Unseen photos of Coventry Cathedral construction released

Previously unseen images of the construction of Coventry Cathedral released to mark the launch of Historic England’s ‘Breaking New Ground’.

© Historic England Archive, John Laing Photographic Collection

This week Historic England and the John Laing Charitable Trust announced the launch of ‘Breaking New Ground’ – a 21-month project that explores the history of constructing modern Britain through the John Laing Photographic Collection.

Held by the Historic England Archive, the Collection contains over 230,000 images which chart this major British company’s work over the last century.

It offers an unparalleled insight into the origins of iconic British buildings, the construction of important national infrastructure projects and the increasing professionalism of the construction industry over the course of the 20th century.

The entire project will include:

  • Digitising 10,000 images from the John Laing Photographic Collection, which the public will be able to access through the Historic England website.
  • Nationwide public engagement – Ex-Laing construction workers will share their experiences with local schoolchildren using the Collection’s photographs as talking points.
  • Creating oral histories and education materials for schools – to help teachers engage their pupils with the history of their local buildings.
  • A short film entitled “Making Modern Britain” which will explore the Collection and the stories behind the images.

The collection notably includes never before seen photographs that document the construction of Coventry Cathedral, including of an RAF helicopter lowering the 80ft bronze spire onto the roof.

© Historic England Archive, John Laing Photographic Collection

Laing was originally established in 1848 as a building company based in Carlisle, in the North West of England by James Laing. It grew to become a major construction company in the United Kingdom and internationally.

In 1953, John Laing and Son (Holdings) Ltd was listed on the London Stock Exchange, and worked on major construction projects as diverse as the M1 motorway, Sizewell B nuclear power station and Coventry Cathedral, ceasing its construction work in 2002.

Throughout the last century, the company employed photographers to capture its work. As a consequence, the Collection includes striking and unique photographs of some of Britain’s most significant infrastructure projects and public buildings.

Photographs in the Collection also provide a record of social history, showing Laing’s caring and progressive attitude towards its staff and its work.

Ex-Laing employees who constructed of some of the company’s biggest projects will bring the photographs to life by sharing their experiences with younger generations in Coventry schools.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive at Historic England said, “We are delighted to bring to the public the fascinating John Laing Photographic Collection through digitising 10,000 images, which will be accessible to everyone through our website.

“The Collection offers unparalleled insight into the construction of 20th century Britain – covering everything from cathedrals, mosques and housing, to bus stations, bridges and motorways.

“We hope our “Breaking New Ground” project will shine a light on prominent and everyday British landmarks, and inspire the next generation to enjoy and engage in the built heritage all around us.”

Sir Martin Laing, Chairman of Trustees at the John Laing Charitable Trust said, “I am delighted that this unique record of the construction industry is being made available to a wide audience and demonstrates the evolving nature and contribution of an industry that impacts us all.

“As a company, Laing has been a leader in this change and demonstrates how important the people who work in it are and how we have been able to affect their lives and working conditions.”