People who read the local press will be aware of the plans of the City Council to move the reconstructed Coventry Cross from its current location next to Holy Trinity Church in order to facilitate a private development.
Coventry Cross is located on Cuckoo Lane, outside the garden area of the Slug and Lettuce Public House (formerly the County Hall). It is within the Hill Top Conservation Area.
This modern replica of the historic Coventry Cross was funded by The Coventry Boy Foundation. The idea of a replica had been suggested many years ago in the 1930’s, but it was not until 1971 that discussions and plans were shown to the Coventry Civic Amenities Society (now the Coventry Society) and the Church authorities. It now stands next to Holy Trinity Church, 100 metres way from the original site of the old cross. The completed replica was unveiled in 1976. The figures for the new cross were made by Philip Bentham (of the Coventry Boy statue fame), Wilfred Dudeney and George Ford. George Wagstaffe made the crown and pendants. This modern version is different to the original by being mainly made from cast ferro-concrete, with only some of the statues being carved out of stone. At 17.4 metres (57ft) high the replica Coventry Cross has 20 niches with many figures.
In 2007 it was suggested that replica cross should be moved to Cross Cheaping. But because of local opposition this was not implemented. The idea of relocating it arose again in 2015, but nothing happened because of the cost and difficulty of doing this.It is now reported in the press that there is a proposal to relocate the Cross to nearby Ironmonger Row. However the planning application has been amended so that it now only includes the demolition of the existing cross and not its rebuilding.
It has been quoted in the press that the City Council is prepared to spend £150,000 to move the cross. However the Coventry Society has researched this figure and established that the cost of £150,000 is the budget for dismantling and cleaning the sculpture and putting it into storage. The Council is currently putting this work out to tender. The City Council has been asked about the total cost of restoring the sculpture and re-erecting it and is not able to answer the question. They say that until the existing cross is dismantled and they have been able to assess the fixing arrangements, existing steel frame and other key elements no final cost can be provided from contractors.However we have heard from a reliable source that the total cost is likely to be in the region of £500,000, leaving a shortfall of around £350,000.
“The Council’s view is that the removal and relocation of Coventry Cross is an important project for the city. Our ambition is to relocate the cross nearer to the location of the original Coventry Cross and the relocation will also improve the context and setting of the medieval core of the City for residents, visitors and local businesses.”
We have asked sculptor George Wagstaffe, who was involved in the original design of the replica, for his opinion about relocating the cross. Whilst not totally against such a move, he pointed out the appearance and materials of the cross were more appropriate to its current location than the proposed one. He said that the surroundings of the proposed location on Ironmonger Row was more like a Mondrian painting than a suitable environment for a medieval stone cross.
The Coventry Society is not opposed to the City Council’s plans to improve Cuckoo Lane. However we do not want to see another of Coventry’s Public Art works put into storage, probably never to to be seen again. We also question why the Public Sector is being asked to pay for a relocation which only appears to benefit one business. How much is that business putting into the pot? Where is the budget for the reconstruction of the sculpture to come from? If the sculpture is to be relocated, where is the best location to put it? We feel that the demolition should not go ahead until these important questions are answered.
We also point out that there is a Conservation Area Management Plan which covers the demolition of structures in a Conservation Area and we would like to hear the Council’s justification for the demolition, which we have yet to see. We feel that the absence of a City Council Conservation Officer is leaving the Council without good advice on conservation matters.
We are pleased to note that the planning application has been referred to the Secretary of State and we hope that a sensible decision will be made.
What do you think? Should the Cross remain? Should it be moved? If so, where to? Would the available budget be better spent on improving the sculpture in its current location, e.g with gold leaf etc. to make it more like the original?