Starley Gardens unveiled in city centre

Photo – John Marshall

CovSoc member John Marshall reports

Coventry’s history continues to evolve and today’s city centre is changing rapidly, with one of the most eye-popping changes being the construction of Starley Gardens in Cox Street – unveiled this month by Lord Mayor Ann Lucas.

This stunning open space replaces the former James Starley Building which once occupied almost the entire length of Cox Street.

Starley Gardens – named, like its predecessor, after famous bicycle pioneer James Starley – is part of a wider project by Coventry University to open up the entire area with green spaces and walkways, ultimately linking new university buildings to vistas of the Cathedral.

The university describes Starley Gardens as “a striking open-air urban space” that will help the city to look its best ahead of its “well-deserved time in the national limelight as the UK’s City of Culture 2021.”

Starley Gardens, says the university, will have the capacity to host a variety of cultural events all year round, bringing activity and excitement to the campus, while helping to improve the social wellbeing and health of staff, students and the local community.

Future plans will see the university demolish the Alan Berry Building, opposite the Cathedral, enabling new landscaping and an uninterrupted view of Coventry Cathedral from the university’s Arts and Humanities facilities on the other side of Cox Street, which are currently being redeveloped.

James Starley – bicycle pioneer

James Starley is often described as the ‘father of the bicycle’ and his influence in Coventry was significant and far-reaching, creating the foundations for a major bicycle industry. The inventive Starley came to Coventry with his business partner Josiah Turner in 1861 to produce sewing machines. But the business changed dramatically when Turner’s nephew turned up in Coventry with a French-made velocipede. Starley made significant improvements to the machine and in 1871 he designed the Ariel, said to be the first true bicycle. Two of his inventions revolutionised this form of transport – the tangential spoke for bicycle wheels and the differential gear. Starley died in 1881 and is buried in London Road Cemetery. In 1885 his nephew John Kemp Starley designed the Rover Safety Cycle, a chain-driven machine with two wheels of the same size which is still the basis of bicycle design today.

This report first appeared in the May 2021 edition of the Stoke Local History Group newsletter

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