Radford Under Park

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We are very excited that the plans for the proposed innovative Radford Under Park, which will be a new pedestrian and cycle route passes under the raised section of the ring road, which has never been used before. It will bring to life a new urban space with a new climbing wall, performance amphitheatre, feature lighting, brick pedestrian / cycle path, street lighting, trees, shrubs, grass landscaping and timber benches.

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The aim of the proposal is to break down the barriers created by the ring road to re-connect communities with the city centre. The Coventry Society sub committee were shown around the old Gas works site and shown the proposed route of the new pathway.

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We first reported about the ambitious plans on 2nd April to create this continuous long green cycle and pedestrian link from Naul’s Mill Park, under the ring road then carrying on through to Belgrade Plaza and the city centre. The route follows the line of the Radford Brook which will be recreated as a natural habitat through the former Gas Works site in Abbotts Lane, which the developers are proposing to create a new residential community of more than 700 apartments by Complex Development Projects (CDP).

Naul’s Mill Pool has been empty for many years due to a leak that lets the water drain away. The local residents and friends of Naul’s Mill have been campaigning for a while to get it made in to a wild life pool. But when asking for grant money they found they could not because it had no wild life at this moment so they were caught in a difficult situation and could not move on with their plans.

Now the pool, which was originally made as a children’s boating lake, could have a layer of compacted sand which will be coved with Bentotex® geosynthetic clay liner. This has a unique ‘self-healing’ property. Once the product is hydrated and under a cover of soil material; if it is punctured by an object or root penetration it heals itself. It’s ideal for reed beds and wet systems and the creation of aquatic habitat for amphibious creatures such as frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies, damselflies and water beetles etc.

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With the creation of the new park there will be a continuous long green walkway all the way from Bridgeman Road through to Belgrade Square, a distance of nearly a mile.

You can see more detail by looking on the Coventry City Council Planning website ref: OUT/2019/24, new pedestrian route from Abbotts Lane to Middleborough Road.

John Rastell 1475-1536

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John Rastell’s Printer’s Mark

From his prison cell, John Rastell reflected bitterly on the crushing nature of his downfall after a life of startling achievement.

He was, he wrote, ‘now by long imprisonment brought to extreme misery, forsaken by his kinsmen, destitute of his friends, comfortless and succourless.’

There was to be no escape. Rastell died in prison in London on 25 June 1536, a casualty of the struggle over religious reform, for which he had become a zealous advocate.
It was a humiliating end for one of Coventry’s most extraordinary sons, a man now largely forgotten in his native city.

Printer, mathematician, lawyer, writer, designer, dramatist and cosmographer, John Rastell was perhaps the closest a native Coventrian has ever come to being a truly Renaissance Man, possessed of an astonishing range of talents and interests. And while his career flowered in London, its roots very much lay in the city of his birth.

Born in Coventry around 1475, he came from a family which had long been active in civic affairs. His father Thomas was a Justice of the Peace and Coroner for the city. His grandfather, a dyer by trade and also called Thomas, was Warden of Coventry in the 1440s.

Made a member of the influential Corpus Christi Guild in his mid-teens, young John trained as a lawyer and in 1507 succeeded his father as Coroner of Coventry.

His horizons had already broadened beyond the city, with his marriage, probably in 1500, to Elizabeth More, sister of Sir Thomas More and from a wealthy London family which almost certainly had ancestral connections to Coventry.

There’s evidence that he retained close connections with his birthplace as late as 1510, acting as a paid adviser to the Corpus Christi Guild and possibly helping it to stage pageants. But from 1508, Rastell appears as a book printer in London. He may well have been the first in Europe to print a musical score.

When war broke out with France in 1512, he was working for Sir Edward Bellknap, brother of Henry VIII’s Clerk of Works, and played a minor role in the conflict, overseeing the transport of guns to the Continent.

Although a man of independent and forceful opinions, Rastell was profoundly influenced by the visionary utopian ideas of his brilliant brother-in-law, Sir Thomas More, and in 1517 he joined an expedition to the New World, in search of a living embodiment of More’s Utopia.

The aim was probably to found a colony, but the ship’s captain declared that he preferred to ‘go robbing on the seas’ and put his hapless passengers, including Rastell, ashore in Ireland.

The outraged Rastell not only later used his legal connections to have the man arrested and tried, but promptly dashed off a morality play titled The Nature Of The Four Elements, a work that exhibited a great gift for scenery and decoration.

Those gifts came to the fore three years later when Rastell was given the daunting task of decorating the roofs of temporary buildings erected for Henry VIII’s celebrated meeting with the king of France at the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’. He followed that up by writing a lavish pageant for the visit to London of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

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The Field of the Cloth of Gold, oil painting of circa 1545 in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court. Henry VIII on horseback approaches at bottom left.

In 1524, by now a minor, but successful, player in the legal and cultural landscape of Tudor London, he acquired land in Old Street in Finsbury Fields, where he built himself a house and a theatre for his own private use. Thought to be the earliest Tudor stage in London, fifty years later it became the capital’s first public theatre when it was re-built by the actor manager James Burbage.

While Rastell wrote pageants and plays to be performed there, his wife Elizabeth made theatrical costumes for hiring out to other enthusiasts.

By then, Rastell was working as a Chancery lawyer for Henry VIII’s formidable Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, and in the mid-1520s he emerged as a prolific writer on law. Some of his works are still in use by students of English law.

In 1529, Rastell became MP for Dunvehed (Launceston) in Cornwall, a seat probably lined up for him by his brother-in law, who in that year became the king’s all-powerful Lord Chancellor.

In that year too Rastell published (and probably wrote) The Pastyme Of People, the first English printed portrait book, which recounted a history of England up to the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and included a series of full-page woodcuts of English monarchs, from William the Conqueror to Richard III.

A staunch Catholics until his fifties, in the early 1530s Rastell was converted to Protestantism and severed his connections to the doomed Sir Thomas More, later working with his successor, Thomas Cromwell.

He became an enthusiastic exponent of religious reform, arguing in print that priests should be able to marry and earn a living outside the church. It could be a dangerous field and Rastell, opinionated as ever, picked a fight with the Church over tithes to the clergy.

It was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had him thrown into that London jail, from which he wrote his final, despairing message to the world.

Peter Walters, Coventry Society Committee Member

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Image from “The Pastyme of people”: the first English printed portrait book by John Rastell

Coventry Society Annual Report 2019 – 2020

Chair’s report

It’s a strange and difficult time we find ourselves in at the moment with Covid19. I am writing my second Chairperson’s report knowing that the AGM will not happen this April. It seems that this year has flown by, it has been especially pleasurable working with the committee and all the members of the Society in my final year in office. Our new chair will be Vincent Hammersly who I am sure you will know as our current vice chair and he will be a good replacement.

I would like to thank all the committee and the sub committees members for their great help especially John Payne who has helped me greatly as secretary and also keeps the website interesting and up to date, Les Fawcett and his team for ploughing through all the planning applications each week, Peter Walters for heading up the Heritage subgroup and his team of knowledgable helpers, Terry Kenny who takes down all the minutes, and Colin Walker who said last year he was standing down as Treasurer but has worked on. Thank you, we will try and let you go this year. If I go on naming everyone it will take up all the pages. I would just like to say ‘thank you’ to you all.

I look forward to our future especially with the City of Culture next year and all the developments around heritage buildings with millions being spent. You will see in the rest of this publication all the good works we have been involved with and what the future will be. I will be Deputy Chair during the next year and still be around to help Vincent and you all.

Yours sincerely, Paul Maddocks


‘Future of Coventry’s Past’ Conference

The Coventry Society’s first Heritage Conference took place on Saturday 19th October 2019 at the Old Grammar School in Bishop Street. It was attended by representatives of more than fifty Coventry historical, preservation, amenity and local interest groups and organisations.

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Councillor Jim O’Boyle, City Council Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration, gave the Keynote Address, “New City, Old Faces”, describing how many of our much-loved City Centre buildings and facades have been saved by creatively re-purposing them to be fit for the requirements of the twenty first century.

Next Ian Harrabin, Chairman of Historic Coventry Trust, gave an overview of the future of Coventry Buildings in the care of the Trust. He explained that the trust began with The Charterhouse and had expanded to include a number of other historic buildings in the City. He informed the conference that all of the buildings in the care of the Trust must be self-sustaining with any income that they generated needing to be enough to cover staff salary and maintenance etc. His presentation included an insight into plans and work being carried out to enhance and bring back into use many of our historic buildings and environments.

Cheneine Bhathena, Creative Director of the Coventry City of Culture Trust, was the last speaker before lunch and her presentation was entitled “The Role of Heritage in the City of Culture”. She introduced the theme, City of Spires, City of Industry, City of Dreams. She pointed out that 40 million people live within a two hour drive of Coventry and the aim was to inform people from all over the country, and the world, about the identity of the City and its people.

Other speakers were: Victor Riley – Riley Archive; Gabrielle Edmonds Baker – Stoney Road allotments; Iris Weir – Willenhall History Group; Victoria Northridge – Archives at the Herbert; Mike Polanyk – St John’s Church; Tim Claye – restoration of historic walled gardens in Allesley Park.


Talks and Tours

The Coventry Society has had many interesting talks and tours over the last year, here are some of them:

Meetings and Talks

September – Ben Flippance – Design Director of IDP Architects, challenged the Coventry Society to think about the impact of autonomous vehicles on the future environment.

October – Brian Stote – showed a series of images, mainly photographs, showing how Broadgate and the roads which have radiated from it have changed over time.

November – George Demidowitz renowned archaeologist and historian ‘What Lies Beneath’ a talk on the discoveries about the development of the old cathedral as a result of the 2015 excavations.

December – Peter James talked about Sydney Bunney famous Coventry artist and his watercolour drawing of old Coventry and Warwickshire views.

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January – Nigel Page talked about archaeological finds from Baginton, amazing Prehistoric, Roman and Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery remains, before the new Jaguar Land Rover facility moves on the site.

January – Roger Bailey – ‘Aten’ the Egyptian Sun God. Pharaoh Akhenatena built the ancient city of Amarna. Was this the inspiration for Donald Gibson’s design for Coventry Precinct?

February – Aidan Ridyard Coventry’s postwar suburban Churches, focused our attention on St. Nicholas Church in Radford. Plus other example of post-war Church building in the city.

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March – Lesley Durbin talked on the subject of restoration of the Cullen Tile Mural, plus architectural tiles their conservation and restoration.

Visits and Tours

May – ‘Phoenix Walking Tour’ with Dr Eleanor Nesbit discovering part of the city centre.

June – Visit to Amazon Warehouse tour exploring this vast site on what used to be Jaguar Browns Lane, factory.

June – Civic Day tour of Post War Architecture by Paul Maddocks.

July – Tour of Earlsdon with historian Peter Walters.

August – Visit to Tamworth hosted by the Tamworth Society.

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Cllr Kingstone, Tamworth Mayor, and Paul Maddocks, Chair of the Coventry Society

September Heritage Open Days – plans for the area of Burges and a tour by Paul Maddocks

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Other Involvement

The Coventry Society has been involved with many other interesting projects –

Coventry’s Heritage Action Zone – Peter Walters and Paul Maddocks represent the Coventry Society and attend the HAZ meetings. The initiative is to unleash the power in Coventry’s historic buildings to breathe new life into old places that are rich in heritage, working with Historic Coventry and the City Council. Historic England through, the Heritage Lottery Fund, is helping to making them attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors. They are doing this through joint-working, grant funding and sharing their skills.

The building and places that are involved are –

Charterhouse Priory and the grounds, Historic Coventry Trust has been awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £4.3 million to restore Charterhouse Priory and the adjoining land. Restoration work has started on the main building and wall murals.

London Road Cemetery The restoration of the Grade II* listed cemetery, its Anglican chapel and the Non-conformist chapel that the Historic Coventry Trust will be restoring. The cemetery is run by the Council’s Bereavement Services. The cemetery has many interesting buildings including the Entrance Lodge, Prospect Tower and the memorial for Sir Joseph Paxton.

Much Park St. Gate, Cook St. Gate and Swanswell Gate are the three remaining gatehouses of Coventry’s medieval times. They will provide studio units, including kitchen, bedroom and bathroom facilities accessed by new stairs etc.

Burges – One of the most prominent routes into the City centre which is now sadly neglected but still has a large number of historical buildings mainly used as shops. The River Sherbourne, that flows behind the shops in Burges, has been covered over and unseen by the public for many years. The Historic Coventry Trust is bring back the charm of the area and upgrading the shopping experience. There are plans to re-open the River as much as possible and bring in new buildings in line with those already present.

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Drapers’ Hall. Historic Coventry Trust is working in partnership with The Princes Foundation and Coventry Music Service to restore this beautiful building which will be open in time for UK City of Culture 2021. Prince Charles visited the building before work started.

St. Mary’s Guildhall The committee was able to see the progress of the major plans to make St. Mary’s Guildhall fit for the 21st Century. A total of £5.5 million is to be spent on the building. restoration of the medieval kitchen (see photo) plus conservation and showcasing of the tapestry, a City Council lead project.

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Lychgate Cottages. 3-5 Priory Row are three remarkable close-studded timber frame properties dating from around 1415 and the only upstanding buildings surviving from the 12th century St Mary’s Priory complex. Historic Coventry Trust will revive and provide much needed visitor accommodation in the lead up to City of Culture 2021.

The concept for reusing and saving old building was a Coventry Society idea many years ago when Keith Draper and David Tittle from the Society organised a conference in the Coventry University Architect’s Department. Many different people from the City Council and other organisations attended to discuss the five major empty building at the time – Old Grammar School, County Court, Drapers’ Hall, Charterhouse and Whitefriars Monastery. From this the Coventry Society launched a ‘Save the Big Five’ Campaign.

The Coventry Society is always interested in plans and projects for the future:

Abbotts Lane. The Coventry Society committee were consulted on the plans and walked the site. We welcome the proposed provision of high quality residential flats and welcome the return of a residential population into the city centre rather than just more student accommodation. There will be new access from Naul’s Mill Park into Belgrade Square with a park area under the ring road, plus the opening up the Radford Brook.

Cov. & Warwick Hospital old site development. Again the Coventry Society was consulted on the plans and pleased with the re-use of the old Nurses Home and the hexagonal out patients building, the committee had a visit there.

Old Civic Centre Two site. The Coventry Society was consulted on the Coventry University proposals and felt too much of the original old Architects and Planning Offices would be lost. We put our objection to the loss of the listed building. The city Council will make the decision based on the advice of Historic England. We now await the decision on this.

The Telegraph Hotel. The old Coventry Telegraph building is being converted to become a new boutique hotel. The Coventry Society was consulted on the plans and welcomes the proposed new hotel and attached Digital Art Gallery.

England’s Favourite Conservation Area. By a public vote and confirmation from our members ‘Hill Top’ conservation area, which includes the two Cathedrals, Holy Trinity Church, St. Mary’s Guildhall, Drapers Hall, old County Court and the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. ‘Hill Top’, was voted the favourite. It was entered into Civic Voice’s England’s Favourite Conservation Area competition. We await the decision.

Coventry Society publication of brochures – ‘Postwar Architecture’, ‘Public Art’, and ‘Heritage’ tours are the first of many new publications for the Coventry Society which should be helpful for people who are visiting the city in 2021 UK City of Culture.

The Future

The Coventry Society is very interested to know what is going to happen to the now closed Sports Centre, Swimming Baths, Priory Visitor Centre and the Whitefriars’ Monastery. We would also like to know what is happening to the old Paris Cinema (now the Empire) which is moving to Hertford Street. Also what is happening to the Coventry Canal Basin & Spon Street (which seems to be failing)? Where will the Police Museum be located and where will the Naiad be placed? What will happen to the City Centre South Scheme re development? Where and when is the Coventry Cross to be re-erected? The Society will be following all these issues keenly and scrutinising any developments.

The committee of the Coventry Society has had various one to one meetings with different people including Cllr. McNicholas, Cllr. Jim O’Boyle, Cllr. Ed Ruane. Colin Knight, Director of Transportation & Highways, plus Carol Pyrah, Executive Director and Ian Harrabin Chair of Historic Coventry Trust and discussing many different topics which all help to keep in touch with what the future of the city could be. We also hope to have talks with people from UK City of Culture 2021 soon.

This year is the Coventry Society’s 50th anniversary 1970 – 2020. Because of the developing Covid-19 crisis, we will have some difficult decisions to make on our future programme of meetings and activities, so please look on our website for ongoing details.

Going Smokeless in Coventry

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Photo courtesy of Coventry Telegraph

It was 69 years ago that Coventry became the first UK city to go smokeless. March 1st, 1951 became ‘No Smoke Day’, heralding Coventry city centre as the UK’s first smokeless zone – and attracting national and international interest.

Coventry became the UK’s first smokeless zone in a bid to tackle smog caused by smoke from both domestic or commercial buildings burning coal. When Public Health inspector Donald Norcliffe proposed the establishment of a smokeless zone it sparked a heated debate over the logic of rebuilding the city after the War but failing to clean up its air quality.

A vociferous town meeting was held to discuss the proposition of going smoke-free and a referendum saw the motion passed, with 28,000 votes for and 11,000 against.

The need for going smokeless was highlighted tragically a year later with London’s Great Smog of 1952, when the capital was brought to a standstill.

On December 4th 1952, an anticyclone settled over London. The wind dropped and the air grew damp; a thick fog began to form. The great London smog lasted for five days and led to around four thousand more deaths than usual and 100,000 people were made ill.

Cattle in Smithfield Market were asphyxiated after breathing in the acidic smoke and a performance at Sadler’s Wells Ballet had to be abandoned because the audience couldn’t see the dancers.

The Coventry Corporation Act 1948 covered 35 acres, and outlawed the emission of any smoke from either domestic or commercial buildings. It ruled that people could only burn higher grade smokeless fuels, mainly coke. Anyone found flouting the ban risked a fine of up to £10 – equivalent to around £320 today.

Following in Coventry’s footsteps, other cities and towns, including Manchester, Preston, Wolverhampton and eventually London created smokeless zones. In 1956 the Government enacted the Clean Air Act which introduced the concept of Smokeless Zones across the country without the need for specific legislation.

The 1956 Act was superseded by the 1993 Clean Air Act which is still the relevant legislation. These days the rules are called Smoke Control Orders and the current fine for breaking the rules is up to £1000.

Today most homes and businesses in the city are heated by either gas or electricity, which is much cleaner than coal or coke. Also we have lost a lot of polluting industry from the city. However there has been a recent increase in the use of wood fires and the Government has introduced further controls on the use of un-dried wood, because of its particulate emissions.

We continue to have a serious air quality problem in the city, but these days the main cause is vehicular traffic, with Nitrogen Dioxide(NO2) and particulate matter being the main pollutants. Older engines, particularly diesels, generate particles which cause asthma and breathing difficulties. In addition, the generation of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a major contributor to global warming. The Council recently launched a consultation on proposals to improve the city’s traffic caused pollution.

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Photo courtesy of Coventry Telegraph

A Half Century of Earth Day

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Today, 22nd April 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. A global event in more than 193 countries.

In 1969, at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honour the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be celebrated on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day of nature’s equipoise was later sanctioned in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later a separate Earth Day was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970.

Earth Day was a unified response to an environment in crisis — oil spills, smog, rivers so polluted they literally caught fire. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and hundreds of cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet.

The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement, and is now recognised as the planet’s largest civic event.

The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. The enormous challenge, but also the vast opportunities of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary.

Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.

The first Earth Day in 1970 launched a wave of action, including the passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States. The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many countries soon adopted similar laws.

Earth Day continues to hold major international significance: In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day when the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was signed into force.

Coincidentally 22 April 1970, was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin, when translated to the Gregorian calendar (which the Soviets adopted in 1918). It was reported that some suspected the date was not a coincidence, but a clue that the event was “a Communist trick”. J Edgar Hoover, director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, may have found the Lenin connection intriguing; it was alleged the FBI conducted surveillance at the 1970 demonstrations. Perhaps not so different to today where Extinction Rebellion is being treated as a terrorist organisation in the UK.

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