In his daily life, Dominic Russell is a Neanderthal. A Viking Warrior. A Roman Centurion. He runs history workshops for children in one-off “Wow” days. His mission is to engage children (and adults) with history. He’s brimming with ideas, consistently drawing from his vast knowledge of local history and applying it to his everyday experiences, he has a unique perspective of what Coventry was, what it is and what it could be.
So what’s your day job like?
Dramatic. Kids take a lot of energy! I like to keep children moving around the room, engaging with history and bringing it to life. The worst thing you can do as a child or adult, is sit still all day. You have to move to keep your brain working! In the past I’ve also worked for the Lunt Roman Fort and the Herbert Art Gallery too, helping to bring Coventry’s history to life.
So you’re the man to go to for information when it comes to Coventry’s history?
I am deeply intrigued by Coventry – all the different periods of history it contains is absolutely extraordinary. I’m not just talking about the obvious things in the city centre either – the cathedral and the medieval undercroft are absolutely fantastic places to explore and learn about but there’s somewhere much more interesting that people often forget about – The Lunt Roman Fort.
What makes the Lunt Roman Fort so different?
The Lunt is unique – there’s nothing like it in the entire Roman Empire. Most Roman forts are playing card shaped, with straight walls. Lunt’s walls are curved to accommodate a gyrus – a ring in the centre of the structure. And then there is the Principa, which is the head quarters building, four times bigger than it should be which means it’s likely to have hosted someone very important. It’s amazing and a thrilling place to work. It’s a really important piece of Coventry’s history. A vital part of our heritage.
Would you say it’s one of the essential places all Coventrians should visit?
Yes, but of course it doesn’t matter where you are in Coventry, there are layers upon layers of history. The best time to experience the city is that time just before dusk, as the sun is setting and the heat of the day is dissipating. The calmness of a summer evening, where the cool rain hits the hot stone of the old buildings and cobbled streets and you can really reflect on just how beautiful our historical city is.
I know that as people of Coventry, a lot of us are proud of our city’s rich history
so we should be! Coventry really was the spearhead for so many great things throughout history. It’s always been very important and forward-thinking . Did you know Coventry has had three cathedrals? The one that has now gone was one of the largest cathedrals in Europe of the time before it was destroyed by Henry VIII. Coventry was also the first city in the UK to get underground plumbing in 1321. The Herbert Art Gallery has a fantastic open store, just full of treasures. Even going as far back as containing a coin held by Julius Caesar! It’s a vast and important collection and we should be proud to have it.
What else should Coventry people take pride in that’s of more recent history?
Ourselves. The individuals I’ve met in Coventry are endlessly creative and talented. We live in a strong city filled with potential and we just need to be sure to get outside and experience all the city has to offer. There are some great local charities, communities and organisations that help to reach out to people and give them a safe space.
Do you feel that Coventry has changed in recent years? Do you believe it’s improving?
There have been some great new events recently and it seems like opportunities keep popping up. New music festivals and bigger names at gigs, better venues and more opportunities for open discussion on how we can keep improving. However, how successful Coventry is all rests upon the individual. We are all the foundation which helps Coventry to thrive. You can choose where you spend your money and your time and the only way to see the benefits long term is to spend it locally.
What do you think is missing from Coventry now? What do you think it needs?
It needs citizen engagement. What I’d personally love to do is get more people engaged with democracy – help people to realise they have a voice and they should use it. There’s been so much division in the city in the past years but it seems now we’re becoming more united towards a common goal on the lead-up to 2021. We need to realise we are powerful and we should work towards making Coventry’s future as rich as it’s past.
Dominic Russell is a local historian and scholar. You can find him with a pint in hand at FarGo village.
Photography by Will Phillips