All the Colours of the Guildhall


The St Mary’s Guildhall colouring book is now out! The City of Coventry Freemen’s Guild has done it again with its winning formula – ‘a colouring Book’ for all age groups! This is a great follow up to their first colouring book ‘Coventry’s Medieval Story’.

This time they have focused on just one important building in the city. They tell the amazing story of St. Mary’s Guildhall. The Hall has played host to many Kings and Queens, some of whom wined and dined at large banquettes, entertained by William Shakespeare and his Kings Players.

The book covers the life of the Guildhall from Medieval times right through to its involvement with the English Civil War. One of the jewels of Coventry, it is said to be the finest Medieval Guildhall in the country. For me the best part is the drawing of the great tapestry woven around 1495, by a team of five Flemish weavers working for over four years using a single loom. Jonathon Foyle tells us that it the oldest medieval tapestry that is still in the location it was created for. It measures 30 feet (9.14m) wide and 10 feet (3.05m) high so the drawing has to be over four pages, which fold out to make a sensational image that is just waiting to be coloured in.


This fascinating book costs only £5 with proceeds going to local charities supported by the City of Coventry Freemen’s Guild. You can get a copy from the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, the Coventry Transport Museum, the Priory Visitor Centre and St. Mary’s Guildhall during the season that it is open. Unfortunately the Guildhall is closed for the winter, which is a bit ironic considering the book is promoting its wonders! – hopefully this will change as we get closer to UK City of Culture 2021.

Paul Maddocks
Chair of the Coventry Society

Opposition to the Demolition of the Coventry Cross Grows


Today the Coventry Society submitted a petition to the City Council to save the Coventry Cross. Over 780 people in the city have said No to the Council’s plans to move the Cross to make way for the outdoor smoking area for a new city restaurant. The petition is seen here being handed over to Cllr. Roger Bailey, who will formally present it to the City Council.

Last month the Coventry Society received backing for its campaign from national organisation Civic Voice, which is concerned about the damage to Conservation Areas up and down the country and in particular to the loss of Conservation Officers who can advise councils on the proper conservation of historic assets. Civic Voice pointed out that the Hill Top Conservation Area was designated by the Government as one of the foremost Conservation Areas in the country.

The latest stage in the saga is that Shearers, acting for the restaurant, have made a planning application for: “Redevelopment of Trinity Square comprising of the removal and re-location of the Coventry Cross, the redesign of the public space area and reconfiguration of the existing rear terrace to facilitate a larger seating area in connection with the existing restaurant”.

As with the previous planning application, this one gives no justification for the demolition of the cross. All planning applications in Conservation Areas are required to be accompanied by what is called a Heritage Statement. This should explain how the Conservation Area is enhanced by the development. No such statement exists! The Council’s own Management Plan for the Conservation Area states clearly that public art works that enhance the Conservation Area should be retained and that demolition of any structure is only permitted where it enhances the area.

The Coventry Society asks “Why is the Council violating its own policy and normal planning practice?”

Paul Maddocks, Chair of the Coventry Society said: “We would expect the Council to listen to the considerable numbers of Coventry Citizens who have expressed their displeasure with the Council’s scheme to spoil one of the heritage features of the city’s premier conservation. We ask them to re-think their unacceptable plans. The Council has found £150,000 to demolish and remove the Cross. Surely a better plan is to use the funding to restore and enhance this monumental link with the city’s colourful history. Coventry Society would like to see the Cross cleaned up, the missing parts re-installed, gilded like the original cross, and made into a stunning tourist attraction fit for a city of culture.”

Yesterday we also learned that Coventry Trades Union Council has also backed our call for the Coventry Cross to be saved.

Shakespeare comes back to Coventry

StMarysHallEventA near sell-out crowd looked on as Coventry’s medieval jewel, St Mary’s Hall, sparkled into life with music, poetry and Shakespeare on the evening of October 9.

Historian Jonathan Foyle, actors from the city’s Criterion Theatre and a trombone quartet playing music from the Renaissance shaped a narrative to celebrate Coventry’s Tudor Inheritance, The Wars Of The Roses, The Royal Tapestry and Shakespeare.

It was the third event in the hall staged by Tudor Coventry Community Interest Company, a group of enthusiasts who came together three years ago to highlight the hall and the treasures it houses and raise the profile of Coventry’s extraordinary, and much over-looked, late medieval history.

Their chief focus is a fund-raising campaign to bring better lighting and presentation to the hall’s early sixteenth century tapestry, now emerging as a hidden national treasure that warrants much more attention and research than it has had in the past.

Coventry Society’s Peter Walters, a member of the Tudor Coventry group, said, “With 2021 coming up, this is the time to highlight and better care for Coventry’s heritage, both modern and medieval. We believe that the city has so many wonderful stories to tell, and should make much more of them. Clearly, the public’s response to the events we’ve held in St Mary’s Hall so far tell us that we are not alone in this. We will be back with new events next year”.

Coventry On Film: From ‘A Heap of Broken Images’


Coventry’s post-war reconstruction and the resilience of its people are the sub-plot for an evening of films about the city, to be screened at Warwick Arts Centre on Friday, November 9.

Coventry Society member Peter Walters will be introducing the films alongside the Art Centre’s recently retired film programmer John Gore.

Among the films to be shown are wartime documentary The Heart Of Britain, the Dylan Thomas-scripted A City Reborn, a fond and at times poignant take on an optimistic post-war Coventry, and Basil Spence, Building the Cathedral, a fascinating glimpse into the architect’s mind as he designed a church that remains one of this country’s truly iconic buildings, representing as it does the recovery of Britain after the Second World War.
The screening is in the Woods-Scawen Room at the Arts Centre and begins at 7.30pm. Tickets are £9 (£7 concessions).


Professor Richard Farnell RIP


Many people in Coventry will mourn the untimely death of Professor Richard Farnell. Richard was a qualified Town Planner who worked as an Assistant Principal Planning Officer in the City Council’s Department of Architecture and Planning. Afterwards he taught Town Planning at Lanchester Polytechnic, which later became Coventry University. Richard stayed at the university over many changes of department and structure teaching on both undergraduate and post-graduate programmes and researching into neighbourhood regeneration. In 2006 he was appointed as Professor of Neighbourhood Regeneration and following his retirement he continued as Emeritus Professor of Neighbourhood Regeneration. Richard has a long biography of published works, many relating to issues of faith and regeneration.

Richard was also active in the world of housing. He played important roles with Coventry Churches Housing Association, which following a sequence of mergers (via Touchstone, Keynote and Prime Focus) finally became Midland Heart Housing Association. In 2006 Richard became the founding chair of the Association. Midland Heart manages 32,000 properties across the West Midlands.

In 2000 Richard was a member of the Government’s Policy Advisory Group on Community Self-help and an adviser on matters of faith to the Charity Commission. He was a National Adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on ‘Faith and Cohesion’ and was the principal investigator for JRF research into ‘Faith in Urban Regeneration’. Richard was also a trustee of the Church Urban Fund.

Richard also had an important role at Coventry Cathedral, where he was a Canon Theologian and chair of the cathedral council.

Richard’s wife, Alison Farnell said: “He will be remembered by many in Coventry as ‘a gentle giant’ or ‘the tall bloke with the huge smile’ because of his warm, gentle nature and his generous friendship.”

Richard died at home in Rugby on 23rd September at the age of 71. He was suffering from cancer. He leaves a wife, three children and seven grandchildren.

A thanksgiving Service for Richard’s life will take place at Coventry Cathedral on Sunday 21st October 2018 at 4pm.

Coventry Society Visit to St. Mark’s


For the October meeting of the Society, we got the chance to see inside the recently re-opened Grade II listed St. Mark’s Church, adjacent to Swanswell Park, with its remarkable mural by Hans Feibusch.

Reverend Tim Eagles, Curate at the Church, welcomed forty members and visitors to the meeting and explained about the mission of this City Centre Resource Church. The Church is not a traditional Parish Church, but working closely with the Bishop of Coventry to help evangelise the city and transform society. There is a particular focus on engaging students and young people.

Architect Graeme Beamish told us about the history and architecture of this Grade II listed Church. Graeme was the Architect employed by the Diocese when the Hospital vacated the premises to survey the building and look at options for its future.

Coventry Society Secretary, John Payne, told the story of Hans Feibusch, who painted the renowned mural at the Church. Hans was a successful and well known Jewish artist who fell afoul of the Nazi regime and was one of the artists denigrated in Goebbels’s infamous Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937. He emigrated to Britain in 1933 and developed a reputation for painting murals in British Churches, painting the mural at St. Mark’s in 1963. He died in 1998 just four weeks short of his 100th birthday.

John also displayed a collection of materials about Feibusch, including books (one of which was signed by Feibusch himself), postcards, newspaper cuttings and other materials which he has donated to the Church.

We were very pleased to have Stephen Cooke in the audience. Stephen was the son of Rev. Christopher Hamel-Cooke, the last vicar of St. Mark’s before it closed in 1972. Stephen remembered Hans Feibusch and told us amusing stories about the “tiny German artist” who stayed with them whilst he painted the mural.

The society is proud to have played a small part in securing the future of this building and its remarkable mural. In addition to making Coventry aware of the mural through a social media and publicity campaign, we also opened the building for Heritage Open Days between 2012 – 2015, put on an exhibition about the mural and requested Historic England to include the details of the mural in the Listing particulars of the building.

The photo shows Society Chairman, Paul Maddocks, Secretary John Payne and Stephen Cooke, son of the last vicar of St. Mark’s in front of the Feibusch mural.

More about the Church on our website here.

The Foundation of our City


What links the Graham Sutherland tapestry at Coventry Cathedral, the Coventry Boy Statue by Philip Bentham, the Fisherman and the Nymph at Coombe Abbey by Percy George Bentham and the Coventry Cross, with carved statues by Philip Bentham, Wilfred Dudeney, George Ford and pennants by George Wagstaffe?

The answer – they were all funded or partly funded by the Coventry Boy Foundation.

So, who or what was the Coventry Boy Foundation?

Alfred Harris, a Keresley businessman, was the sole benefactor of the Coventry Boys Foundation which he created. The charity first came into the news in the mid 1960’s when an anonymous gift was made to Keresley Parish Church for a walkway and ornamental garden. Over the years there were many more gifts which beautified the city and surrounding countryside. Among them were churchyard projects at Corley, Ansty, Stoke, Baginton and Sherbourne. He also liked to provide statues and other public art.

This charity was first registered on 27 Apr 1965. George Footitt of Browetts, the firm that administered the Foundation, said: “Throughout his life, Alfred Harris’s philosophy was to repay to the city something of what he had gained through his business interests. The Foundation was a registered charity whose income was distributed each year at the direction of the founder and five other nominated persons. In March 1996, 21 years after the death of the benefactor and on the death of the last trustee, my father Ted Footitt, the capital of the fund was paid over to the National Trust for places of historic interest or national beauty in accordance with the Trust Deed.”

Mr Harris died in 1975 and is buried at St. Thomas’s Church in Keresley.

Paul Maddocks