Coventry Railway Station update

The new station building, multi-storey car park, and taxi drop off point at the Coventry Railway station will now open in the New Year.

Over £80 million has been invested in Coventry railway station, one of the fastest-growing stations outside London to ensure it can meet future passenger growth.

As well as the new station building and multi-storey car park which has ticketing facilities, retail units and access to all the platforms there is also a new taxi loop, an extension of, and improvements to, the boulevard and a transport interchange on Warwick Road with a direct link to the new building. Improvements have also now been made to Warwick Road and there is a new Western Link Road between Westminster Road and the ring road slip. There is also additional cycle parking at the new building.

The design and build contractor, Buckingham Group Contracting Limited (Buckingham), has completed all of the build work and is now in the final stages of ensuring that the building is ready to be passed to the Council.

Also complete is the artwork on the windows designed by Christopher Tipping.

Christopher has written a blog on LinkedIn “How did I get here? 20 short stories from an artist commission – Coventry Station 2021”. In twenty episodes Christopher writes about the Coventry things that influenced his choice of 100 motifs for the mural and the thinking, designing and refining that led to the final design of the mural.  

ReTurner Prize 2021 – Reusing Coventry Empty Buildings

Our founder member Paul Maddocks wrote this article for the CAN (Community Action for Neighbourhoods) newsletter. Paul playfully asks whether there should be an award for the restoration of some of our amazing buildings. Paul writes….

Yes, Coventry does have some empty buildings, but slowly some buildings are being restored and put back into use. We should be celebrating this. That is why it would be nice to have an award each year for the best ‘ReTurner Prize’ (thank you for John Greatrex for the title).

We have nominated five buildings or groups of buildings we feel have benefited from receiving new blood and now have a future.

In no particulate order we start off with the old Coventry Evening Telegraph building that was destined to be pulled down for student accommodation. This lovely ‘Festival of Britain style’ building on the corner of Upper Well Street and Corporation Street has been turned into a fantastic hotel that recently was listed in the Top 100 best hotels in England by the Sunday Times. Luxury that Coventry deserves, it’s like stepping into a film set for the TV programme ‘Mad Men’.

The next building is the old Co-op on Corporation Street across the road from the Belgrade Theatre. This very large shop closed due to out-of-town and on-line shopping. This too is a ‘Festival of Britain design’ – it could have gone to be student flats. But it is now luxury apartments upstairs and amazing cafes and restaurants on the ground floor, bringing new life into this area of the city.

The next is a small group of very historic building, the Priory Cottages and the surviving city wall gates which all have been restored and made into overnight ‘Airbnb’ hire apartments. Bookings for the rooms began at the end of November.

Again a great plus to Coventry’s offer for luxury overnight accommodation. All profits will feed back in to the Historic Coventry Trust that then will be used to restore and run other historic buildings in the city.

We then come to Drapers Hall, built by the very wealthy city Drapers as a gentleman’s club and meeting place. Closed for around 35 years only used for a few occasional events. It is now an amazing grand building that will be the centre for music education, rehearsals and live performances. Many different styles of music are planned from classical through to jazz and many more, check out the list of performances which has already started. (Our new Town hall?)

And now we come to the most interesting “re-turn”- that’s the Litten Tree Buildings, upstarts above the Litten Tree Public House. It’s been closed for many years and the building has only until November 2022 when it will be demolished to make way for the ‘City Centre South’ development.

But in the meantime the top three floors have been cleared and made into art and public exhibition space by Alan Denyer and his team of volunteers. Open free it has a series of various events and exhibitions that have highlighted the need for more public exhibition space in the city that encourages struggling artist and performers.

So, we could have picked other projects and buildings but we like to kept it to just the five, to focus on the quality and imagination of them all.

2022?

So what buildings would you like to see on a list for 2022? The Old Swimming Baths and Sport Centre ‘the elephant building’, Priory Visitor Centre, the old Toy Museum, or Whitefriars? What would you want to see them become? Please send in your suggestions to Mailto:info@coventrysociety.org.uk

Support Tree Wardens’ Drive to Plant Cherry Trees in Caludon Park

Our friends the Coventry Tree Wardens have put in a grant application to plant a cherry avenue to brighten up Caludon Park. This application is dependant on public support.

Covid makes it difficult to approach people in person, so they have set up a petition on the Council website.

The text of the petition reads: “We the undersigned petition the Council to support the Coventry Tree Wardens in their bid on behalf of the Council to plant an avenue of cherry trees in Caludon Park. The park lacks colour and we feel that this would be a great improvement and would encourage more visitors, especially in Springtime.” The petition is open until the 15th January 2022.

Please help them by signing it here.

The Hospital of St. John

Our Chair, Peter Walters, told us the history of the Old Grammar School at the last CovSoc meeting on Monday 13th December. We had hoped to give this talk in the OGS but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Peter writes…..

An unlikely partnership between sworn enemies in early medieval Coventry has left the modern city with one of its oldest standing buildings.

Back in the 1170s, the powerful Benedictine Prior Laurence gave land ‘between the bridges’ on which to found a hospital to offer care and shelter to poor travellers.

The driving spirit for the hospital, a mark of Coventry’s growing emergence as a town, was Archdeacon Edmund, a senior canon from Coventry’s new cathedral. And the monks and canons had been at daggers drawn for decades.

The Hospital of St John was established initially with ten staff from the Benedictine order to look after up to twenty travellers in need of help, and before long was ministering to local poor folk as well.

What survives is the hospital’s chapel, dating from around 1340, a fragment of a complex that once stretched from its Bishop Street frontage to Swanswell Pool.

As time went by, local benefactors played an increasingly important role in supporting the hospital. For example, in 1444 it was agreed that John and Margaret Blakeman should endow one bed near to the door of the church, although their covenant stressed that it was not for the use of ‘any mad, quarrelsome, leprous, infected or loose person wandering about at night’.

One hundred years later, on 4 March 1544, the hospital was surrendered to King Henry VIII’s commissioners, and the following year, John Hales, a former royal civil servant, bought it, along with the site of the Priory Cathedral and Whitefriars, for £400.

There was considerable local resentment at the purchase and Hales was accused of dragging his feet in founding a free school in the king’s name, a condition, it was said, of being allowed to buy monastic property.

That was almost certainly true, but by the 1550s the free school had been set up, first at Whitefriars and then in the old hospital, with fourteenth century choir stalls brought in to act as desks for the pupils.

Nevertheless, Hales was still under fire in 1565, when Queen Elizabeth I, making her only visit to Coventry, paused on her way into the city from the Bishop Street gate and made a small donation to the school library. The Queen had the claims investigated but they remained unproven.

By 1602, the school was offering scholars in the town, as well as its own pupils, access to its library, giving Coventry, alongside Norwich, a claim to be among the first towns to create what was in effect a public library.

Among the teachers at King Henry VIII School, from 1608, was Philemon Holland, dubbed England’s Translator General for his work in turning the texts of classical writers like Pliny and Plutarch into English.

Holland taught at the school for twenty years, numbering among his pupils John and Christopher Davenport, respectively a Puritan founder of the New Haven colony in America and the Franciscan chaplain to the wives of both Charles I and II, and Sir William Dugdale, antiquarian and fervent Royalist who as a royal herald had the uncomfortable task of banging on the city gates in 1642, demanding that King Charles I should be allowed to enter.

Over the next two hundred years, the building, and its library, experienced declining fortunes.

In 1794, as part of work to widen the Burges, the west front was demolished and re-built and part of the library was destroyed. By the 1830s it was said that boys were burning books from the library to keep warm, and in 1848 the imposing timber range to the south was torn down to create Hales Street.

Among the boys educated there in the Old Grammar School’s final decades was John Fisher, later much better known as ‘Jackie’ Fisher, First Sea Lord and the man credited with creating the modern Royal Navy.

Finally, in 1885, following the school’s relocation to Warwick Road, the building was put up for sale and thanks to a public appeal was purchased by Holy Trinity Church, although not before a wealthy American had expressed an interest in buying it and transporting it, stone by stone, to the United States.

The Old Grammar School became the St Katherine’s Mission Room for Holy Trinity and was later used by a number of organisations, including the Boys’ Brigade, before, in recent times, falling empty and at risk from vandals.

At least one attempt was made to set the interior on fire and for many years it remained on English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ register. It’s something of a miracle that it survived to undergo the restoration of the past ten years.

Let’s hope that a lot more uses can be found for it in the future and that more people in Coventry can get to know another wonderful example of the city’s medieval heritage.

Council to ensure private landlords meet energy efficiency standards

The Council has successfully appointed two new members of staff to help private landlords to meet the requirements of national energy efficiency standards.

The Council made a successful bid from the Government for grant funding of the new posts earlier this year.

As of April 2020, landlords in England and Wales should ensure that privately rented properties reach a minimum of band Energy Performance Certificate band E.

Following the appointment of two posts – a Council enforcement intelligence officer and housing enforcement officer – it means that properties failing to meet energy efficiency standards will be under more scrutiny, and action will be taken were necessary.

The types of properties that will be checked were recently highlighted in Bablake Ward where there is a high number of properties with low levels of energy efficiency, resulting in higher costs for tenants and a higher environmental impact.

A property in band F or G may only have single glazing windows or electric-only heating.

The two new officers will work with landlords whose housing fails to meet the criteria, helping to advise on ways of increasing energy efficiency, which could be things like installing double glazing instead of single, insulating walls or even using things like draught excluders.

If the advice is ignored, then enforcement action would be the next step.

Councillor David Welsh, Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities, said: “This is positive for people who privately rent, particularly in Bablake Ward, because it means tenants get a higher standard of energy efficiency.

“This should then result in lower bills and warmer housing, and we will enforce if landlords fail to meet this criteria.

“Lower energy bills for tenants is absolutely vital, but especially now when we’re discussing ways of lessening our environmental impact. Houses that don’t need to be heated as often use less energy, and less energy being used, and warmer homes, is a win-win for everyone.

“I’d like to encourage anyone in the city who thinks a property may not fit the criteria to get in touch with us so we can see if we can give any support.”

Please report any concerns about poor energy efficiency in rented properties via our online reporting form, calling 02476 975 495 or emailing housingenforcement@coventry.gov.uk

For more information on the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards, please go to www.coventry.gov.uk/mees.