Spire to Spire Tightrope Walk

MilleniumTightropeWalk2Twenty years ago, on New Year’s Eve 1999, Coventry held its breath as French tightrope walker Ramon Kelvink stepped off the parapet of Holy Trinity Church and calmly made his way above the city to the spire of St Michael’s and into the history books.

It was without doubt one of the most visually stunning Millennium events in Britain that night – yet it missed its prime slot on national television and was only shown in the early hours of the morning.

Coventry Society member Peter Walters, who was a member of the team that staged the tightrope walk, explains, “The BBC had a crew of more than a hundred working on the event and had hired the tallest crane in Britain to film it.

“A small mechanical problem in the studio scuppered plans to show our tightrope walk live on television around 9 pm, between that night’s National Lottery show and the Queen’s appearance on The Embankment in London, and by the time it was shown only insomniacs saw it!

“I don’t know who was more upset, ourselves at Coventry & Warwickshire Promotions or the BBC, but in the event it was a magical and spectacular performance, watched by around 30,000 people on the ground, and it remains one of my own favourite memories of the years I spent working to help promote the city.”

Now, for the first time in twenty years, this New Year’s Eve Coventry Cathedral will be screening the film made of the tightrope walk that night by city-based theatre company Talking Birds. Alongside is their short film, Girl With A Movie Camera, which captured the celebrations, and the screening will be accompanied by a live performance of Tightrope Prelude, specially commissioned for the 1999 event and written by Talking Birds’ Derek Nisbet.

The cathedral performance begins at 5pm on New Year’s Eve with a Q&A session on the theme, ‘Where Were You On 31.12.1999?’, so bring along your own memories of that evening and hear some unique insights from the team that organised Ramon’s extraordinary tightrope walk.

The event is FREE but donations towards the Cathedral’s Peace and Reconciliation work are welcome.

To book tickets, email access@talkingbirds.co.uk or call/text message 07708 262 182.

CovSoc Christmas Meeting


Our tradition Christmas Meeting will be held on Monday 9th December 2019 at 7.30 p.m. at the Shopfront Theatre, 38 City Arcade, Coventry, CV1 3HW.

We have a talk by Peter James about the well known Coventry artist,  Sydney Bunney. We also have the usual  traditional activities including a Christmas Quiz, Mince Pies and a festive drink.

We look forward to seeing you there.


John Gulson – the Coventry Philanthropist

Riviere, Hugh Goldwin, 1869-1956; Alderman John Gulson (1813-1904)
Alderman John Gulson (1813-1904);

There is a school and a road named after him and there used to be a Library that bore his name. But who is John Gulson? .. and what did he do for Coventry?

John Gulson was born in Coventry on 23rd October 1813, to John Gulson senior, a leather craftsman and Elizabeth from a London Quaker family. John had three sisters and the family lived at 130 Spon Street, moving to 7 Priory Row in 1837. The rest of the family moved to Leicester in 1847 leaving John alone in residence in Priory Row.

John’s father seems to have ceased public life in about 1835 and John took over many of his interests. In 1835 he became Joint Secretary of the Mechanics Institute. During his time in this position a new Mechanics Institute was built in Hertford Street, where Lloyds Bank is currently located.

The Institute was the pride of the Gulson family. They hoped that Coventry workers would use it as a centre for education to help them in their careers. John’s family and friends raised most of the money to build the Institute.

In 1838 John went into business in the silk trade with a Mr Merrick, setting up Merrick and Gulson, with an office in Vicar Lane. When Merrick left the city to move to Manchester, Gulson continued the business and moved the office to High Street.

In politics John was a Liberal and in 1841 he raised a petition to ask the Council to support the repeal of the Corn Laws.

John Gulson’s public and voluntary service was honoured in 1847 when he was nominated as an Alderman of the City of Coventry, unusually without first being a councillor.

In 1850 Gulson went into partnership with Richard Caldicott and was later with the Coventry Machinist Company cycle manufacturers.

In 1862 John married Sophia Louisa Miller of Ireland and they had a happy, but childless, life together in Coventry, until her death in December 1895. They were both known for their philanthropy and kind nature. At that time Coventry was suffering a severe depression as a result of the collapse of the ribbon trade and the Gulsons gave the princely sum of £21 for the relief fund.

In 1867, under Gulson’s leadership, the Corporation adopted the Public Libraries Act. He opened the city’s first library in Hertford Street in 1868, during the time that he was Mayor. The building had previously been the home of the Coventry Library Association since 1791, which by that time was in serious decline. The Corporation purchased the building and all its books. The accommodation proved inadequate and in 1871 John Gulson presented to the city the site of the old gaol opposite Holy Trinity Church and the Corporation erected on it a new library which opened in 1873. In 1890 he added a reference library.

One of Gulson’s pastimes was sketching landscapes and buildings and along with his friend Nathaniel Troughton has left a legacy of drawings of the city and the county.

Alderman Gulson died on Christmas Day in 1904 at the age of 91. He is buried in London Road Cemetery. Amongst his legacies was the donation of his library of books, drawings and etchings to the City Council.


[Acknowledgement to Ian Wooley, A Victorian Resting Place for a Growing Industrial City: London Road Cemetery for much of the content of this article]

Stoney Road Gardens – a Coventry Treasure


One of the wonderful things about Heritage Open Days is that they give you the opportunity to see fascinating features that are not normally open to the public. This year there were a number of “new” sites that had not been open on Heritage Open Days before. One of these was the fabulous Stoney Road Gardens – known locally as Park Gardens.

The site is one of the few remaining plots of the original Cheylesmore Park, owned at times by various members of the English Royal family, including Queen Isobel, Edward the Black Prince and King Henry VI, who lived in nearby Cheylesmore Manor. The site is currently owned by the City Council and managed by the Stoney Road Gardens Association.

The Gardens are Grade II* listed by Historic England. In the late 18th and early 19th Century, many larger towns had groups of small rented gardens forming a ring around the densely developed town centre. These pleasure-garden plots were typically subdivided by hedges into individual plots of between an eighth and a sixth of an acre, which were laid out for ornament and the comfort of the owner; the gardens were used to grow a mixture of productive and ornamental plants. The expansion of towns in the 19th Century destroyed the majority of 18th Century rented town gardens, but a number of gardens of similar size and function were laid out in the first half of the 19th Century, including Stoney Road, which is one of only four “detached gardens” listed on Historic England’s Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest as surviving relatively intact.

The Coventry gardens provided land for workers in the city’s traditional industries such as silk weaving and watch-making, who tended to live in crowded conditions within the medieval city walls. The gardens appear to have been commenced shortly after 1853, and by 1887 the northern half of the site had been laid out as small gardens enclosed by hedges and divided by tracks and secondary walks. By 1889 the southern half of the site comprised seven meadow enclosures or paddocks. By 1913 a further area of hedge-enclosed gardens had been created in the southern half of the site, while conventional allotment plots were laid out adjacent to the railway. In the mid 1930s a strip of gardens fronting Stoney Road to the west was developed with semi-detached houses, and Stoney Road, which until this time had been a dead-end, was connected to streets which were being developed on the former park to the west.


The most notable feature of the Gardens is a group of seven summerhouses which survive from the large number of similar structures shown on the late 19th and early 20th Century OS maps. Many include fascinating details, including chimneys, fire places, internal panelling and windows and it is thought that they were lived in for at least part of the year.

The summer houses are in particularly poor condition and have been designated as being “At Risk” by Historic England. The Gardens Association is applying for grants to restore them to their original condition.

You can follow progress with the restoration of the Gardens on their facebook page

We wish them well!

The Horse with Many Names


On Greyfriar’s Green there is a black painted metal horse sculpture. Its creator, Simon Evans, was an Art student at the Coventry Art College in 1985/86. He was working on a sculpture of Alexander the Great’s horse ‘Bucephalus’ , a legendary beautiful black horse which stood taller than normal steeds but was considered too wild and unmanageable, rearing up against anyone who came near him. Alexander was the only one able to ride him.

Image of Alexander the Great and Bucephalus

Simon’s sculpture was made from bits of steel plate, off cuts and scrap pieces. Using their unusual shapes he welded them together to create a rearing horse a bit like the Ferrari prancing horse. It stands at 4 metres high and 4 metres wide and is painted black.


While he was working on the sculpture in the Art College his tutor Dr. Tim Threelfall heard that the City Council were having a competition for Coventry students of all ages to make a work of art to mark ‘Industry Year 1986’. He felt that the steel horse would fit in well with the competition. The horse was a winner along with three other sculptures.

Each were to receive the prize of a £25 book token. This did not go down very well as the horse had cost £600 to make. An agreement was made and the Steel Horse was displayed on a brick plinth on the roundabout on the Ring Road opposite the railway station. This was quite apt as the native Americans called early trains ‘iron horses’ and cars were known as ‘steel horses’.

The City Council have the sculpture listed in their acquisition records as being called the ‘Steel Horse’ as has the book ‘Public sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull by George T. Noszlopy.

In 1998 it had to have some restoration as people had been climbing on it and bits had been knocked off. It was then painted in anti-vandal paint and had a Do Not Climb plaque attached.


Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 13.03.44Coventry citizens have always affectionately call the horse ‘Trigger’ after Roy Rogers an early film & TV cowboy star who’s horse Trigger was always rearing up.

Recently when the horse was removed the local press said “A steel plate horse sculpture which has been restored to its former glory has been officially unveiled at its new home in Coventry. The 12 ft tall public piece of artwork of a black horse once ridden by Alexander the Great was located at the island at Greyfriars Green from 1985 until work began to change junction 6 of the Ring Road.

“The horse called Bucephalus, affectionately known by Coventry residents as Trigger, was created by Coventry University student, sculptor and resident of Coventry, Simon Evans, from scrap materials.

“Trigger has been lovingly restored by specialist fabricator and installer of metal sculpture and artwork, Andrew Langley, from Art Fabrications in Fenny Drayton, Nuneaton. Andrew was a close friend of Simon Evans, who sadly died in 2010.”

Cabinet Member Jayne Innis at the re-launch of the statue on Greyfriars Green

I am sure Simon Evans’s wish was the horse to be known as Bucephalus which symbolises strength and hope. Like Coventry, it resolutely rears up to face all challenges ahead.

Paul Maddocks

For So Long As The World Shall Endure.

Ford’s Hospital

It could be said that the story of Coventry lacks continuity, too often forgotten in the desperate scramble to find something new to replace the ruins of the old. And because of that, the city can feel like a place with a very short memory.

But Bond’s and Ford’s Hospitals are the exception that proves the rule. The Battle of Bosworth Field, climax of the Wars of the Roses, was still within living memory when Coventry merchants Thomas Bond and William Ford gave real meaning to their charitable instincts by founding these two almshouses in the first decade of the sixteenth century.

Yet today, half a millennium later, the buildings would be immediately recognisable to those who knew them 500 years ago. What’s more, they are still fulfilling the function envisaged for them all those centuries ago – providing safe and comfortable accommodation to elderly folk.

Michael Orton’s new book, For So long As The World Shall Endure, admirably captures their slow, steady progress from the end of the medieval world into the third decade of the 21st century.

Dr Orton, an academic in the University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research, first tackled the history of Bond’s and Ford’s back in 1991. His new book – its title drawn directly from Thomas Bond’s instructions in his will – benefits from new evidence that has come to light since, principally at least one ‘lost’ minute book from the beginning of the 20th century.

Thus armed, he weaves a clear thread through all the complexities of finance and income, administration and the changes in society over those 500 years, telling a remarkable story of how Ford’s and Bond’s adapted to changing times and maintained their purpose and function.

Bond’s Hospital

As Michael Orton shows, it hasn’t always been an easy ride. The almshouses have come close to dereliction, been deprived of desperately needed funds by a corrupt Corporation and faced the threat of extinction from first Henry VIII’s attack on the monasteries and then from a grandson of Thomas Bond, who clearly wanted the income from their supporting estates but did not want the responsibility and cost of looking after their residents.

There are elements of tragedy in the story too. On 14 October 1940, a month before Coventry’s infamous November Blitz, six residents and two members of staff were killed when Ford’s Hospital took a direct hit during an early bombing raid.

And then there is the tale of John Johnson, a resident who in 1619 was said to have murdered six his companions so that he could become the most senior among them.

Next year, when the new Hill Street development of Bond’s Court is completed, the almshouses will be providing safe and comfortable accommodation for 150 people.

That figure would surprise many and would surely truly astonish the founders. I’ve a notion that they’d be delighted as well.

Peter Walters

For So Long As The World Shall Endure, by Michael Orton, is available for sale at Bond’s Hospital in Hill Street, Coventry, price £20.

Sorting the Waste!


Currently the blue-lidded bin recycling is sent to sorting facilities in Leeds & Nottingham which is very costly. Coventry City Council has proposed the idea of building a recycling facility to deal with waste from the blue-lidded bins at Whitley, Coventry. To help build this new plant local councils in the region are going to be partners. Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, North Warwickshire Borough Council, Rugby Borough Council, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and Walsall Council are all planning on investing in the scheme and will use it once operational. It is proposed that the facility will be powered by renewable energy from the adjoining Waste to Energy Unit and possibly solar panels. All the trucks will offload their waste inside the new building.

There will be no combustion or organic waste inside this new building. After sorting, all items will be bundled before they go on to be used in new products.

How many trucks will be entering the site daily? About 43. Coventry’s current ‘blue-bin’ dust carts will be delivering to the site. However the other Councils recyclable-waste will be delivered in much larger trucks.

How many staff will be employed? Initially about 30 with a potential of 50 if the volume of recycling increases.

How many routes are there into the site? Only one – the current entrance to the Whitley Depot from the London Road.

Why can’t there be a road link between the current Waste Disposal Plant & the new Recycling building? Currently this is believed to be too difficult.

What are the planned hours of Operation? Currently 8am to 6pm with 1 shift.

There is a wide range of services and facilities to recycle domestic waste. As well as reducing the volume of waste going to landfill sites, recycling and composting your domestic waste helps to minimise charges for waste collection. Many of the items used in the home can be recycled.

Screen Shot 2019-10-12 at 21.58.19

It’s all very well sorting out the waste but do we require so much packaging? Years ago if you went to the shops you would get potatoes weighed and then tipped into your string bag of basket, fruit would be popped in a plain brown paper bag, veg mainly would be sold loose. Meat and cheese would be wrapped in grease proof paper then plain paper. Hot chips and fish would be served the same but with a final wrapping of old newspapers to keep them warm.

Milk would come in bottles delivered every day to your door and the empties would be taken back to be washed and refilled. The same with pop, cider and beer bottles – you paid a deposit and you would get this returned when the bottle was returned.

But over the years we have been sold the idea that we need everything wrapped two, three or four times. And who pays for all this wrapping? It seems bad management if we have to take everything and reduce it back to its original material then using very expensive energy to remake the item! It would be like a pub where every time they sell you a drink the used glass gets smashed into a bin then it goes to be melted and a new glass is made from the bits so they can serve the next drink. Or a restaurant where after you have had your food all the plates are smashed and the knives and forks are crushed and melted to form new knives and forks – its the madness of a Greek wedding. But we are doing very similar things to this. To really make a difference we must change the way we sell items and use less packaging.

This story was first published in the Coventry Action for Neighbourhoods newsletter. Our thanks for their permission to republish it.