Misinformation – The Word of the Year

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Dictionary.com defines misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” We have seen it raise its ugly head around the world, even close to home especially this year. To what are we specifically referring?

Recent planning applications to demolish the Coventry Cross and greatly change our Upper Precinct and Broadgate, are but two prime examples.

We tried hard to persuade Coventry City Council that the plans put forward by a London developer would dramatically harm our precious heritage but we didn’t stand a chance.

The Coventry Cross
As if our planners worked for the new restaurant in Cathedral Lanes, demolition and re-siting was passed without batting an eyelid. Council’s report claimed: Historic England had no objection—false claim; the plan would provide a better link between Broadgate and the Cathedral Quarter—false claim; the scheme will not create any significant impact upon the character and setting of the conservation area and surrounding listed buildings—false claim.

The Upper Precinct and Broadgate
The over-riding of Listing of one of our city’s most distinguished post-war heritage assets, with the developer allowed to rule the roost. The Council’s report claimed: Historic England had no objection –false claim; the alterations will better reflect the Donald Gibson design– false claim; changes will restore the views to the Cathedral Spire—false claim.

The use of these sort of statements to win the support of the planning committee devalues the democratic process. Forcing proposals through on a false premise goes against all the principles of good local government. What hope is there for the City Centre South Plan, future of the Canal Basin and Spon Street? The rest is dominated by high rise student accommodation. Not a happy picture for the city that so many of us love.

Keith Draper

Christmas Traditions and a Festive Quiz

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The CovSoc Christmas meeting will take place on Monday 10th December at 7.15 p.m. at the Shopfront Theatre, City Arcade.

At the start of the meeting there will be a very short formal Special General Meeting to adopt the Coventry Society’s current constitution.

Following that, our member Brian Stote will give a talk about Christmas traditions, including some readings from Christmas related literature.

There will be festive refreshments, including mulled wine and mince pies.

After the break our Vice Chairman, Keith Draper, will challenge us with a Picture Quiz.

Free to members. Visitors are very welcome and asked to make a £2 donation towards costs, or join on the night.

There is plenty of free on-street parking at the top end of Corporation Street.

Add this event to your Google Calendar

 

Coventry commemorates the end of the First World War

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November was a month of remembrance and commemoration in Coventry, with a whole host of events and activities commemorating the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. The Coventry Society was involved in a number of these.

This year Remembrance Sunday coincided with Armistice Day on Sunday 11th November and also marked 100 years since the signing and enacting of the Armistice.

The Cenotaph in the War Memorial Park was the focus for remembrance events in the city on 11th November. The park was opened in 1921 to honour the fallen of the Great War, and this year the public again took part in large numbers in the Service of Remembrance which included a parade, hymns, readings and laying wreaths to pay respects, with the service being led by The Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, the Lord Bishop of Coventry. The Parade was led by the Coventry Corps of Drum and music was also be played by City of Coventry Brass Band during the service.

Greyfriars Green
The City Council unveiled a public artwork in Greyfriars Green on 8th November. Two silhouettes of First World War soldiers now grace the Green as a reminder of the sacrifice made by so many and a tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice. The soldiers are part of a Royal British Legion (RBL) project called ‘There But Not There’ and are a symbol of the many who never made it back home.

They were installed on the green near the city centre by Coventry City Council, after a generous donation to help the charity work of the RBL. The initiative seeks to educate today’s generations about the horrors of a war which claimed the lives of 888,246 British and Commonwealth service personnel.

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Triumph Memorial
On Saturday 17th November there was a moving event at London Road Cemetery to re-dedicate the Triumph and Gloria War Memorial. The memorial commemorates the 68 employees of the Triumph and Gloria companies who died during the First World War. It has been restored to its former glory by the Friends of London Road Cemetery with financial assistance from the War Memorials Trust and the TR Register.

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The service was conducted by Rev Arthur Woo, Vicar of the Parish of Christ Church, Cheylesmore. A Triumph Bicycle decorated the memorial and there were Triumph motorcycles and cars lining the roads in the cemetery. A bugler played the Last Post and a parade of ex-servicemen and women marched with Regimental Colours. Crosses were laid for each of the people named on the memorial with family members laying those for their relatives. Ian Wooley, chairman of the Friends, welcomed a large number of people to the event and after the ceremony refreshments were served in the rarely opened Anglican Chapel.

National Service of Commemoration
The Coventry Society was represented by our Secretary, John Payne, at the National Service to mark the Centenary of the Armistice at Westminster Abbey on 11th November. John tells us that the service was very moving but he didn’t get a very good view of the Queen: all he could see was a purple hat moving down the aisle of the Abbey.

John led the Society’s project to record the condition of all of the First World War memorials in the city. In total 324 memorials in the city were located and surveyed. John will be giving a talk about the project at the History Café at the Priory Visitor Centre on Friday 30th November.

Whitley Abbey

Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, gave a talk to the pupils of Whitley Abbey School, about the interesting role of Whitley Abbey during the First World War. The school children created some really good commemorative artwork from recycled bottles.

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The Window
Several members of the Society attended a performance of The Window at the Herbert Gallery. The story is based on the true life story a Spon End family who lived through that terrible period of history. This poignant play describes both the horrors of the battlefield and the struggles on the home front through the voices of James O’Neil and his sister.

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The Railway Station
A stunningly poignant tribute to Coventry’s fallen war heroes was unveiled at Coventry Railway Station. As part of The Royal British Legion’s national Thank You movement, partners Coventry Building Society have paid tribute to the 1,223 Coventry soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War. The stunning tribute lists the names of each of those soldiers across the railway station.

Mark Parsons, Chief Executive at Coventry Building Society said: “Railway stations are places of departure and homecoming, but sadly many of our local soldiers never made it home. We’re very proud of our Coventry heritage and our partnership with the Legion, and we wanted to remember and say ‘Thank You’ to those who left to fight in the First World War and never returned.”

Britten’s War Requiem
Some of us were fortunate to attend a performance of Benjamin Britten’s celebrated War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral on 14th November. This magnificent work had its World Premiere during the consecration of the New Cathedral in May 1962. This event was part of the Plumbline Festival, which marks the centenary of the designation of St. Michael’s as a Cathedral and the creation of Coventry Diocese.

St. John’s
During the month there have been lots of things going on in Churches around the city. At St John the Baptist Church in Fleet Street there was a whole programme of activity in support of the Coventry Peace Festival. These included a flower Peace Trail, a Deadman’s penny in flowers, exhibitions and a poppy sculpture suspended from the pulpit, which an eight foot structure full of poppies dedicated to the men dedicated in our War Memorial Window. There were dramatic readings, Services and a recital on the recently restored Bechstein piano.

As the month ends, the city can be proud that the contribution of the people who fought on our behalf and gave their lives for us has been properly respected and commemorated by our city. 

James Murray – Coventry’s Virile Gothic Architect

 

James Murray 1831-1863Coventry Society committee member Peter Walters reflects on one of Coventry’s most prolific Architects.  James Murray (1831 – 1863) created some of the most famous  buildings that shaped the city in the Victorian era.

Of all the high Victorian memorials in Coventry’s London Road cemetery, few can match the melancholy beauty and grace of the stone obelisk raised to mark the grave of the architect James Murray.

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It reflects the palpable grief felt at the early death of a young family man, who was just 31 when he died. But also, perhaps, despair at the loss of an extraordinary talent that had he lived longer would surely have made him a prominent figure in the great age of Victorian Gothic architecture.

In bursts of almost frantic creative energy over little more than a decade, James Murray dramatically re-shaped the appearance of Coventry at a time when the city was undergoing something of a development boom.

His style as an architect, described as ‘virile Gothic’ in the latest edition of Pevsner, gave Coventry in the second half of the nineteenth century a decorative beauty now hard to imagine.

Sadly, relatively little of his work survives, either in the city or elsewhere, but to his contemporaries the word genius did not seem an over-statement.

Born in Armagh, Northern Ireland on 9 December 1831, Murray moved with his family to England as a child and in 1845 was articled to the practice of architect Walter Scott in Liverpool. On qualifying he joined forces with Thomas Denville Barry, then making a name for himself as a cemetery designer in the north of England but later to become Engineer to the Boards of Health and Waterworks for Leamington Spa.

Murray was clearly a young man in a hurry and before long the firm of Barry & Murray was expanding its range to commissions far from Liverpool, including new buildings for the Holy Trinity Parish Schools in Ford Street, Coventry, which opened in 1854.

By that time Murray had already moved to Coventry, taking offices in Bayley Lane, and over the next few years began to leave his mark on the city. Commissions to design St Michael’s Parish Schools and two teachers’ houses in Much Park Street and some houses in The Quadrant (both 1855), were followed by a re-modelling of the Lychgate cottages in Priory Row (1856) and then his new design for the Blue Coat School in Priory Row (1856-57), in the style of a French chateau.

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The projects were coming thick and fast, among them a new Corn Exchange for Coventry, perhaps his grandest building commission in the city, the Hundred Houses cottage factory complex in Kingfield for the silk-weaving firm of J and J Cash (1857) and the following year St Michaels’ Baptist Church, squeezed onto a tiny site on the corner of Hay Lane.

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But new pastures beckoned and in that year Murray moved to London to go into partnership with Edward Welby Pugin, son of the great Augustus Pugin, who was himself a noted architect, particularly of churches.

Together they produced a number of buildings; Almshouses at Albury in Surrey, St Peter’s Church School in Woolwich, the Church of Our Lady and St Hubert at Great Harwood in Lancashire and a Gothic warehouse for the firm of Messrs Bennock on Silver Street in the City of London.

But creative, and possibly personal, tensions began to emerge and in 1859 Murray failed to win an architectural competition to design the Church of Saints Paul and Peter at Cork in Ireland, because of ‘differences with Mr Pugin’.

The partnership was dissolved and in 1860 Murray moved back to Coventry, not before, however, receiving the most important accolade of his still fledgling career. On March 19 of that year, at the age of just 28, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the youngest Fellow in its history. It was a remarkable honour and promised much to come.

Back in Coventry, Murray concentrated initially on church work, enlarging St Michael’s church in Stoke (1861) and then restoring All Saints Church at Allesley (1862-63).

The census of 1861 found him living with his wife Maria, son James and daughters Marguerite and Ethel at Stoneleigh Terrace, close to the city’s railway station in an area described as Warwick Green South. Murray himself may have designed the Terrace, a handsome row of substantial villas occupied by many well-to-do members of Coventry society at the time.

In October 1862, he published Illustrations of Modern Architecture, Ecclesiastic, Civil and Domestic, concentrating on Gothic and Classic buildings erected since 1850, and designed to be the first of a series of papers setting out his ideas on architecture.

He went on to produce a clutch of important buildings in Coventry, including the Freemen’s Charity School in Swanswell Place, Coventry School of Art in Ford Street, arguably his most striking building, and a police station and courts complex in St Mary’s Street (all 1863).

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Sadly, along with the old Blue Coat School, Murray’s Justice Rooms extension to St Mary’s Hall, described as ‘similar to that of the ancient structure’ and with ‘great diversity of outline’ is almost all that survives of him in the centre of Coventry.

On 24 October 1863, after many years of frail health, Murray died of consumption at his home, surrounded by his young family.

A life-long Roman Catholic, he wanted to be buried in the shadow of Augustus Pugin’s Church of St Augustine in Kenilworth, but instead was interred, with full Catholic rites, in London Road cemetery. Edward Pugin was present at his funeral, having made a special journey from Belgium, where he was working.

In a fulsome obituary, the Coventry Herald wrote of Murray, ‘Born an artist and having an intuitive perception of the beautiful and true, he had by study brought these natural instincts under the subjection of his will so as to be ever available and ready. Has any other man of his years ever done as much to illustrate Coventry as he has.’

Murray, it went on, possessed such mental power and arrangement that he could solve complicated constructional problems virtually without recourse to paper, and because of that could perform large designs in an incredibly short space of time.

If he had had longer, we might have had more of him left to admire.

James Murray in Coventry – the major works.

c1850. Restoration of interior of St Michael’s Church, Bayley Lane.
1850s. Work to complete St Osburg’s Church, Barras Lane (probable).
1854. Holy Trinity Parish Schools, Ford Street.
1854-55. St Michael’s Parish Schools and two teachers’ houses, Much Park Street.
1855. Three houses in The Quadrant, Warwick Road.
1856. Re-modelling of Lychgate cottages, Priory Row.
1856. Corn Exchange, Hertford Street.
1856-57. Old Blue Coat School, Priory Row.
1857. Cash’s Hundred Houses, Kingfield.
1858. St Michael’s Baptist Church, Hay Lane.
1858. Three houses, Hales Street.
1861. Stoneleigh Terrace (probable).
1861. Enlargement of St Michael’s Church, Stoke.
1862-63. Restoration of All Saints Church, Allesley.
1863. Justice Rooms extension of St Mary’s Hall, St Mary’s Street.
1863. Coventry School of Art, Ford Street.
1863. Freemen’s Charity School, Swanswell Place.

And in Warwickshire:

from 1853. St James’s Church, Guild Street, Stratford-on-Avon.
1854-55. Restoration of chancel at St Chad’s Church, Bishops Tachbrook.
1854-61. All Saints Church, Emscote, Warwick.
1855. New Almshouses at 10-13 The Bank, Stoneleigh, for Lord Leigh.
1855. Church school, Brinklow.
1855-56. Corn Exchange, Warwick.
1856-57. The Hill, Stratford-on-Avon, private house for the Flowers brewing family.
1858. Town Hall and Corn Exchange, Rugby.
1860. Two pairs of cottages at Stoneleigh for Lord Leigh.
1861. The Lodge, Kenilworth, private house for Thomas Hennell.

 

Whitley Abbey in the First World War

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With the centenary of the Armistice very much in the news, Coventry Society Chairman Paul Maddocks was asked to speak to the children at Whitley Abbey School.

Paul told the pupils about the history of Whitley Abbey during the First World War. The use of Hall had been negotiated by Siegfried Bettmann, the then Mayor of Coventry, to house Belgian refugees who were evacuated when the Germans advanced over their land.

Charles Mast, a real local hero, bravely went many times to Belgium throughout the war and brought back over 130 people to safety. His wife Amelia Moore looked after them in the grand house of Whitley. After the War, in 1920, they both received medals from the King of Belgium.

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Charles Mast’s passport show date stamps of when he went to France and Belgium on a special letter/pass.

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There were about 120 refugees staying at Whitley Abbey, and when they’d settled in, they went about their lives. Children went to local schools and families got jobs. They’d often had to leave Belgium with very little, and many had lost almost everything they had.

If a refugee was able to work, he was expected to support himself. In Coventry so many men had enlisted that the new labour force was welcomed by factory owners. As men found work, the number of people in the official homes in Coventry, Rugby and Kenilworth dwindled, and very few refugees needed support until the end of the war.

A magnificent stone plaque expressing the thanks of the refugees is still displayed at St Mary’s Guildhall in Coventry.

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Whitley Abbey also featured in the first “blitz” on Coventry. On the night of the 12/13th April 1918 there was a Zeppelin raid on the city and at 11.45 pm Airship L62, commanded by Hauptmann Kuno Manger, offloaded four HE and nine incendiary bombs. At Whitley Abbey Park a 300kg bomb fell in a field and smashed a few windows, the rest exploded at Baginton: two HE and the nine incendiaries landed around the sewage works and in neighbouring fields, killing a bullock, a heifer and a lamb.

Youngsters of Whitley Academy created a beautiful art installation to mark this year’s Remembrance Day. They used their crafting skills to create a stunning poppy display from plastic bottles.

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Photos courtesy of Coventry Telegraph and John Payne

There is more about Whitley Abbey on the Coventry Society website.

Building Better, Building Beautiful

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A commission to champion beautiful buildings as an integral part of the drive to build the homes communities need has been announced by the Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP.

The Building Better, Building Beautiful’ Commission will develop a vision and practical measures to help ensure new developments meet the needs and expectations of communities, making them more likely to be welcomed rather than resisted.

This move follows the government recently rewriting the planning rulebook to strengthen expectations for design quality and community engagement when planning for development. The new rules also ensure more consideration can be given to the character of the local area.

This commission will take that work further by expanding on the ways in which the planning system can encourage and incentivise a greater emphasis on design, style and community consent. It will raise the level of debate regarding the importance of beauty in the built environment.

The commission has 3 aims:

1. 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.
2. To explore how new settlements can be developed with greater community consent.
3. To make the planning system work in support of better design and style, not against it.

Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said: “Most people agree we need to build more for future generations, but too many still feel that new homes in their local area just aren’t up to scratch. Part of making the housing market work for everyone is helping to ensure that what we build, is built to last. That it respects the integrity of our existing towns, villages and cities. This will become increasingly important as we look to create a number of new settlements across the country and invest in the infrastructure and technology they will need to be thriving and successful places. This commission will kick start a debate about the importance of design and style, helping develop practical ways of ensuring new developments gain the consent of communities, helping grow a sense of place, not undermine it. This will help deliver desperately needed homes – ultimately building better and beautiful will help us build more.”

This announcement comes as a month long series of events coordinated by think tank Policy Exchange, to showcase the importance of beauty in the built environment, begin. Welcoming the announcement Policy Exchange Director Dean Godson said: “We know from our research and polling that local support for development increases across all income groups when beauty is made a priority and this commission represents a fantastic first step. Placing beauty at the heart of housing policy is the biggest idea in a generation.”

Sir Roger Scruton has been appointed to Chair the commission, with further commissioners to be announced in due course.

Biography – Professor Sir Roger Scruton

Eminent writer and philosopher, Prof Sir Roger Scruton has for over 3 decades taught at institutions on both sides of the Atlantic including Birkbeck College, Boston University, and more recently, the University of Buckingham.

He is an author of over 40 books. In his work as a philosopher he has specialised in aesthetics with particular attention to music and architecture. He has written several works of fiction, as well as memoirs and essays on topics of general interest.

He engages in contemporary political and cultural debates from the standpoint of a conservative thinker and is well known as a powerful polemicist. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the British Academy.

He has been officially honoured by the Czech Republic, by the City of Plzen and by Virginia’s General Assembly. In 2004 he received the Ingersoll Weaver Prize for Scholarly Letters. In 2015 he published 3 books all of which were chosen among people’s ‘books of the year’.

In 2016 he was recipient of the Polish Lech Kaczynski Foundation’s Medal for Courage and Integrity and was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

This text is from a press release from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

Which Vision of Cuckoo Lane do you prefer?

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With Planning Committee due to make a decision about the future of the Coventry Cross on Thursday, here is the choice they have to make.

Which do you prefer?

The committee are being recommended to approve the application despite our views and the views of Historic England.

The Coventry Society submitted a petition with over 900 signatures opposed to the relocation of the cross. The Council has rejected this on the technicality that it referred to the previous planning application that they chose to withdraw.  So much for democracy in Coventry!

Come and support your local civic society at the Planning Committee meeting on Thursday at 2 p.m. in the Council House!