A Book of Trails

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Coventry’s City of Culture team have published a new booklet to promote the city’s heritage and culture. The 26 page document includes a whole host of city centre trails, including:

  • Coventry Uncovered: Roger Bailey’s trail of the interesting and strange features of the city centre.
  • If medieval walls could talk: Medieval Coventry’s trail around the city’s medieval masterpieces.
  • The best in 20th Century Architecture: our Chairman Paul Maddocks’ tour of some of the city’s post-war architecture.
  • Industry – the Beating Heart of the City: Our member Eleanor Nesbit’s trail of the historic industry that made Coventry what it is today.
  • Amazing Art and Sculpture: Another of Paul Maddocks’ trails – this time our Public Art trail.
  • Guided walks: Details of four walks that can be taken with the expertise of a guide, including Roger Bailey’s Coventry Uncovered, the Coventry Ambassadors Welcome Tour, Pru Poretta’s Lady Godiva tour and Grapevine’s Connecting for Good, walk and talk.
  • Actors and Authors – A Real Page Turner: Eleanor Nesbit’s tour of Coventry’s literary and dramatic heritage.
  • The Tale of 2-Tone: Peter Chambers’ tour of Coventry’s most famous musical genre.
  • Coventry on Screen: a tour of the Coventry sites that feature on the big screen and the small.
  • Alive After five: some of the bars and restaurants in the city centre.
  • The world in a mile: a multi-cultural tour of Foleshill, one of the city’s most energetic neighbourhoods.

The booklet also includes three maps which outline all the tours mentioned in it.

This is a fabulous resource and is completely free. It is available from local information centres and can be read or downloaded here.

Living with Beauty

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The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission published its final report at the end of January. The commission was set up to advise the government on how to promote and increase the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods.

The Commission was responsible for developing practical measures that will help ensure new housing developments meet the needs and expectations of communities, making them more likely to be welcomed, rather than resisted, by existing communities.

The commission had 3 primary aims:

  • To promote better design and style of homes, villages, towns and high streets, to reflect what communities want, building on the knowledge and tradition of what they know works for their area.
  • To explore how new settlements can be developed with greater community consent.
  • To make the planning system work in support of better design and style, not against it.

The commission was chaired by Create Streets founder Nicholas Boys Smith with the late Sir Roger Scruton, who passed away a few weeks ago.

The report, entitled “Living with Beauty: Promoting health, well-being and sustainable growth” was published on 30th January 2020. The report is 190 pages long and can be read or downloaded here.

The report sets out over 100 policy recommendations for the government and planning bodies. Our umbrella body, Civic Voice, made a significant input into the work of the commission.

Some of the key recommendations of the report are:

  • Beauty in planning. Beauty should be legally enshrined in the planning system. It should be defined through empirical research and be embedded prominently in the National Planning Policy Framework. Schemes should be turned down for being too ugly and such rejections should be publicised. A ‘fast track for beauty’ should be brought in.
  • Permitted development rights have led to the creation of sub-standard housing conditions and the government must introduce a mechanism to ensure minimum standards.
  • VAT on retrofit. The government should align VAT on housing renovation and repair with new-build, in order to stop disincentivising the reuse of existing buildings.
  • Procurement. There is an urgent need to makes changes to the procurement targets, process and scoring within central and local government and, above all, Homes England.
  • Community. Local councils need to radically re-invent how they engage with neighbourhoods as they consult on their local plans. More democracy should take place at the local plan phase, expanding from the current focus on consultation in the development control process to co-design of development. There is a need to  use digital technology like virtual reality and 3D modelling to help local people shape their own areas.
  • Regeneration. The government should commit to ending the scandal of ‘left-behind’ places. The government needs a cabinet member for placemaking, and local councils need chief placemakers.
  • Nature. The government should commit to a radical plan to plant two million street trees within five years, create new community orchards, plant a fruit tree for every home and open and restore canals and waterways.

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  • Education. There is a need to invest in and improve the understanding and confidence of professionals and local councillors. The architectural syllabus should be shorter and more practical, and the government should consider ways of opening new pathways into the architecture profession.
  • Management. The planning system needs a more rules-based approach, clearer form-based codes in many circumstances and investing in digitising data entry and process automation.

Ian Harvey, Executive Director of Civic Voice, said: “If the ambition to deliver more homes across the country is to be achieved, it must be in collaboration with communities. This report goes some way to helping that. We worked with communities from across the country to give them a voice into the Commission, and we are pleased to see the final report. This is a sensible report, with some actions that the Government can act upon straight away, but also addresses some of the more complex issues. Do we agree with everything, no, but the overall tone, we support and we will welcome.”

The report is full of very fine words but whether they will influence a government that has an inbuilt bias in supporting developers and land owners is still to be seen. With a few honorable exceptions, it is a long time since architects were involved in housing schemes.

Coventry City Centre’s Historic Area Assessment

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Coventry’s Heritage Action Zone initiative is working to unleash the power in Coventry’s historic environment to create economic growth and improve quality of life in the city. Working with local people and partners, including the City Council, Historic England is helping to breathe new life into old places that are rich in heritage and full of promise – unlocking their potential and making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors. They are doing this through joint-working, grant funding and sharing their skills.

One of the recent outputs from the Heritage Action Zone is the publication of a Historic Area Assessment of the city centre. A photographic archive was produced of places and structures relevant to the City of Coventry’s history. The report outlines the City’s heritage and the distinctive character of the city centre’s historic townscape, encompassing the legacies of Coventry’s history as a major medieval town, a booming industrial powerhouse, a centre of innovation in post-war redevelopment and as a city of rich cultural heritage.

The report provides a Statement of Significance for the city centre, in both national and international contexts; an historical overview of the centre’s development; a detailed description of components of local townscape character including topography and urban form, forms of historic development, historic open spaces, public artwork, views and landmarks, and the centre’s relationship with its surroundings.

The Coventry City Centre Historic Area Assessment provides an evidence base for the centre’s historic environment which can be used to understand what defines the heritage significance of the city centre, identify the architectural, historic, artistic and archaeological interest of the city centre’s heritage assets, understand the distinctive historic character and appearance of the centre and how the legacies of the past continue to contribute to the modern townscape, and highlight issues and opportunities for change for the centre’s historic environment and heritage assets.

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The report highlight issues and opportunities for change for the city centre’s historic environment and heritage assets. This understanding can be used to achieve more informed management of Coventry’s heritage. It can assist planners, property owners, developers, heritage specialists, local communities and others in shaping a sustainable future for the city centre. It celebrates the city centre’s distinctive sense of place which is composed of people, stories, spaces and buildings that embrace a legacy of centuries of growth, change and prosperity. It capitalises on existing and potential roles that heritage plays in the city centre, ensuring it plays active roles in Coventry’s social, economic and environmental future.

Coventry’s significance as a medieval city is manifest in some of the finest examples of surviving medieval architecture in the country. Examples include monumental ecclesiastical landmarks, legacies of a prosperous mercantile class, remnants of the city’s defences, relics of manorial land ownership and an outstanding collection of vernacular timber-framed buildings.

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Medieval myths and legends remain central to Coventry’s cultural identity, celebrated within modern public artwork. The city centre is host to medieval art, archaeology and archives of international significance. Coventry enjoys a status as a medieval city of national significance, albeit one that is relatively unsung.

Although a comprehensive and technical document, the report is eminently readable and is free to download here.

Digging up the past in Baginton

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The Coventry Society is very interested in Coventry’s future and is always pushing for it to be of quality. We also understand that to achieve that we to have to understand the essence of our city, its DNA – its history and it heritage. What is the main source of its culture and inspiration? That is why we were very pleased to invite Nigel Page, an Archaeologist from Warwickshire County Council, to address one of our meetings.

He came to talk to us at our meeting on Monday 13th January 2020 and told us about the wonderful things had been found in a part of Baginton, across the field from the Lunt Roman Fort. The site was a very large field on a high wind-swept area.

The dig was done in advance of the construction of a new Jaguar Land Rover facility which is part of the City Gateway project. Years ago small test digs had been done over the site which was a massive field but there had never been the money to dig such a large area without justification as it was working farm land. But now before it was going to be built on and before the bulldozers got on the site there was an opportunity to see what actually lay underground. What they found was amazing – Prehistoric, Roman and Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery remains, but also small ring ditches which was probably the remains of prehistoric houses and several other prehistoric pits. Even an ancient sauna was uncovered.

Nigel talked with passion about the dig. He was one of the main site mangers and he could not believe what was being discovered every day. He told us they had a feeling about where the main burials would be in this very large field and expected to find that most of the graves had been ploughed out years ago. But to their surprise they discovered pots only a few centimetres below the surface of the ground.

They found Prehistoric graves that had only ashes of the dead that must have been brought there in a cloth or other organic container or sack. There were no signs that they had been cremated at the site and they must have been brought there from a distance and placed at this site as it was sacred to them. Other graves had large pots with ash remains that to had been brought there from somewhere else. What was amazing was that the Romans also saw this burial site as sacred and holy and they too buried the cremated ashes of their loved ones there.

There were also some amazing and personal finds. The grave of a young girl aged between 7 and 14 years old included her small jewellery and personal items such as a small mirror, hair pin and brooches. All in all there were sixty burials, many in pots. Some also included pots that had contained wine. There were also two mirrors, two glass bottles, brooches, the odd coin (one definitely of Vespasian), pins, a ring with an intaglio and the remains of at least two copper bound boxes.

The star feature consisted of a large pit with 23 near complete pots and an oil lamp. All the items are being looked at, cleaned and conserved by specialists in their field. But after writing up their report, what will happen to them? Nigel said he felt they should go on display near the site where they were found but that the decision was out of his hands. We know Jaguar Land Rover have made a payment for some Section 106 money towards local facilities and the Lunt Fort. However it may not be sufficient to build the required environmental building or showcases to house them in.

It will be interesting to see what will happen on this sacred site in the future. Will our  history and heritage be respected and shared?

There is more information about this dig here.

Coventry’s Place in Literary History

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CovSoc Member, Professor Eleanor Nesbit, is inviting you to attend a talk on Coventry’s Place in Literary History which is being held on Saturday 15th February from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.at Earlsdon Carnegie Community Library.

£5 entry fee with refreshments, all proceeds go to the Community Library.

Reserve a place by emailing lucywinter@earlsdonlibrary.org.uk

Historic Coventry Trust Receives Two More Grants

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Coventry’s pioneering Historic Coventry Trust has been awarded two separate grants from the Architectural Heritage Trust.

The first grant has been offered under the Heritage Development Trust Pilot Grant Scheme. A grant of £150,000 will support Historic Coventry Trust through a key transition period as they take on 22 historic properties from Coventry City Council and re-purpose these important listed sites for the future. These include the national demonstrator project for High Street Heritage Action Zones at Hales Street, the 14th-century Swanswell and Cook Street Gates (the only two of the medieval gates to survive), the late-medieval Charterhouse site and the 19th-century Greek Revival Drapers’ Hall. These projects will be restored and adapted to create exciting new commercial and public spaces, events venues and unique visitor attractions and holiday cottages in time for Coventry’s 2021 City of Culture year.

A second grant of £350,000 has been awarded under the Transformational Capital Grant scheme. This is for the Lychgate Cottages.

3-5 Priory Row (known as Lychgate Cottages) are three remarkable close-studded timber frame properties dating from around 1415 and the only upstanding building surviving from the 12th century St Mary’s Priory complex. Historic Coventry Trust intend reviving a national important heritage asset, making the properties accessible to the community and visitors to the city, and providing much needed visitor accommodation in the lead up to Coventry City of Culture 2021.

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Ian Harrabin, Chairman of Historic Coventry Trust, said: “These are two very different awards but both will be of great benefit to the city.  Historic Coventry Trust is a lean but ambitious organisation and we have got lots to achieve over the next couple of years. Obviously handling such important and varied projects requires a wide range of skills and is time-intensive, so the Heritage Development Pilot Grant of £150,000 will help us build and sustain those capabilities.

“The £350,000 towards 3-5 Priory Row is a massive boost towards transforming these three 15 Century buildings into unique visitor accommodation while respecting their architectural merit and outstanding historical importance.”

The Architectural Heritage Fund is a registered charity, working since 1976 to promote the conservation and sustainable re-use of historic buildings for the benefit of communities across the UK.  It provides advice, information and financial assistance in the form of early project grants and loans for projects undertaken by charities and not-for-private profit organisations.

Coventry’s Exemplar Post War Church Architecture

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For our February meeting we have Architect Aidan Ridyard talking about “Coventry’s exemplar post war church architecture – Looking at the city’s exceptional legacy as part of the international movement to redefine a typology in post war Europe.”

Aidan Ridyard RIBA is an architect from the Midlands, who has spent his professional life studying the European tradition of church architecture; more recently he has been applying this to research into mid-century buildings closer to his home in Warwickshire.

Aidan is managing partner of Burrell Foley Fischer Architects, an award winning practice specialising in the design of contemporary buildings in historically sensitive environments. His refurbishment of the RSA’s Fellows areas within their Grade I listed headquarters was completed last year, and his remodelling of York’s riverfront Guildhall Complex is due for completion in 2021.

Aidan has been working with Coventry University since 2014 and designed the Alison Gingell building (Science & Health) on Whitefriars Lane. He is currently leading the design of their Civic Centre Campus proposals.

Aidan lives in Warwickshire and loves exploring Coventry’s remarkable architectural heritage.

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The meeting is on Monday 10th February 2020 at 7.30 p.m. at the Shopfront Theatre, 38 City Arcade. CovSoc meetings are free for members. Guests and visitors are asked to make a contribution of £2 towards the cost of refreshments and room hire.

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