Turn Left at the Polar Bear!

Those were the surreal instructions to get us to the meeting room at the Daimler Powerhouse when CovSoc visited The Nest and the Powerhouse this week. During our visit we met the Queen’s Corgis and two of her personal horses as well as the welcome return of the Lady Godiva puppet, who is awaiting a new dress.

Our guides were Derek Nesbit of Talking Birds and CovSoc member, Tara Routledge of Imagineer Productions.

Talking Birds describes itself as a provider of “Theatre of Place” and is based at The Nest, which is conjoined with the Daimler Powerhouse. This year it is celebrating its 30th birthday. Talking Birds brings theatre and arts outdoors and into vacant buildings and sites. It has created a number of walking tours, some curated but others self-guided using mobile phone apps. We were also shown what is possibly the world’s smallest theatre – the inside of a whale!

The whale!

There is a rolling programme of two-week long artistic residences. These support artists with the early stages of project development although some do manage to develop work during this time.

Imagineer Productions  make extraordinary outdoor and site-specific work at the intersection of art and engineering, environmental and social change. They are well known as the creators of the amazing Lady Godiva puppet.

Maquettes for Lady Godiva puppet on display at Daimler Powerhouse

We visited as Imagineer were preparing for the forthcoming pageant to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in London on 5th June. We were able to see all the queen’s corgis as well as two of her favourite horses. Both corgis and horses were modelled on the real animals.

The Queen’s Corgis awaiting the pageant

We were also in time to see the fabulous Lady Godiva puppet recently returned from storage for a clean up and a new dress in preparation for the pageant. We were even given a short demonstration of Lady G’s movements.

Lady Godiva waiting for her new dress!

The Daimler Powerhouse dates to 1907 and generated electric power for the Daimler factory, one of the oldest car factories in the country. The building has been carefully restored, retaining many of the original engineering features. The restored building includes:

  • Rehearsal spaces with sprung dance floor
  • Studio spaces for artists
  • An aerial rig to allow aerial performances to be rehearsed and performed.
  • A vertical dance wall
  • Construction Space for large scale sets
  • Making spaces for the creation of artistic endeavors
  • Recording facilities
  • Outdoor rehearsal spaces
  • Accessible office spaces including hot-desking
  • Meeting rooms
Some of the original machinery

In addition to Talking Birds and Imagineer, there are three other permanent occupiers of the building: Highly Sprung – the high altitude urban theatre company, Open Theatre which works with young people with learning disabilities and Media Mania a music organisation that empowers and upskills young people.

The Daimler Powerhouse is owned by the Wigley Group and is the centrepiece of a new residential and cultural Canalside neighbourhood being created on the former Coventry Climax and Bus Garage site on Sandy Lane. The building is locally listed and within the Coventry Canal Conservation Area.

The restoration of the building has cost £2.5 million and was completed on time and within budget by Wigleys. Funding has come from the Cultural Capital Investment Fund, which is resourced from Coventry City Council and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Deal, as well as a range of other Trusts and donors.

The Wigley Group, contributed an additional £350,000 as well as agreeing a highly-discounted 20-year lease on Daimler Powerhouse. Additional funding has been raised from The Foyle Foundation, Medwell-Hyde, The Garfield Weston Foundation and The May 29th 1961 Charitable Trust.

CovSoc members touring the building

CovSoc members were very impressed by this development, which is not only the centre of Coventry’s cultural rejuvenation, but also plays a role nationally.

Rooftop bar and cafe in makeover plans for historic Coventry building

How Coventry Central Hall could look under plans for major renovation

The Coventry Telegraph reports…..

A historic Coventry building could be in line for a modern, multi-purpose makeover to celebrate its 90th birthday. Prestigious architect Robert Davies has been invited to transform Coventry Central Hall, in Warwick Lane, into a ‘vibrant and welcoming venue’ where artists and people from all walks of life in Coventry can feel safe.

The plans include a new permanent café area, arts and events spaces, open-plan office spaces for small business, key improvements to the main concert hall and a new self-contained and fully accessible community centre to the rear. An opportunity to create a rooftop bar/cafe with stunning views across the city has also been identified.

A remodelling of the front elevation and atrium spaces, to ‘greatly improve its appearance’ whilst creating a more accessible entry point, has also been drawn up. The striking renovation proposal for CCHall, originally built as a worshipping space, community centre and performance venue for over 800 guests, is waiting for local authority approval.

Robert Davies said: “Central Hall is a wonderful building and valuable cultural venue, and the proposed changes will help to enhance its role as an important public building and cultural centre for the people of Coventry.” Rev. Stephen Willey said the bold plans were all about serving the people of Coventry.

“We value every person regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity or anything else,” he said. “We also hope the CCHall can become a creative space for artists and all people to exploit their potential and artistic talent.”

A series of arts activities for the public, under the banner Art Summer Time, are being held as part of the building’s 90th birthday celebrations on Sunday. Pet Service welcomed all animals for a cheerful party and on May 12 a rearranged Christmas Cabaret will be staged ‘to warm ourselves up to celebrate the joyful day’.

A rooftop bar and cafe form part of striking new plans for Coventry Central Hall 

The five UK City of Culture artists in residence at the Hall will deliver music, digital arts and poetry and different workshops are being arranged for children and the elderly. Emilie Lauren Jones, Coventry poet laureate, said: “Central Hall offers a great, accessible space for community groups to meet.

“I have enjoyed running a series of poetry workshops there as well as several one-off workshops. Developing the building’s outward visibility will encourage others to discover the warmth and welcome on offer.”

Coventry University Architecture Degree Show

The Coventry University Degree show is making a welcome return after two years absence due to Covid 19.

As the Art and Design building is having a refit, this year’s show is being held at the university’s Foleshill studios on Foleshill Road on the corner of Cash’s Lane, CV1 4NR.

The exhibition of student work is open to the public from Monday 9th May to Saturday 14th May between 11am and 4pm.

In previous years the show has demonstrated some amazing student work and we encourage all CovSoc members to visit.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh and The Coventry Precinct

In May 1940, a month before the first minor air raids on Coventry, Donald Gibson, the city architect had put together an exhibition called the ‘Coventry of Tomorrow’. It focussed on an area that was planned to be the new civic centre located around the cathedral. Part of the exhibition was a small model showing the layout of the new area. The exhibition was a great success and had more than 5000 visitors.

After the Blitz, in November 1940, the perspective of the plans for the city centre had moved onto a much greater scale, given the extensive destruction caused by the bombing. Within a few months Gibson and his team produced their ideas by February 1941. However, as the Goulds describe in their study of post-war Coventry architecture, some of Gibson’s team had then entered the forces and the focus was on more urgent issues such as designing  prefab houses and housing estates.

Refreshed momentum for the precinct plans came with the donation in 1942 of £1,000 (£50,000 equivalent today) by Lord Iliffe, the founder of the Midland Daily Telegraph (later the Coventry Telegraph), for a model of the proposed city centre plans, along the lines that had been so successful at the 1940 exhibition. The work was given to Northampton model makers Bassett-Lowke Ltd. This work was mentioned in their 1947 model catalogue where the motivation was “to raise morale and that although the days ahead would be long and rough, there would rise, like Phoenix, a new and better Britain from the ashes of war”. (Bassett-Lowke was clearly a fan of the Coventry project and had earlier stated In 1943 that Mr Gibson is a man with a vision and his idea is to give England at least one city worthy of the nation’s great architectural traditions, nobly exemplified in parts of London, Bath and Cheltenham.)

A contemporary postcard of the model, captioned ‘Model of the New Coventry, showing the Central Market and Commercial Buildings. Scale 24 feet to the inch. At the bottom left corner is the acknowledgement to the model makers.

The model took two years to make owing to the pressure on the Northampton company for other government modelling war work. It was eventually completed by early 1944 and was viewed in June 1944 by seventy officials and members of Northampton Town Council, before being sent to Coventry. In October the following year a ‘Coventry of the Future’ exhibition was held in the Coventry Drill Hall, featuring the model. In the fortnight that it was open it attracted a fifth of the city’s population.

Gibson continued to use Bassett-Lowke’s firm. They constructed models of his innovative prefab housing to be used in Coventry. In January 1944, like the earlier town centre model, these were first presented to Northampton Town Council – another feather in the local company’s hat.

And the connection with Charles Rennie Mackintosh?  Wenmen Joseph Bassett-Lowke (1877-1953) founded the model making firm that took on the Coventry work, established at the turn of the century. When he got married during the First World War he moved into 78 Derngate, Northampton, an early nineteenth century town house. Being fascinated with all aspects of modern design (his later appreciation of Gibson’s work indicated this) he immediately had it remodelled. His contacts allowed him to persuade Charles Rennie Mackintosh to do the work. Mackintosh had already moved from his native Scotland to London a few years earlier. His fragile mental health meant he had done little work since moving and would do little more after 78 Durngate.

The entrance Room 78, Durngate, Northampton

This is the only surviving example of his interior design in England and, in parts, a remarkably prescient exploration of art deco style almost a decade before it was first established. Now fully restored and open to the public it’s worth the journey to Northampton (and take in the wonderful new Northampton museum – it’s free, unlike 78 Derngate!).

David Fry

CovSoc Response to Consultation on new Conservation Areas

The Coventry Society reported on the proposals for two new conservation areas in March. Plans for new Conservation Areas for Earlsdon and Brownshill Green were put out to public consultation on 23rd March. The consultation on the Appraisals, Management Plans and Article 4 Directions for both Conservation Areas closes today (4th May).

Earlsdon

The Society had participated in the preparatory work on the Earlsdon Conservation Area back in 2016. The Society is fully supportive of the proposals and the contents of the formal documents. Our response was as follows:

“As Coventry’s civic society, we are keen to support the proposal by Coventry City Council to declare a Conservation Area for Earlsdon.

“We believe that Earlsdon has a particular identity in the city as a late Victorian/Edwardian suburb that has remained largely intact. It is our view that Conservation Area status offers the best way of it staying that way.

“Alongside members of the Earlsdon Research Group, our members helped conduct the field work for the Conservation appraisal back in 2016 and we are pleased to see that particular attention has been paid to that work and to our views of what is worth preserving in Earlsdon.

“It is a matter of surprise to the Coventry Society that a Conservation Area for Earlsdon wasn’t declared a long time ago and we are delighted to see that that omission is being rectified now.”

Brownshill Green

The Society had not been involved in the preparation of the Brownshill Green documents, although some of the photos in the Appraisal were provided by one of our members.

We support the designation of the Conservation Area and acknowledge the careful analysis that has gone into the Appraisal.

However, we believe that the fields opposite the White Lion PH should be included within the boundary of the Conservation Area to give proper protection to this important green element of the Conservation Area, particularly in the light of the council’s plans to develop a housing scheme to the south.

We also made minor comments pointing out the omission of one of the negative elements in the environment (the overhead power lines} and suggesting the inclusion of two historic Coventry boundary posts on Hawkes Mill Lane and Wall Hill Road in the description of historic features.

We also pointed out some minor typographic errors.

We also support the content of the Management Plan and suggested the inclusion of an action to improve the signposting of the public footpaths from the main roads. We observed that that several footpaths from Wall Hill Road and Hawkes Mill Lane do not have finger posts and are quite well hidden. To support the interpretation of the area, the installation of finger posts would assist those not familiar with the area.

With regard to the Article 4 Direction we commented that we were surprised at the limited aspiration of the proposed Direction. The Conservation Area Appraisal identifies a number of interesting old buildings which are either only locally listed or have no protection at all. Bringing these buildings under planning control would be in the interests of the Conservation Area management.  We asked the council to consider whether the Order might be extended to include other permitted developments that would otherwise not be controlled.

The trackway to the former Brownshill Green Farm – not protected by the Conservation Area.