me feel old, I had to explain to the woman next to me what a wine cooler is. But I told the bar staff that if they wanted to be period-specific, they need the other wine cooler, the alcoholic version of Lilt: Castaway. Then you can mix it with a Diamond White and make a Blastaway. We sold that many of those at when I worked at CUSU that there was a button on the till for them……

Upstairs on the sixth floor of what was IKEA was quite frankly a triumph. Reminiscent of when it was IKEA, it did seem you were going round in circles a little as they tried to make the best use of the space, though they’d made the whole thing far, far less confusing than when it was IKEA.

In all I reckon that adding all the video and audio presentations together, they’d take about four and a half hours to do the lot, so there is plenty to do besides look at the artwork, the lighting ad just soak it all up. I’ll certainly be going back.

On the way to Random Strings, there was a bonus event, The Bird and The Elephant, as 15 minute film, which is being projected onto the side of the Belgrade Theatre from 5 to 9 for the 11-13th November. In a fortnight it’ll be in Cox St, I’m guessing projected onto the Elephant Building? I can genuinely say that I didn’t realise I’d seen the last couple of minutes twice until the end credits rolled round for a second time. It’s well worth a quarter of an hour of your life to see it.

It was still too early to go to my 8.40 booking for Random String, so I decided to see if I could take some half decent pictures of the city at night. I’m not sure I did, but I did at least bump into fellow tour guide Jo Phillips doing one of her Hideous Histories night tours.

Now for the controversial bit, Random String, which was sadly a bit too random for my liking. First off there was proof that watching The Bird and The Elephant was worthwhile, as the length of time that ran for (even with seeing some of it twice) was less than the wait beyond the appointed time to get in. This was all down to what has been a common theme with many of the City of Culture events that have sold out; selling far fewer tickets than the obvious capacity of the ‘venue’. Here there was a ridiculous over-need to space people out, when the only thing really dictating spaces between entry times should have been the ten minutes or so the first floating exhibit/installation was meant to take. Since then, City of Culture released more tickets, but releasing them on the Friday three hours beforehand, well that’s what some might call ‘a bit late’.

I of course said ‘meant to take’ because three hours in and the first exhibit, ‘The Gongoozler‘ already wasn’t working as the batteries had started to go. Praise be -as ever- to the ridiculously helpful City Hosts who scanned the QR code and tried playing the intro of what the boat was meant to say on their phone on speaker.

Something that absolutely wasn’t made clear at the time is that the idea with The Gongoozler is actually to walk up the canal all the way to Sutton Stop, listening to nine pieces at various locations. Even now, it’s not particularly easy to find this information (I randomly found the first breadcrumb in this tweet). The map can be found here and the audio pieces along with the compilation video below can be found here. It’s clear this hasn’t been publicised to anyone really as when I edited this article to add this paragraph on the 14th of November (the last day of the event), the video had had just seven views.

The second exhibit was based on the way different frequencies of light work differently, and despite the Host there saying I’d figured out how it worked better than most, I don’t think that was working the way it was intended either, again that seemed like a power issue. This was about the point I spotted a bloke dragging his bike over a fence, not particularly happy that his normal access to the towpath right of way had been cut off, and then there was Andy who I see around the city all the time, who’d figured out after tickets had been sold out that you could just walk down the canal from the other side. When I crossed to the Radford side of the canal, the bemused dog walkers had accidentally figured this out too!

The bridges and Jack’s Frogs projections looked nice and the ricoh/choir sign sang all of it’s letters individually. I didn’t put words into making a bespoke bridge projection, I think I’d somewhat lost my enthusiasm by then and didn’t at first glance see any words I fancied projecting. More one for the kids that I think, though I’ve been told since that this hadn’t been working earlier in the night either. Because of the delay getting in I hadn’t time for the headphone bit, even though I had headphones. If you go, do take headphones to hear whatever it is that goes with the projections onto the back of the advertising hoardings. I may well go back just for that. Finally,  the reflective lights in the canal basin were quite nice and sky blue, but they actually emphasised the fact that the area felt a bit empty.

Having said all of that hopefully these issues can all be sorted out, and the release of more tickets is certainly a good thing even if a little late.

But the big thing to take in is just what a big day this was with so much happening and the programme really starting to fill out.

Published by Sky Blue City Walks

Guided Walks of Coventry, the UK Capital of Culture 2021

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