George Wagstaffe Exhibition

Private View Invite

Coventry artist and sculptor George Wagstaffe is holding a rare public exhibition later this month. The exhibition is being held at St. Mary Magdalen Church, Sir Thomas White’s Road, Chapelfields, Coventry, CV5 8DR (the one with the blue roof!).
The exhibition will be held between Saturday 21st – Sunday 29th September 2019, the first two days coinciding with Heritage Open Days. There is also a private viewing, which is by invitation only.


George Wagstaffe is well known in Coventry. He gave a fascinating talk to the Coventry Society last September. His most famous works are the sculptures Naiad, currently on display in 1 Friargate and Phoenix, now located at the bottom of Hertford Street. He also did some of the sculptures on the ill-fated replica Coventry Cross, today in storage somewhere. The new exhibition is profiling his paintings.

A Profile of Alan Griffiths MBE


Coventry Society member Alan Griffiths will have his formal investiture for his award of MBE in the Queen’s official birthday honours on 12th September 2019.

Alan said it is difficult to put in words how proud he personally feels at being nominated and accepted for the award.

“It is important to point out that although I feel a personal pride at the Queens Award no way could this been achieved without support along the way from staff, friends and relations.”

“A Grand Opening” by the Lord Mayor of Coventry for the one-million-pound new Broad Street Community Hall is planned for the beginning of 2020.

Alan joined the Coventry Society many years ago with the belief “that it is an excellent group to belong to with friendly faces and a real commitment to help keep Coventry’s history alive and to promote the city as a good and better place to live. The regular monthly meetings are so interesting, inside during the winter months and out visiting incredible places when the sun shines.”

Alan has written a little about himself which we think will interest you.

“I was born and bred in Coventry. I love Coventry & Warwickshire! My father worked for Armstrong Whitworth as a foreman. Mum worked at the Co-op in Corporation Street. My sister Roslyn is the clever one – she worked as a P.A. By brother Terry works at Rolls Royce as a metallurgist. We still remain a close family.”


Alan is an Engineer by trade (a Toolmaker). He was an apprentice with Rutter Gauge & Tools and is a City of Coventry Freemen’s Guild member. An apprentice at the same time was lifelong friend, Mike Rawson. “The factory was an old cold place to work. We earned less than £2 a week (on my paper round I was earning £4 a week). Health and safety had not been invented and we suffered with chilblains and coughs. We worked in many departments gaining a wide knowledge of the industry.”

Alan married his wife Jill who he met at the Locarno Dance club in the days of the mini skirt era. They set up home together in Bedworth.

Alan’s hobbies include a keen interest in motorcycles and cars. He owns an old Jaguar XJS V12 and is a member of the Jaguar Club. He still enjoys riding a motorbike with brother Terry. Alan belongs to several local societies.


Alan continued working as an engineer in Coventry for B.O. Morris Jig & Tool Div. Then he moved to the toolroom of Standard Triumph finally ending up at Rover Triumph works in Radford.

Alan went self-employed in the “problem years” of the 1970s/ 1980s as Alan visualised the end to our old out of date car industry in the country.

He worked in a back yard shed with his retired father building storm porches. Alan knocked on doors selling also fitting them in the local area.

He Joined the Round Table organisation having fun also doing community work in the local area and is still an active member. His grey hair makes him ideal for Santa on the back of a sleigh each December. The arrival of three children kept his home life busy. Christopher, Helena and Marie are now grown up; one is a doctor, another a district nurse and the youngest a teacher. They produced grandchildren – three normal plus triplets (now 5 years old). Alan says “It keeps us very busy”.


Alan moved into a small factory in Broad Street, Coventry. It was originally a butchers’ shop in 1912, which was then being used as a printing works. With the help of a bank loan he took up the challenge from the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to make Britain prosperous again. According to Alan the PM took on the unions, forced non profitable business out and Britain began to prosper. Alan and partner Jim Dudley set up a windows and door (Double glazing) business. Within 5 years he moved 2 doors away to the old Alfred Herbert building in Broad Street with a floor area of 6000 sq. ft. Alan taught himself how to programme and use a computer, which helped to make it a successful business employing up to 26 people at one time. “Many employees who joined us in the early days went onto work in the company for over 30 years”. Alan’s first big job was replacing windows at Jaguar’s Daimler Road offices.

“It is important to note that a company can only be successful if it has reliable and trustworthy staff which Broad Street Windows were fortunate to have. Manager Val Gordon (no longer with us) and Graham Jones (a school friend) worked for me for over 30 years. The biggest medal should go for the long suffering Allison Good who joined the company from school in the early eighties and we still work together now for the community hall after 38 years”.


Not all things went smoothly during this period as the country again went through several recessions. However the company was strong enough to ride the ups and downs of business.


During this period the company “accidentally” purchased an old derelict community hall next to the property. It was needed for the shared driveway. Following requests from local resident groups to use the hall a team of friends, relations and staff put in many hours of work and money to make it habitable again and re-opened it for local residents. Alan had a dream of replace the old building with a new purpose build centre. This was 15 years ago, but the task of applying to the Big Lottery was too big to tackle at that time.

Alan (centre back) with volunteers at the Broad Street Meeting Hall

“With the experience of running a business it was easy for us to set up the community to run as a small business, allowing funding applications to be made to help run the hall efficiently. Groups using the hall were varied from Bingo, Faith, Keep Fit and Mums, children, taekwondo groups along with tuition classes.”

“It is strange how helping out on the community front also has its rewards. Working with NHS “Sure Start “group, who wanted to use the hall, led to Broad St Windows obtaining the company’s biggest order – £250K to replace windows & Doors at Gulson Road old hospital block. I would like to emphasise the opportunities that business can benefit in strange ways and encourage other companies to work in the community.”


As a business we decided to down-size, stopping the manufacturing side of the business, concentrating instead , with the aid of computer technology, selling, assembly and fitting windows and doors. Buying in the products allowed us to offer a larger range of dedicated tailor-made units.”

“Five years ago, along with support from Andy Duncan who we engaged as a project manager we decide to tackle the funding project. Anyone who has tried to obtain £10K will know what a challenge it is, with mountains of paperwork involved. So you can imagine the challenge it is to raise over one million pounds of funding! The Big lottery agreed this after a four-year battle. We were successful with our bid having satisfied them that our plans and intensions would help the local community and prove that we were a trustworthy company to deal with to undertake such a large re-build project.” Our contribution also meant that we had to find £200K from other funding sources.


A big problem arose as funding did not include moving into temporary accommodation for the hall users to continue their activities. If users move away, even temporarily, it is hard to get them back. Unable to find suitable premises a decision was made to close the window and door business and change to a construction company. Broad Street’s original premises could then be converted into a community hall so that hall users had a place to meet while the new build took place. Again, funding had to be achieved (£80k) for this work to be undertaken which was expensive due to meeting the building work high safety standards required.


Conversation of the building was completed; groups then moved into the temporary hall and the old hall was demolished.

“The Committee and volunteers applied successfully for the Queens Award for Voluntary Service, of which we are immensely proud. It gives us that wonderful emblem to display on all our correspondence.”

Broad Street Meeting Hall being presented with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service


Work started on the new building but not without a few problems as the ground was found to be unstable which meant we had to find another £70K. The Big Lottery would not fund the extra work involved which meant we are continuing to fund raise to cover fixtures and fitting. We now have reduced the short fall down to just £30K.


As an organisation Broad Street Meeting Hall is also very proactive in the local area. They are at present running the Edgwick Park Project in conjunction with the City Council, planting trees, flowers, building bird boxes with local schools also arranging events in the park such as sport in the park, Bands in the Park etc.

The Induction of Alan’s Queen’s Birthday Award MBE will take place on 12th September 2019. The Society is very proud to have Alan as a member.

Coventry’s Favourite Conservation Area – the Results

Today we announce the results of our campaign to find Coventry’s Favourite Conservation Area. After a three week online campaign, which included over 100 social media posts, and a vote at a meeting of the Coventry Society, we finally made the choice about which Conservation Area to submit for Civic Voice’s England’s Favourite Conservation Area competition. Last year this was won by Swindon’s Railway Village.

Coventry’s favourite Conservation Area is (roll of drums and suitable delay etc) – Hilltop – Coventry’s Cathedral Quarter.

Hill Top Conservation Area

People asked for the reasons why they voted for Hilltop said:

  • Every time I walk up Hill Top treading on those cobbles I get goose pimples, I feel I have gone back in time. I feel it is very atmospheric.
  • Beautiful buildings; historic heart of the city; represents a thread of history through the ages; needs much more recognition locally, regionally, nationally. Currently does not have the recognition it deserves and this needs to be rectified.
  • This is a beautiful place with a unique combination of new and old, reconciliation, culture, tolerance and respect for everybody.
  • Beautiful area in the heart of Coventry, that the Council planners have not destroyed yet.
  • Largely unspoiled historic area of city.
  • Historic and iconic.
  • Because it’s so beautiful, and it has so many interesting buildings from different periods in one location in our city.
  • Because it is a quarter, of the two cathedrals, the Guildhall, the cobbled lanes and the Herbert.
  • It’s an area that has survived over all the years and where the city grew from, the Cathedrals the guild hall the timber frame buildings – it’s just amazing.
  • This is the most historic part of Coventry as a unit left standing. It also contains a world heritage site and is widely known.
  • It is the essence of medieval Coventry.


The runner up was Stoke Green, which wows local residents with its beautiful parks and avenues and sense of community.

In third place was Lady Herbert’s Garden and the Burges. Support for this area was tainted by concern about the current state of the area.

The next stage will be for the Society to put forward a strong case for Hill Top being England’s favourite Conservation Area. We believe that we have a strong case. In 1976 it was given “outstanding status” by the Department of the Environment. There are more listed buildings in the Conservation Area than almost anywhere else in the country and the submission is backed by the people of Coventry.

But our involvement in this campaign is not just a “bit of fun”. The Coventry Society is seriously concerned about the future of our Conservation Areas in the absence of a Conservation Officer or any paid staff working in Conservation in the city.

There are two important elements in the planning system that are required for a Conservation Area.

  • A Conservation area appraisal document. This document records the special architectural and historical interest of the designated (or proposed) area and identifies opportunities for enhancement.
  • A Management Plan presents Proposals and Actions that will guide and manage future change, enhancement and preservation of a Conservation Area.

The designation of a Conservation Area is only a useful planning tool if it’s Appraisal and Management Plan are up to date and relevant. Otherwise developers can pretty much get away with anything. The city’s previous Conservation Officer had introduced a programme for reviewing and updating all of the Appraisals and Management Plans for the city. Before his unfortunate departure the society supported his review and updating of the Hill Top and Lady Herbert’s Garden and the Burges Conservation Areas. In his absence no further reviews have taken place.

As well as updating the Appraisals and Management Plans the Conservation Officer’s role is to prepare the documentation for additional Conservation Areas. The recently approved Coventry Local Plan proposed two new Conservation Areas in the city: Earlsdon and Brownshill Green. Work has already commenced on the appraisal of the Earlsdon Area. Following a public petition the Conservation Officer organised community workshops in 2016. Many members of the Coventry Society and local community participated in training workshops and the appraisal of streets in Earlsdon. However this work has not been progressed since the departure of the Conservation Officer.

No work has progressed at all on the designation of the Brownshill Green conservation area appraisal.

The Coventry Society is willing to support the City Council with the designation and updating of the City’s conservation areas but it cannot do this on its own and the appointment of a new Conservation Officer is becoming a priority for the city.

Another task of a Conservation Officer is to recommend action to address Conservation Areas that have been designated by Historic England as being “At risk”. Currently there are three Conservation Areas in the city that have been so defined. These are Lady Herbert’s Garden, London Road and Naul’s Mill. Two of these areas are within the city’s Heritage Action Zone and there are prospects for their improvement. However for the third meeting running, nobody from the City Council turned up for the last meeting of this multi-million pound project. What is going on???

It’s time for the City Council to get its act together on conservation!

The Vertical Forests of Utrecht

In the third and final story about Utrecht we look at a couple of other environmental projects that the city has sponsored or supported.

The first is a 90m high residential tower block designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti. This attempts to create, in Utrecht city centre, “an innovative experience of cohabitation between city and nature”.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 18.31.51The Utrecht Vertical Forest will host on its façades around 10,000 plants of different species (360 trees, 9,640 shrubs and flowers), equal to 1 ha of woodland.
Once realised, the “Wonder woods” will contribute to the absorption of more than 5.4 tons of CO2.

A second project is a clubhouse for a local hockey club. The project’s program can be roughly divided into two parts — the changing rooms and everything that supports them, and the clubhouse itself. The changing rooms are partially underground, while the clubhouse volume is placed on top, allowing for beautiful views of the fields — the raised ground level serves as a terrace and stand.

img_11_1549380991_75a05ab3f7ec7e7738e043086ff1b2a4The basement is designed in concrete, the light exterior with a wooden cladding contrasts nicely with it and stands like a pavilion on the basement. The field side is kept as transparent as possible with glass fronts that can open in the summer, so that inside and outside flow into each other. In order to accentuate the subordinate function of the other façade openings, the view is filtered through slats.

The layout of the clubhouse is divided into different spaces that can be opened and closed according to the required use — it is flexible and suitable for different ways of use and number of people present. The solar panels on the roof and the heat pumps ensure that the building generates more energy than it uses. The main field features LED lighting — as soon as the traditional lighting of the other fields is replaced by LED, the entire complex is expected to become energy-neutral.

Lonely Planet recently included Utrecht in the top 10 of the world’s unsung places. This short series of articles perhaps explains why. There is much for Coventry to learn as we move to the low carbon future.

The Little History of Coventry by Peter Walters


Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, reviews a book written by one of our own members, Peter Walters. Let’s hope they are still friends!

Paul writes…

‘The Little History of Coventry’ – yes it is little as the title says, but this lovely hard backed book with its deep red ribbon bookmark is a nice and handy size that can easily fit into your side pocket or hand bag. But what hides among its 193 pages are fascinating stories bursting to get out. Best of all – it’s full of things about Coventry! The story takes us from its early beginnings with Lady Godiva and the Earl of Leofric, through the growth of the Benedictine Priory of St. Mary into a large and powerful Cathedral. The growth of other monastic orders of the Greyfriars’, the Whitefriars’ and the silent order of the Carthusian’s at the Charterhouse monastery to the Cistercians out at Coombe Abbey – they all played a major part in the growth and wealth of the city.

The book lists the surprising number of different Kings and Queens that have been involved with this city due to its wealth, central location in the country and its defensive walls. It also covers the people who have played a major part in forging this city into what it is today, as well as its trade guilds and various religions, companies, societies and clubs.

The book describes the many industries that have been the back bone of the city such as the early woollen weaving and dyeing of cloth which led to the expression ‘true as Coventry Blue’. The silk ribbon weaving industry and many precision craft based industries like watch and clock making. It was its small manufacturing of high quality precision items that allowed Coventry to quickly change to manufacturing other engineered goods like sewing machines, cycles, motorcycles, cars, aeroplanes, machine tools and anything new.

I also like the more recent history of people like George Hodgkinson who played such a big role in Coventry before and after the Blitz and the rebuilding of the city, onto the big players in Coventry’s economy the city’s two universities, Warwick and Coventry.

The book is neatly laid out with easy to access subjects and will be a very good ‘go to first’ reference book. This timing of the book is very good with the up and coming City of Culture 2021. It puts Coventry’s background of where we came from and where we may be going to into focus. I hope schools that do not usually learn about local history can find this book a good way into getting their student to appreciate their city and learn about the importance of our history and culture.

Through the dark times of war and famine the city has always been able to rise like the phoenix. As they say from Boom time to Ghost town and back again, a roller coaster through the history of Coventry.

The book is truly an eye-opening journey through the events and characters that have shaped Coventry and its story and made the city one of England’s hidden jewels.

I think Peter Walter the author and fellow Coventry Society member has truly made himself a Coventry citizen, though he is not a native, but it sometimes takes an outsider to point out our strengths and our positives and Peter has done a great job with this lovely little book – a must for everyone in this year’s Christmas stocking.

Paul Maddocks

Peter Walters will be attending the next meeting of the Coventry Society at 7.30 p.m. on Monday 9th September and will be selling signed copies of this book at a substantial reduction.

Bikes, bikes everywhere – but only in the Netherlands!

bike-garage-2-1 - CopyIn the second of our stories focused on the Dutch city of Utrecht we look at the cycling infrastructure of the city.

Utrecht is a bit like Coventry, located in the centre of the country. It is the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands and has a population of 347.574 compared to Coventry’s population 360,100. In the past few years, Utrecht has been committed to improving its urban sustainability with a wide range of environmental projects.

Beneath the railway station in Utrecht lies the world’s biggest bicycle garage which can accommodate a staggering 12,500 bikes.

bike-garage-3 - CopyThe 17,100 sq metre Cycle Park project focuses on three main design aspects of convenience, speed and safety. With this in mind, the plan was to separate it into units for parking and paths, marked in red, which safely navigate users around the garage without bumping into each other. Covering three levels, the cycle lanes incorporate slow ramps, allowing cyclists to pedal from their parking slot at the bottom all the way to the ground level square. It is free for the first 24 hours and then rises to E1.25 a day thereafter.

Another interesting cycling project in Utrecht is this 110 metre cycle bridge over the Amsterdam-Rhine canal. The bridges doubles as the roof of a school opened to the public last year.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 18.40.11 - CopyThe dream of the cyclists came true when a number of countries like Denmark and the Netherlands paid more attention to “Bridges and Passageways Only for Bikes”.

A bridge like this would be great in Coventry connecting the city centre with the Canal Basin.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 18.41.40 - CopyIn Utrecht 43% of all journeys less than 7.5 km are undertaken by bike, an increase from 40% five years ago. In the Netherlands as a whole there are 1.3 bikes for every person! But this huge level of bike usage hasn’t come about by accident. The climate in the Netherlands is similar to Britain and whilst people say that the Netherlands is flat, it isn’t all flat and the winds in Holland are known as the Dutch hills. The big difference is one of policy and incentives.

Dutch people use their bikes instead of their cars because it’s more practical and economic to do so. Who can forget those old photos of Coventry factories at the end of the shift with hundreds of bike users waiting to cycle home. But in Britain we have turned our back on the bicycle and all of our policy approaches have been about making the city more usable by motorists. However this is all set to change. With the city and the whole country committed to reducing carbon emissions and reducing NOX pollution the humble bicycle might quickly be making a comeback and we couldn’t go far wrong in following the leadership of a city such as Utrecht.

Next CovSoc Meeting – Ben Flippance

Ben Flippance – IDP Architects

The next meeting of the Coventry Society is to be held on:

Monday 9th September 2019 at 7.30 p.m.

The will be a talk by Ben Flippance of IDP Architects

Ben will share his ‘Thoughts on the influence of Autonomous Vehicles on City space and Community function’. This will focus on some key opportunities for public realm, and strategies for community retention.

Ben Flippance is the Design Director of IDP Architects based in their Coventry Office, and part time design panel member and competition judge and has a strong academic relationship with Coventry University School of Architecture. Ben specialises in urban design, masterplanning and architecture of large communities and works nationwide for land owners, developers and government agencies from strategic planning level to construction.

In addition to Ben’s talk, there will be a vote on Coventry’s Favourite Conservation Area and CovSoc committee member and local historian Peter Walters will be selling signed copies of his latest book “The Little History of Coventry”. The book is normally retailed at £12 but there will be a reduced price of £10 for people attending the meeting.

The meeting will be held at the Shopfront Theatre, City Arcade. All Welcome; free for members, £2 donation for guests and visitors.