CovSoc AGM Goes Online

The Coventry Society held its first online AGM on Monday 12th October.  In the unusual circumstances of the Coronavirus pandemic we postponed our AGM in April. We had hoped to be holding our meeting live at our new home at the Old Grammar School but with the increase in Covid cases in the city and the age profile of our membership we decided to stay online.

At the AGM we confirmed our officers and committee members. Following the meeting the committee members are as follows:

  • Vincent Hammersley – Chair
  • Paul Maddocks – Deputy Chair
  • John Payne – Secretary
  • Colin Walker – Treasurer
  • Terry Kenny – Committee member
  • Jim Passmore – Committee member
  • Peter Walters – Committee member
  • Trevor Cornfoot – Committee member
  • Nicola Norman – Committee member
  • Peter Hunter – Committee member
  • Simon Hayes – Committee member

In addition to the elections the membership agreed to the criteria for designating Honorary and Life Members. The membership then nominated two of its members to be Life Members of the Society.

Keith Draper chaired the Coventry Society for 17 years and was primarily responsible for the re-founding of the society in 2004 after it has gone into a temporary decline. With the guidance of David Tittle and a few of the old guard like John Haslam, Ralph Butcher, Kath Edwards, Hazel Lynn and Paul Maddocks, Keith ensured that Coventry had an active civic amenity society once again. For the last ten years Keith had an active deputy in Colin Walker, who continues as our Treasurer.

Throughout this time Keith maintained a very popular monthly newsletter which ran for a total of 173 editions, almost all of them produced by Keith. Keith’s history of writing articles on local history for the Coventry Evening Telegraph must have come in handy for this.

Like many of the active people in the society, Keith was involved with a number of other societies in the city, including the Allesley Walled Garden Group, the Spon Street Traders, Spon End Building Preservation Trust and the Friends of the Coventry Transport Museum.

Keith has made a tremendous contribution to the Coventry Society over many years and we are pleased to appoint him as a life member.

Keith at his beloved Walled Garden – photo Coventry Telegraph

John Haslam was born and raised in the Manchester area. One of five children, his mum and dad ran one of his grandfather’s shops in Salford selling groceries, hand cut cheese and ham and selling loose tea and sugar.

John moved to Coventry in 1975 from Manchester working for Massey Ferguson tractors in their ordering and payment department.

John loves reading and especially history. The first organisation he joined in Coventry was CADAS the Coventry and District Archaeological Society and he was its Treasurer for about 25 years.

John is not sure which year it was that he joined the Coventry Civic Amenity Society, as it was then.   He had seen an Advert in the Coventry Evening Telegraph – Public Meeting at the Friends Meeting House guest speakers including Bill Wilson M.P. and others – ‘Urgently needing people who are interested in Coventry’s history’. Irene Shannon was Chair at that time, she was a great fighter for saving Coventry’s historic building and when Irene stepped down John became Chair of the society.

John was made redundant in 1987 from Massey Ferguson’s at the age of 56 having worked for them for 34 years.

He did voluntary work at the Cathedral’s welcome desk and got to study Coventry’s wonderful history and over time became a Coventry Green Badge Guide taking people around the city. He would often dress up in period costume for events and special days.

Paul Maddocks remembers that in the 1990’s the Transport Museum got him to dress up as a war time fireman for Heritage Open Days. He would stand in the Museum’s Coventry Blitz Experience exhibition which Paul had designed. He would stand very still in the bombed out street scene with the flashing light and the sound of the bombing and after it was finished he would suddenly come alive and speak to the people who were standing there open mouthed and this would make them all jump.

John likes organising coach trips to historic places around the country. He did 300 trips over the 20 years. It was always a popular event and he did not have to advertise as the same people would want to go each time. John would go to visit the place of interest days before to make sure he got his facts right and know just were everything was and what other interesting things were with in the area of interest to visit.

John has been on the committees of many other organisations as well as the Coventry Society, including the Industrial Archaeology Society, the Historic Society, Friends of Memorial Park and Friends of London Road Cemetery and many more. He said he used to have a meeting on almost every evening of the week.

In recent years, John has born the weight of serving teas and coffees at our meetings. That was in the days when we had real ones!

Next Birthday John will be 90 and he has been a great asset and a great ambassador for Coventry and the Coventry Society and truly deserves this Life membership award.

John Haslam in period costume

The Coventry Society is proud to appoint these two outstanding members as “Life Members” of the Society.

Alpha House that Jacks Built

Our Deputy Chair, Paul Maddocks, has been researching one of Coventry’s “firsts”!

M2-33_0Over the past few months I have been looking at some of Coventry’s ‘Firsts’ from the city with the first traffic free shopping precinct to the city centre with the first smokeless zone. Coventry has always been the hotbed for trying out new technology and ideas. Right back to 1868 when Rowley Turner, a sales agent of the Coventry Sewing Machine Company brought a French velocipede cycle from the Paris Exhibition to Coventry to start making copies of them and then the city improving on the design to opening up the cycle industry and the development of the cycle we have today. It was Coventry that the German Daimler company chose to set up the first British manufacturing of motor cars because of its skilled and technically minded work force.

So again when the inventor Jansz Joost Werner, from Hague in the Netherlands, came up with a new novel way of building fast and cheap tower blocks of flats he came to Coventry. Working with Richard Costain of Costain Construction Ltd., his idea was to build the roof and top floor first at ground level on a large number of jacks. It is then jacked up and another floor is built underneath it. What is now a two story block is jacked up another level and the third floor and walls built underneath.

The jacking devices acts directly on the central core structure which, together with the projecting floors, provides a substantially rigid structure. The jacks raised the building at a rate of half a metre an hour!  When all the floors are completed it is then anchored to the foundations, it was known as the ‘Jack Block’ system.

So why build it in Coventry? The city was a ‘boom town’ in the 1950’s and 60’s with full employment. Loads of people came to Coventry to work, so housing was in very short supply. The Coventry County Borough Council were on the largest building programme in history and one and two bedroom flats were very much needed. So if they could be built quickly and cheaply the council would try it.

The world’s first building to be built using the ‘Jack Block’ system was Alpha House in Barras Heath  in 1963.

Crystal Palace Exhibition

It came as a light bulb moment when I realised why this 17-storey residential tower block of 97 flats was named ‘Alpha House’.  Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and is used to designate the first of its kind and Alpha House is the first of its kind!

What are the advantages of building the ‘Jack Block’ way? Besides being quick and cheap, the building would be built on site in a factory type of way giving the advantages of being able to work in all types of weather as it was the roof that was built first. Heating and lighting could be easily available and all trades working on the ground level meant they did not have to have loads of scaffolding, heavy cranes and hoists to get worker and materials up and down the building. As each floor would be completely built it would then be jacked up and the process would be repeated over and over again. Each floor could be completed in about a week so 16 floors would only take 4 months then after final fitting the building could be ready in around 5-6 months.

What are the disadvantages? the building process relied on all materials and trades people arriving on site and doing their work in a systematic sequence and on time before the floor was jacked up. If there was any delay or work not completed it could become very expensive, especially if the fault was high up on the outside of the building.

There have been approximately 10 buildings in the world which have been built using the system since 1963. Mercia House, in the Lower Precinct, was the second one in Coventry.

So when I was looking for architectural firsts I was pleasantly surprised to find that in 1963 the very first block of flats to be made where the roof and the top floor are made first was Alpha House, the ‘Jack Block’ system way.

In 2010, nearly fifty years after it was built, Alpha House was renovated by the Whitefriars Housing Group at a cost of £1.97 million. The building was over-clad with aluminium panels and windows were replaced. “The externally refurbish Alpha House went extremely well and we are delighted with the outcome which provides high quality accommodation for our tenants.” stated the Whitefriars Housing Group now called Citizen Housing.

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I will be looking for some more ‘Coventry firsts’ so if you have any you know about please let me know and I will look them up.

Paul Maddocks

Drapers Bar set for Culture Role

The bar and brasserie, originally known as Brown’s and more recently as Drapers, has been earmarked to provide a major cultural offering for the Coventry City of Culture year.

The building was purchased in 2013 by the Alan Edward Higgs Charity to be part of a previous scheme to redevelop the adjoining Draper’s Hall. The Charity has now generously donated the building to the Historic Coventry Trust to help the wider regeneration of the area.

Under the Trust’s ownership, the bar will be re-purposed as a temporary exhibition space during Coventry’s UK City of Culture year in 2021 and then become part of the wider regeneration project of the Cathedral Quarter.

Drapers’ Hall itself is being fully restored as a new multi-purpose venue in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter, and will become the base for Coventry Music Service, who offer music education for Coventry’s schoolchildren, as well as provide performance rooms for a wide variety of arts and community events.

Historic Coventry Trust formally took ownership of Drapers’ Hall from Coventry City Council last year, and the £4.5 million restoration project is due to be completed in March 2021.

The Charity’s vision was to integrate the Drapers’ Hall and Drapers Bar to create a music and hospitality hub. The Trust, expanding that idea, is now developing that project with more elements to become a major part of the City’s cultural offer.

Coventry’s Newest Hotel Due to Open Soon

The Telegraph Hotel is set to open its doors in November this year in the former headquarters of the city’s newspaper.

The Corporation Street hotel is being redeveloped by Complex Development Projects (CDP) and will be operated by Bespoke Hotels, the largest independent hotel company in the UK.

The hotel will be open in good time for Coventry’s City of Culture year.
The Telegraph Hotel features 88 fully air-conditioned bedrooms, several of which are duplex penthouse suites, along with large doubles and twins.

It also features an all-day bar and restaurant called the Forme & Chase, and a rooftop bar, Generators, which overlooks Belgrade Square.

The hotel includes meeting and conference facilities. The Editors Suite, can accommodate up to 160 and has a pre-function bar. There are also two private rooms – the Boardroom and Directors – which can each accommodate up to 12 people for meetings and private dinners.

The hotel has been designed to retain many of the Mid-Century features with an incredible attention to detail.

Brian Harrabin, of Complex Development Projects said “We have been working for so long on getting all the details and the construction right that it was great to actually start showing people what we have achieved.

“Our aim has always been to create a hotel with that wow factor and the focus on Mid-century architecture and design helps to do just that. We are extremely pleased with the fantastic response that we have had and look forward to showcasing the finished hotel with everyone very soon.”

The Coventry Society is impressed by the attention to detail in restoring this iconic mid twentieth century building. The original building was constructed independently but to a pattern and with a pallet of materials that integrated it with the redevelopment of the city centre. The restoration has paid full respect to these original plans and created a high quality hotel for Coventry to be proud of.

Coventry Heritage Gets a £231,000 Covid Boost

Three Coventry heritage and cultural organisations have benefited from the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.

The three organisations in Coventry are amongst 445 heritage organisations in England have been awarded cash from the first round of the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage, sharing a total of £103 million.

Grants of up to £1 million are available to give a lifeline for the heritage sector in England. The funding is administered at arms-length by Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Two Tone Central, the Coventry Music Museum, is to receive a £15,800 grant to help the museum through this difficult time as visitor number have dropped to an all-time low. The grant will help cover part of the £20,000 a year that it costs to keep the museum open. The museum has recently attained its “We’re good to Go” Covid-19 complaint rating and is open to the public by appointment. Telephone 07971171441 to book an appointment.

Coventry Music Museum, 80 Walsgrave Rd, Coventry CV2 4ED

MotoFest Coventry has been awarded a grant of £44,500 to enable it to organise a Covid-safe festival in 2021, following the postponement of the 2020 festival.

MotoFest Coventry was founded in 2014 and has run annually until the hiatus caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. In 2019, MotoFest had a footfall of 229,000 individuals over the two day festival weekend, making it one of the largest and most important automotive events in the country.

MotoFest celebrates Coventry’s influence worldwide, past, present and future, on two wheels and four. The weekend long festival mixes live motorsport with heritage vehicle displays, music, food and film. The festival will run from 4-6 June 2021.

The third organisation to receive funding is the Historic Coventry Trust which has been awarded £170,700. The grant is to help the Trust with core staff costs, consultancies, and to support Covid-related extra costs at Drapers Hall and the Burges. This will help them get through the coronavirus pandemic and to continue urgent repair and restoration work.