Copsewood Grange

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Copsewood Grange was erected in 1872 by James Hart, a ribbon manufacturer. The date 1870 is on the Lodge at the entrance to the Grange with what seems to be Hart’s initials carved in the stone. The estate buildings are said to have cost £5000. Hart’s large factory, the Victoria Mills, was in Lancastrian Yard in the Burges. The site is now part of the West Orchards shopping complex. With the decline of the ribbon trade, both the Grange and the factory became known as Hart’s Folly.

The Grange was sold in 1879 to Richard Moon M.D. of the London and North Western Railway, which at the time was the largest joint stock company in the world. He was living there when he was created a Baronet in 1887. There is a bust of Sir Richard in the York Railway Museum. The estate now covered more than 200 acres and included the site of the old Biggin Hall. It is said that Sir Richard Moon bought this house because it overlooked the London to Birmingham railway line, so he could keep an eye on the trains to see if they were running on time. After Sir Richard Moon, a Mrs Mellowdew and her two daughters lived at the Grange – (Mellowdew Road is named after her).

The Grange was sold again in the 1920s when the Peel Conner Telephone Company, which later became the GEC (General Electrical Company), moved from Salford to Coventry to design and manufacture telephone exchange equipment. A huge tract of land was purchased on which was built the factory and housing for employees. GEC used Copsewood Grange as a hostel and social centre for its first employees. These residents planned and initiated the golf course construction and this was recognised as one of the best staff clubs in the country. It was also the clubhouse for the Marconi Golf Club.

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In 1968 deep excavations were dug across the golf course for a new sewerage system. This was the setting for the famous scene in the film “The Italian Job” starring Michael Caine, with mini cars racing through a giant pipe. In the 1980s Allard Way was built through the middle of the golf course and as the fortunes of the GEC fluctuated during the 1990s, the company and therefore the club’s name changed from GEC through GPT to Marconi.

When Plessey/ Marconi closed the factory, it was demolished and the site was sold for redevelopment. At that time the City Council had a policy that where land that had once been used for industrial purposes, one third should stay for industrial use. Unfortunately the one third that was left for industrial use was the area where Copsewood Grange and Copsewood Lodge were situated. The other two thirds of the site were scheduled to be developed for housing. Despite marketing, it was soon clear that no one would take on the Grange and surrounding area for industrial development. The Grange and The Lodge both fell into disrepair, were attacked by vandals and suffered arson attacks.

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In response to this problem the Coventry Society launched a campaign to save the historic buildings. Apart from the heritage aspect of the mansion itself, the Society also argued that its fine sylvan surroundings and landscaped parkland of high quality, was unsuitable for warehouse/industrial units. Endless efforts to secure commercial interest were repeatedly unsuccessful and the Society maintained its position insisting it should be re‐allocated for residential purposes. ‘Save Britain’s Heritage’ joined the campaign and added the property to its “buildings at risk” register. An emergency protection notice was served by the Council for both Copsewood Grange and Copsewood Lodge. While the Society appreciated the need to reserve land for industry and jobs it was quite clear that the prospect of years of dereliction and continuing vandalism would not only have a negative effect on the Stoke area but also be a significant loss to the whole of the City.

In 2012 the City Council agreed to alter the original development plan and approval was given for the construction of 329 homes and a retail unit. Alterations to Copsewood Lodge would enable its rehabilitation as a three‐bedroom dwelling. The plans required the Grange itself to be adapted to create 17 apartments with an internal access road and most importantly a comprehensive management scheme for the trees within the site.

After some years of inactivity, the development site was sold to new owners, Morris Homes, in 2015. After many difficulties, caused by the deterioration of the building, Morris Homes has now restored the Grange to its original elegance with up-market flats.

The Society believes that these buildings form an important heritage asset to the city and we know they are highly valued by local people

A topping out ceremony was held in October 2018, attended by CovSoc committee members.

Les Fawcett and Paul Maddocks of The Coventry Society top-out restoration works to The Grange

Why are our planners ignoring their own rules?

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As demolition of the Coventry Cross gets underway without complying with the Council’s own conditions for removal, the Coventry Society asks: “Why are developers being allowed to rule the roost when it comes to the care of our heritage assets?”

Of course we were disappointed to see planners bulldoze through the removal of the Cross at November’s planning meeting, at the behest of developer Shearer. What’s more Historic England’s observations were treated with impunity and disregarded. Now we see the dismantling of the Cross in process without the relevant conditions being followed.

These were the planning conditions agreed at the meeting in November:

“3. The proposed development shall proceed in full accordance with the following details to be submitted to and approved in writing by the local planning authority:

“a) a construction management plan and phasing programme of works, which shall include full details of timescales for dismantling and relocation of the Coventry Cross;

“b) a method statement detailing how the Cross structure will be dismantled, how surrounding paving materials will be protected during this process, and details of the materials to be used to repair the space left by the Cross’ removal;

“c) a method statement detailing how the Cross structure will be relocated within its new position on Ironmonger Row;

“d) details for a programme of public art within the space left by the Cross.

“All details shall be carried out as approved.”

In view of a blatant disregard of planning procedures we call on the Council’s Chief Executive to order an immediate enquiry into the methods being adopted by the Planning Department. In the meantime we also ask that work be halted until the planning conditions have been met.

 

Sir Frederick Gibberd – Architect (1908-1984)

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After decades of neglect, the reputation of Coventry-born architect Frederick Gibberd is at last getting a long-overdue re-appraisal.

A new study by architectural historian Christine Hui Lan Manley, published by Historic England at the end of 2017, restores him to a place in the narrative of Modernist architecture in this country.

A pioneer of the Modernist movement in the 1930s, by the 1960s and 70s his design approach and the construction methods and materials he used were being heavily criticised as ‘going soft’ on the principles of the movement. And he’s not been written about very much since.

Born on 7 January 1908, the eldest of five sons of the Coventry tailor and men’s outfitter Frederick Gibberd, he spent a happy and comfortable childhood in the city, living in Earlsdon and attending King Henry VIII School.

As a young boy, swept up in the excitement of Coventry’s early years as the beating heart of Britain’s new motor industry, young Frederick entertained thoughts of becoming a vehicle designer, but when his parents moved into a new family home in Clarendon Street in the early 1920s, everything changed.

‘The turning point’, he recalled, many years later, ‘was when my father built a billiard room. It had a very unpleasant terracotta coping around it, and my father thought it should have been battlemented. When he refused to pay, the contractor said that he should have hired an architect. That’s how I learned what an architect does.’

In 1925, Gibberd was articled to a Birmingham firm of architects and studied at Birmingham School of Art under the leading Arts & Craft architect William Bidlake. His room-mate was the Stratford-born FRS Yorke, who would go on to become the most important apostle of Modernism in this country.

Five years later, Gibberd set up in business on his own and his first commission was to design a house for his parents in Stivichall Croft, Coventry, the only example of his work in his native city.

By the mid-1930s he was making his mark in London. The development of the Pullman Court complex of flats at Streatham Hill launched his career and he was soon becoming known as the ‘flat’ architect, with further schemes to his name at Park Court, Sydenham and Ellington Court in Southgate (both 1936).

The following year, already in the forefront of modernism as a prominent member of the Modern Architectural Research (MARS) Group, he collaborated with FRS Yorke on a book that was hugely influential at the time, ‘The Modern Flat’.

Gibberd was unfit for service in World War II as he had only one kidney, and spent the war years studying town planning and getting involved in the career development of young architects as Principal of the Architectural Association.

After the war he led the way in developing a ‘softer’ English modernist style, placing emphasis on the visual aspects of design, using traditional materials, and paying particular attention to landscape design, and in 1947 he was appointed consultant architect planner for the new town of Harlow in Essex, a labour of love that in a very real sense came to define him.

He lived there for the rest of his life and it became the project with which he is perhaps most closely associated, although there were many other highlights in a career that lasted until the late 1970s.

In 1960 he won an architectural competition to design the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool. It was completed in 1967, the year in which he received a knighthood.

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Since the early 1950s he had been involved with the development of Heathrow Airport, going on to design Terminals 1, 2 and 3. In 1968 work was completed on another important Gibberd commission, Didcot Power Station near Oxford, and in the same year he began work on the Inter-Continental Hotel at Hyde Park corner in London.

The reconstruction of a new headquarters building for Coutts Bank followed and in 1969 he won another competition, this time to design the new London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park.

By the time of his death, on 9 January 1984, Sir Frederick Gibberd had been responsible for well over a hundred architectural projects. But one intriguing question remains.

His post-war expertise in town planning and landscape design led him to an involvement with the modernisation of Nuneaton town centre from 1946 into the early 1960s, and in 1972 he designed the Royal Spa Centre in Leamington.

Yet he never designed another building in Coventry, despite the post-war reinvention of his native city for which his gifts as architect, landscape designer and master planner would have been eminently suited.

Frederick Gibberd: Principal Buildings.

1930/31. House in Stivichall Croft, Coventry.
1934-36. Pullman Court, Streatham Hill, London.
1936. Park Court, Sydenham, London.
1936. Ellington Court, Southgate, London.
1937-39. Hospital Nurses Home, Macclesfield, Cheshire.
1946 – 1963. Nuneaton town centre, Warwickshire.
1950 – 1969. Terminals 1, 2 and 3, Heathrow Airport.
1953 – 1961. Ulster Hospital, Belfast.
1956. Bath Technical College, Somerset.
1956 – 1968. Civic Centre, St Albans, Hertfordshire.
1958. Derwent Reservoir, Northumberland.
1959 – 1969. Civic Centre, Doncaster, Yorkshire.
1962. College of Technology, Hull.
1960 – 1966. Priory Square, Birmingham.
1960 – 1967. Roman Catholic Cathedral, Liverpool.
1964 – 1968. Didcot Power Station, Oxfordshire.
1968 – 1975. Inter-Continental Hotel, London.
1969. Coutts Bank headquarters, London.
1970 – 1977. London Central Mosque, Regent’s Park, London.
1972. Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.

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A talk by John Prevc, Architect

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Monday 14th January 2019 at 7.30 p.m. at the Shopfront Theatre, City Arcade, Coventry, CV1 3HW

John Prevc is an architect working with Make in London. Make is an employee owned international practice with offices in London, Hong Kong and Sydney.

John joined Make when it was founded in 2004 and has taken a leading role in projects across a range of sectors, from transport to arts and culture to higher education. He has a great deal of urban design experience, and has led some of Make’s key city regeneration projects, including their largescale masterplan for Elephant and Castle.

John is vice-chair of the Future Spaces Foundation, Make’s thought leadership arm, and a member of Design Council CABE as a Building Environment Expert. For the past three years he’s been an external examiner for Coventry University’s School of Art and Design.

Coventry Society meetings are open to the public, free for members, but we ask for a voluntary contribution of £2 from visitors to cover the cost of room hire and refreshments.

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Invite from the Tamworth and District Civic Society

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Coventry Society members have been invited to attend the January and February meetings of the Tamworth and District Civic Society.

The January meeting is an organ recital and talk at the Grade 1 listed St. Editha’s Parish Church in Tamworth. The famous Harrison Organ will be played by Maurice Price, who will also give a talk about the inner workings, restoration and maintenance of the organ. This will take place on Thursday 24th January 2019 at 7 p.m.  A fee of £4 is payable and will include refreshments.

On Sunday 24th February the Tamworth and District Civic Society is hosting a lunch with Civic Voice Chairman Joan Humble as the guest speaker. Tickets are £28 each.

Anyone interested in attending either event should download and complete a booking form from the Tamworth and District Civic Society website and submit it with their payment. There is more information about these events on the booking form.

CovSoc will be visiting Tamworth, courtesy of the Civic Society, in August.

 

 

Drapers’ Hall Oral History Project

Drapers Hall

The Historic Coventry Trust is working with the Princes Foundation on the restoration of Drapers Hall. As part of this, they are running an oral history project, with recordings of people who remember working there when it was a magistrates court, or after.

If anyone would like to participate in this project please contact Stuart Daniel by email at stuart.j.daniel@talk21.com

CovSoc Supports Campaign to Improve the Design of new housing

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At its meeting on Monday 10th December 2018, CovSoc Chairman Paul Maddocks handed over a cheque to Sarah James from Civic Voice to support the campaign to improve the quality of the design of new homes in England.

The Government has set up a Commission called the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission which is seeking to improve the quality of new housing design in England.

Our umbrella organisation, Civic Voice, is a planning a series of round-table events, parliamentary meetings and a conference, which will be held in the spring to ensure that communities are heard in the Government’s latest review into delivering the homes the nation needs. Civic Voice will be preparing a civic movement report to be submitted to the Commission and our contribution will contribute to the cost of all this work.

With so much new housing development planned for Coventry it is crucial that we secure the very best of design as this hasn’t always been the case in the past.