On Thursday I visited Nuneaton, the largest town in Warwickshire. It has a poor reputation compared to the rest of its esteemed county; indeed its alarming regional accent hints at possible follow up violence.
Nuneaton is most famous for producing the biggest British female author of her day – George Eliot, real name Mary Ann Evans (1819 – 1880). She lived on the impressive 100 acre Arbury Estate until the age of 22 when her mother died and she moved with her father to Coventry to become his housekeeper.
Mary was intelligent, strong minded and scandalous. She refused to attend church after questioning Anglian principles then later eloped to Germany with a married man, George Henry Lewes who she spent the next 24 years with.
Mary and George settled in London where Mary worked as an assistant editor on the Westminster Review until George encouraged her to write books. He suggested she drop her girl’s name in order to shift more merchandise.
George Eliot wrote 8 novels, the most well-known being The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861) and Middlemarch (1872) which have been dramatised in film. I have not read or seen any of them but I will hire the movies since I am a slow reader and Victorian books are usually full of tiny print.
Nuneaton’s hospital is named after George Eliot as is a central pub:
The town’s library features her own literary corner:
And the museum features a plaster cast of her real arm, the impression taken whilst she laid dead, a common Victorian mourning practice:
George Eliot was known for her wisdom rather than her beauty and she often made reference to her lack of looks in letters to friends. Her statue designer and portrait artist have taken aesthetic licence with regard to her nose when compared to its photographic actuality.
Riversley Park near the town centre is stunningly beautiful and I was happy to be there on such a bright day.
The park grounds were left as a legacy by a generous businessman, Edward Melly (1857 – 1941) who named them after his former Liverpool family home. A coal miner from a well to do family, he came to Nuneaton in 1882 to turn around the poor fate of Griff Colliery which he successfully accomplished.
Edward was committed to creating and improving hospitals, was president of the local NSPCC (National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children), established pensions for dirt poor ex colliers and chipped in handsomely for this museum building:
The bandstand where Edward made the park’s opening speech in July 1907:
Sadly, Edward and his wife, Hattie died when a bomb landed on their house during the second world war. They had taken the decision not to head down to the air raid shelter.
I knew it was going to be a challenge to find cruelty-free sustenance in Nuneaton and so when I got hungry I prayed for divine intervention. I was then guided to Muffin Break, a chain I had never patronised before and was relieved to find they served a tasty hummus and vegetable wrap and soya milk. It was a very friendly service and there was even the bonus of an additional smile at the end of supping:
Whilst in the park I met the smallest dog I had ever seen, a cross between a dachshund and a chihuahua. The owner was very patient since he must be stopped at least a dozen times a day walking such a tiny oddity. I touched his wet nose in admiration. The dog that is, not the owner.