Coventry & Warwickshire

Sir Basil Spence's daughter remembers first Cathedral wedding

Anthony and Gillian Blee
Image caption Anthony and Gillian Blee visited the room where they were married in 1959

"The walls were only half built and we were down in the crypt which was a chapel," said Gillian Blee.

"It was a very beautiful chapel with a wonderful cross but it wasn't a church."

Mrs Blee and her husband Anthony were the first couple to get married at Coventry Cathedral and returned to the magnificent building to celebrate the 56th anniversary of the Queen laying its foundation stone.

But there is another reason why the pair have such a strong bond with the cathedral.

For Mrs Blee is the daughter of Sir Basil Spence, the architect who designed the imposing structure in the centre of the city which stands next to the ruins of St Michael's.

Mr Blee came into her life after he joined Sir Basil's firm shortly after the foundation stone had been put in place on 23 March 1956.

"I was working for my father so I was in the office," Mrs Blee continued. "That's how we met.

"Anthony was working on the project, as were three or four of our very closest friends, so it somehow seemed the only place to be married."

The pair tied the knot in February 1959 and, while Sir Basil's daughter says it was their idea, Mr Blee acknowledges it was an unusual setting at the time.

"It was still under construction of course. It was 53 years ago so it was still a building site," he said.

"The service was held in a little chapel temporarily arranged in the undercroft which was meant to be for storing chairs in the fullness of time.

"We were married there with a grand piano - no organ. The cathedral organist played the piano.

"We had the honour and privilege of having the bishop, the provost and my father, who was a priest, marry us."

Mr Blee admits he enjoyed a close friendship with his boss and father-in-law but the timing of their only disagreement could not have been worse.

Image caption Coventry Cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence, was consecrated in 1962

"I think we were all a bit nervous before the wedding," he continued.

"I had been working on the designs for the pulpit and the lectern and we didn't agree on one or two aspects of that design that day.

"So the following day Gill and I married and when we got back from honeymoon we made it up and agreed on the final design very amicably.

"But that was the only time I had any crossed swords with Basil."

Mrs Blee is still amazed how much of an impact her father's work has had on people and vividly remembers another big occasion - the consecration of the cathedral which occurred 50 years ago this May.

"It was a wonderful culmination to a lot of years of hard work," she said.

"It was a glorious day and I just remember it being very golden. Everything was golden.

"The Queen was in gold, I was in gold and the sun was shining."

BBC Coventry & Warwickshire is gathering your memories of Coventry cathedral ready to celebrate its 50th jubilee. Did you see the spire being lifted on top? Were you at the 1962 consecration? Did you see Tangerine Dream live there in the 70s? Or the Pope on his 1982 visit to the city? Perhaps you were then when Keith Chegwin brought kids' TV to the ruins, together with a performance from King?

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