The Story Behind CV Life’s Vintage Santa Sleigh Ride

This month saw the return of a Coventry Christmas tradition – Santa’s Vintage Sleigh Ride at CV Life’s Transport Museum.

For almost seventy years Santa’s Sleigh Ride in the city centre has been one of Coventry’s best-loved institutions.

Generation after generation have been enchanted by the attraction, with thousands of Cov kids ‘making the trip to Lapland’ on the mechanical sleigh and sitting alongside Santa in magical surroundings every year.

But what are the origins of the Vintage Sleigh Ride? 

Santa’s Sleigh Ride was a nationwide initiative by the Co-Op to bring Lapland to children in cities and towns around the UK.

The flagship Co-Op in Corporation Street became home to one of the rides all the way back in 1956, staying in the exact same location for just under sixty years.

Every year the Co-Op would be transformed into a magical Christmas wonderland, with fake snow, twinkling lights, and such was its popularity, queues snaking around the store.

You’d finally get on the sleigh ride, sit on one of the wooden benches and the mechanics and moving curtains would give the impression you were flying to Lapland.

With the ride over, you’d be ushered by an elf to meet Father Christmas in his grotto, with his flowing white beard and twinkling eyes. Then you’d make your way out of Lapland, full of the joy of Christmas and clutching a gift, back into the sofa section of the Co-Op.

But with the ever-changing way in which people shopped, the Corporation Street store was deemed no longer financially viable, closing its doors in October 2015.

While shoppers in the city were sad to lose such a huge high street name, it was the loss of the Sleigh Ride that really upset the people of Coventry.

Feelings were so strong, a petition to save the ride attracted thousands of signatures.

Luckily, Culture Coventry was keeping a close eye on the situation, and an agreement was reached with the Co-Op which would bring the attraction to Coventry Transport Museum. 

It’s been there ever since, selling out each year, Covid permitting, and bringing the magical, festive spirit to all ages – kids, mums, dad’s, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

But in recent years it became clear people often travel to Coventry from other parts of the country, sometimes with children, sometimes without. 

Because there were rides dotted at Co-Ops all over the country, the Vintage Sleigh Ride has become a nationwide-nostalgia trip, with millions of children through the decades visiting their local Co-Op to experience the magic.

However, where once there were dozens of sleigh rides, it is believed as little as three remain, with only one being fully mechanical and functional. That one is right here in Coventry at the Transport Museum.

The ride is maintained and looked after by workshop staff at the museum, including Rob Hubbard who in recent years has overseen the efforts to keep the much-loved sleigh in tip top condition. Rob’s work on the sleigh is made more interesting by the fact he rode it himself as a child.

Rob said: “I’m 62 now and I remember riding the sleigh myself as a kid, it was something to look forward to at the Co-Op every year. Because of the movements of the horses, the curtains and the sleigh itself, it genuinely gives the illusion it is moving.

“Kids absolutely love it and every year it creates miles of smiles. To know the work we do can create a bit of magic for the kids is so special. It’s a lot of work every year but I love it.

“Last year we even had two people travel from Kidderminster. They used to go on the one at their local Co-Op and when they realised Coventry’s sleigh was still working they travelled here to ride it.

“It’s a beautiful piece of kit to look at and I enjoy keeping on top of it. Like I say, it is hard work each year, but to see the look of wonder, not just the children’s faces, the adults too, it makes it all worthwhile.”​​​​​​​