Coventry has its origins in a medieval market town (and was the location of the legendary ride of Lady Godiva), and in the 19th century specialised in ribbon manufacture. In the late 19th and early 20th century it began to specialise in the manufacture firstly of bicycles, and subsequently of motor bicycles and early motor cars. Following the First World War, rapid expansion of the motor industry and associated engineering works caused Coventry to become the fastest growing city in England. This concentration of strategic industries caused it to become a prime target for German aerial bombing in the Second World War and on 14–15 November 1940 the city centre was devastated, and 554 people killed by an intense German raid.
Following the war, the city centre was redeveloped in an uncompromisingly modernist fashion. A ring road was built around the centre and the intricate pattern of medieval streets was replaced by one of shopping precincts and open spaces, with segregation of pedestrians and vehicles. The principal building in the new centre is the Cathedral of St Michael the Archangel, designed by Sir Basil Spence, and attached to ruins of the old cathedral destroyed in the 1940 bombing.