Bikes, bikes everywhere – but only in the Netherlands!

bike-garage-2-1 - CopyIn the second of our stories focused on the Dutch city of Utrecht we look at the cycling infrastructure of the city.

Utrecht is a bit like Coventry, located in the centre of the country. It is the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands and has a population of 347.574 compared to Coventry’s population 360,100. In the past few years, Utrecht has been committed to improving its urban sustainability with a wide range of environmental projects.

Beneath the railway station in Utrecht lies the world’s biggest bicycle garage which can accommodate a staggering 12,500 bikes.

bike-garage-3 - CopyThe 17,100 sq metre Cycle Park project focuses on three main design aspects of convenience, speed and safety. With this in mind, the plan was to separate it into units for parking and paths, marked in red, which safely navigate users around the garage without bumping into each other. Covering three levels, the cycle lanes incorporate slow ramps, allowing cyclists to pedal from their parking slot at the bottom all the way to the ground level square. It is free for the first 24 hours and then rises to E1.25 a day thereafter.

Another interesting cycling project in Utrecht is this 110 metre cycle bridge over the Amsterdam-Rhine canal. The bridges doubles as the roof of a school opened to the public last year.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 18.40.11 - CopyThe dream of the cyclists came true when a number of countries like Denmark and the Netherlands paid more attention to “Bridges and Passageways Only for Bikes”.

A bridge like this would be great in Coventry connecting the city centre with the Canal Basin.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 18.41.40 - CopyIn Utrecht 43% of all journeys less than 7.5 km are undertaken by bike, an increase from 40% five years ago. In the Netherlands as a whole there are 1.3 bikes for every person! But this huge level of bike usage hasn’t come about by accident. The climate in the Netherlands is similar to Britain and whilst people say that the Netherlands is flat, it isn’t all flat and the winds in Holland are known as the Dutch hills. The big difference is one of policy and incentives.

Dutch people use their bikes instead of their cars because it’s more practical and economic to do so. Who can forget those old photos of Coventry factories at the end of the shift with hundreds of bike users waiting to cycle home. But in Britain we have turned our back on the bicycle and all of our policy approaches have been about making the city more usable by motorists. However this is all set to change. With the city and the whole country committed to reducing carbon emissions and reducing NOX pollution the humble bicycle might quickly be making a comeback and we couldn’t go far wrong in following the leadership of a city such as Utrecht.

Next CovSoc Meeting – Ben Flippance

Ben Flippance – IDP Architects

The next meeting of the Coventry Society is to be held on:

Monday 9th September 2019 at 7.30 p.m.

The will be a talk by Ben Flippance of IDP Architects

Ben will share his ‘Thoughts on the influence of Autonomous Vehicles on City space and Community function’. This will focus on some key opportunities for public realm, and strategies for community retention.

Ben Flippance is the Design Director of IDP Architects based in their Coventry Office, and part time design panel member and competition judge and has a strong academic relationship with Coventry University School of Architecture. Ben specialises in urban design, masterplanning and architecture of large communities and works nationwide for land owners, developers and government agencies from strategic planning level to construction.

In addition to Ben’s talk, there will be a vote on Coventry’s Favourite Conservation Area and CovSoc committee member and local historian Peter Walters will be selling signed copies of his latest book “The Little History of Coventry”. The book is normally retailed at £12 but there will be a reduced price of £10 for people attending the meeting.

The meeting will be held at the Shopfront Theatre, City Arcade. All Welcome; free for members, £2 donation for guests and visitors.

The Bus Stop Bee Sanctuaries of Utrecht

BeestopThis Is the first of a short series of stories where we profile some of the environmental and design innovations of the Dutch city of Utrecht.

Utrecht is the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands. It is located in the centre of the country, a bit like Coventry. It has a population of 347,574 compared to Coventry’s population 360,100.

In the past few years, the city has been committed to improve its urban biodiversity and sustainability with projects such as a vertical forest, an energy-neutral hockey clubhouse and a 110-meter-long bicycle bridge. Another project is the new central railway station which accommodates a staggering 12,500 bikes within an underground bicycle garage; the three story cycle parking facility has been constructed with the notion of promoting Utrecht as a sustainable city. If they can do it why can’t Coventry which is the same size and has a similar central location?

But first the bees!

358 bee species live in the Netherlands according to statistics, but more than half of them are on the Dutch endangered species list. To fight the bee population decline, 316 bus stops have been re-designed as Bee Stops! These green hubs are essentially bus stops with grass and wildflowers on the roof that aim to encourage pollination. The idea is to attract the threatened insects as well as capturing fine dust and storing rainwater. The project was created by the Utrecht Council, with support from the city’s biodiversity team.

Mainly composed of sedum plants, the green roofs require little water and maintenance to survive. As for the human-cantered design, the bus stops feature energy-efficient LED lights powered by windmills. The roofs are looked after by workers who drive around in electric vehicles. Utrecht also runs a scheme which allows residents to apply for funding to transform their own roofs into green roofs.

More stories about Utrecht’s journey to sustainability in future news stories. Come back soon!

The Carvings on the Butts College


IMG_7285_edited-1Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, reflects on the carvings at the front of the former Butts College, which is now a Premium Inn.

“I have always been interested with the round relief carvings on the front of the Butt’s College. I found out that they were designed by Walter Ashworth who had an interesting and varied life which I thought might be of interest to others.”

Walter Ashworth was born on 31st August 1883 in Rochdale, Lancashire. He trained and worked as a cabinet maker. He did not join the long-established family boot and shoe making and selling business. Instead he trained and had a career as a cabinet maker.

At the age of 27 Walter became a student at The Royal College of Art. He got married to Alice Healey and two year later had a daughter, Joan, in 1914. He became an Art Master in Ipswich and a member of the Ipswich Art Club between 1913-1916.

Walter Ashworth PreparingfortheBallet

He was a conscientious objector during the First World War and was very much looked down upon by friends and family, who would accuse him of treason and cowardice for not joining the Forces. He did work on a farm which made him eligible for exemption but this ended in September 1916 and he applied to do other work of national importance making artificial limbs. He found work in Balham, London and worked with Edward Walter Hobbs, one of the foremost makers of moving artificial limbs in World War 1. He worked mainly on arms and hands with moving fingers.

In a letter to Walter dated 28 November 1917 Flying Officer, Bernard A. B. Shore (77 Squadron Royal Flying Corps) wrote, ‘The fingers are working marvellously well… I just spent a few minutes at my old hospital the other day. The Matron and Sisters there were simply astonished at them.’

The photograph of the Hobbs-type artificial left hand held at the Science Museum is similar to that described by Bernard Shore:

“Painted flesh coloured for a realistic appearance, the index and middle finger of this prosthetic left hand are jointed and can move towards the thumb, which along with the other two fingers is immobile for the growing number of amputees returning from fighting the First World War. Hobbs applied for a patent for this design in 1918. Improvements and innovations in the design and materials of artificial limbs occurred during the First World War, during which over 41,000 British servicemen lost one or more limbs.”

Walter Ashworth false hands
After the war in 1919 Walter Ashworth returned to teaching and in 1926 (aged 43) he became Principal of Coventry Municipal Art School.

Carnival Night War Memorial Park

Coventry Technical College was having a new building built. Known as the Butts College it was a mechanical based institution. This building had been on the drawing board for a long time but the First World War had held things up. Work started in 1933; the architects A. W. Hoare were building it on a grand scale, like a Royal Palace. It was opened by the Duke of York, who would later become King George VI in 1935.

Around 1935 they asked Walter Ashworth, the principal of the Coventry Art College, to design the artwork to be carved of the front of the entrance, symbols of the new industries of Coventry. For young apprentice students who were going to be tutored in – electronics, telecommunications, engineering, aviation, arithmetic, geometry and technical drawing.

Walter did his designs of the roundels with complex imagery. One is of a flying eagle over an aeroplane propeller, a falling star or comet, gears, a steering wheel and a laurel leaf. Another is a side view of a winged head of Mercury, with stylised sound waves emerging from his mouth and others going into the ear, with a telephone and two stars. The other roundel, of the same size, it has a bicycle chain running around the outside with a Micrometer, an eye, a hand with a pencil and three drill bits, symbolises Coventry’s engineering heritage.

There are also four smaller carved roundels at the top: a ball-bearing race, measuring calipers with a micrometer, a watch escapement and a cutting rotary saw. It appears Walter did not carve the roundels himself.

Walter was a Rotarian and the Chairman of the Warwickshire Society of Artists, giving many addresses to the Society and exhibiting watercolours in their exhibitions. He exhibited several works in the Royal Academy and was a War Artist in Coventry during World War 2.

Pictures held by Coventry Art Gallery and Museum include street scenes and the hospital and Cathedral after bombing raids. They are used in exhibitions about Coventry in World War 2.

His self-portrait ‘Through the Mirror’ was exhibited at the Coventry and Warwickshire Society of Artists exhibition in September 1949.

Walter Ashworth Through the Mirror

Walter Ashworth died at 72 Stoneleigh Avenue, Coventry on 20 September 1952, aged 69 years.

Is a Clean Air Zone coming to Coventry?


There has been a lot in the local newspapers and their online websites about the plans to create a clean air charging zone in Coventry, although one newspaper has mistakenly called it a Congestion Zone. The Coventry Socialist Party has set up an online petition against congestion charges, which at the time of writing has 6411 signatures on it.

The UK has been referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to take enough action to prevent breaches of NOx pollution limits. The UK’s Supreme Court also ordered the Government to go further in its measures to combat pollution.

In London a Congestion Zone has been in operation for several years and an Ultra Low Emission Zone was introduced in April of this year, with a £12.50 daily charge for cars entering the zone if they don’t meet strict emission standards.

In 2018 Coventry was named as one of 22 towns and cities within the UK where Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels are forecast to exceed legal limits by 2020. In February of this year the City Council submitted plans to address the issue, which included putting restrictions on Holyhead Road and closing Coundon Road as well as a raft of proposals to encourage the use of low emitting vehicles, such as electric taxis and clean buses as well as new cycling and walking routes.

However DEFRA, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, rejected the Council’s plans as they would not achieve the necessary improvements soon enough. It threatened instead to impose a Clean Air Charging Zone.

The principle of a Clean Air Zone is to charge drivers for using the most polluting vehicles and thereby speed up the replacement of older vehicles with newer, less polluting, ones. Unfortunately the most polluted areas of Coventry are also the neighbourhoods where the poorest people live – the people least able to afford to replace their vehicles with newer ones.

An indicative map of a possible charging zone published in the Coventry Telegraph shows that most of Foleshill and Hillfields would be included, as well as parts of Stoke and Coundon (see map below). Charges of £8 per day for cars have been suggested for entering the zone. The charges would be a regressive form of taxation and the Council is reluctant to impose such taxation.


As the zone would also completely encompass the city centre, it would also have an adverse impact on businesses in the city and would be a big knock to the Council’s ambitious plans to regenerate the city centre. There are also 52,000 employees who work in the CAZ, along with 3,610 small businesses.

Colin Knight, the Council’s Director of Transportation and Highways tells us:

“Part of the ministerial direction required us to submit revised modelling and proposals which is what we have done. It is our belief (as it always has been) that a charging clean air zone in Coventry is totally unnecessary and would be damaging to the city’s economy. We believe our latest submission to government proves beyond reasonable doubt that a charging zone is not necessary to address the city’s air quality issues. We are awaiting an official response from government in response to our latest submission. The problem is that the date when they say they will get back to us keeps changing because of Brexit etc. So it is difficult to say any more at this stage as you will appreciate.”

We understand that the Council’s new proposals do not include the unpopular closure of Coundon Road at the level crossing.

The Coventry Society supports the aim of cleaning up the city’s air and we support the Council’s approach of seeking to achieve this without imposing a Clean Air Zone, which would be a regressive form of taxation and potentially damage the city economically.

Coventry’s Favourite Conservation Area

Hill Top Conservation Area

Our umbrella organisation, Civic Voice, holds an annual competition to find England’s favourite Conservation Area. This year we thought that we would submit an entry for Coventry. We decided that rather than identify the entry ourselves we would ask Coventry people what they think. But do Coventry people know anything about the Conservation Areas in our city? We need to find out!

Do you know what a conservation area is?
Do you know how many Conservation Areas Coventry has?
Do you know whether any of Coventry’s Conservation Areas are “At risk”?

So what is a Conservation Area?

A conservation area is an area of special architectural or historical interest where the character and appearance needs to be protected or improved.

Making an area a Conservation Area shows the Council is committed to these areas and to protecting them. The Council carries out research and consultation with people living and owning property in the area before designating an area as one. Conservation areas are not museums but living communities, and so the aim is to guide and control development rather than prevent it.

The Council has powers to:

  • Control new development – the expectation is that there will be a very high standard of design, which is sympathetic to the existing environment. New development must make a positive contribution to the character of the area.
  • Control minor development – In a conservation area you need planning permission for certain changes to buildings, which would normally be allowed under permitted development rights.
  • Control demolition – Conservation area consent is needed for the demolition of all or part of most buildings and structures, including walls and outhouses. As a general rule, buildings that make a positive contribution to the character or appearance of a conservation area, will be kept, although the Council does not always do this, as demonstrated by the demolition of the Coventry Cross.
  • Protect trees – Anyone planning to cut down, reduce the height or canopy of a tree over a certain size in a conservation area, whether or not it is covered by a tree preservation order, has to give six weeks’ notice to the Council.
  • Control advertisements – Special restrictions apply to the display of adverts in conservation areas.
  • Control of satellite dishes – Special restrictions apply to putting up satellite dishes in conservation areas.
  • Carry out urgent work – the Council has the power to carry out urgent work needed to preserve any vacant building that has fallen into serious disrepair in a conservation area, and to recover the cost from the owner.

The Council can also introduce an Article 4 direction which gives extra protection to certain conservation areas. This means that even minor alterations could require planning permission.

So how many Conservation Areas Does Coventry have?

There are 16 conservation areas in Coventry. These areas are all different, but have buildings, structures or features of historic or architectural value in them that create a special environment.

  • Allesley Village – declared 20 December 1968, extended 29 November 1994.
  • Kenilworth Road – declared 20 December 1968, extensions agreed 6 September 1978, minor extensions / boundary adjustments approved 6 January 2004.
  • Stoke Green, – declared 20 December 1968, extension and other minor boundary adjustments approved 6 January 2004.
  • Greyfriars Green – declared 8 August 1969, extended 6 April 1977.
  • Hill Top – declared 8 August 1969, minor boundary adjustment approved 6 January 2004 and further boundary amendments approved 11 December 2014.
  • Lady Herbert’s Garden and the Burges – declared 8 August 1969 extended 6 April 1977, minor boundary adjustment approved 6 January 2004, and the boundary amended for a third time 11 December 2014.
  • Spon Street – declared 8 August 1969, extension to north and other minor boundary adjustments approved 6 January 2004.
  • Hawkesbury Junction – declared 14 September 1976, jointly with Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council.
  • Chapelfields – declared 9 November 1976.
  • London Road – declared 5 April 1977.
  • High Street – declared 12 October 1982.
  • Ivy Farm Lane (Canley Hamlet) – declared 16 November 1989, minor boundary adjustments approved 6 January 2004.
  • Far Gosford Street – declared 21 October 1992.
  • Naul’s Mill – declared 10 September 2003.
  • Spon End – declared 10 September 2003.
  • Coventry Canal – declared 19 June 2012.
Allesley Village Conservation Area

Are any Conservation Areas at risk?

Historic England published an annual statement of heritage buildings and areas that are at risk. The latest edition was published in 2018. In that document three of Coventry’s Conservation Areas were declared to be “at risk”.

Lady Herbert’s Garden: condition described as being “Very Bad” with a trend “Deteriorating significantly” but vulnerability is described as “Low”.

London Road: condition described as “Very Bad” with a trend of “Improving” and vulnerability as “Low”

Naul’s Mill: condition described as “Poor”, trend as “deteriorating” and vulnerability as “Low”.

So what is your favourite Conservation Area in Coventry?

The Last Hanging in Coventry

150 years ago this month Mary Ball was hanged outside Coventry County Court. She was the last person to be hanged in the city.

The story is a sad one. Mary was very poor and in an unhappy and violent marriage. Five of her six children had died. One day after her husband came home from fishing he ate bread and a bowl of thin stew known as gruel. Not long after eating it he felt ill with stomach pains. The doctor arrived and said that it was inflammation of the bowels. The next day the doctor came again to find him dead and issued a death certificate stating his death was from natural causes.

But gossip and suspicion led the authorities to interrogate Mary and she change her statement a few times, each one more damming. She said she had bought a pennyworth of Arsenic to kill bed bugs (a normal thing to do then). Could the poison have been mixed up with some salt that ended up in the meal by accident or had she had enough of her husband’s violence?

An autopsy was performed by Dr. Prouse and Mr George Shaw, Professor of Chemistry at Queen’s College, Birmingham. This found between two and three grains of arsenic in Thomas’ stomach and thus on the 22nd of May Mary was charged with his murder. Mary was tried at the Coventry Summer Assizes held in the County Hall before Mr. Justice Coleridge on the 28th of July 1849, the case taking just over ten hours to hear. The jury convicted her after two hours of deliberation, adding a recommendation of mercy. When Mr. Justice Coleridge asked them why, they could offer no reason and then returned a verdict of guilty to wilful murder. At that time having a violent husband was no defence!

She was then sentenced to death and returned to prison to await execution. In the condemned cell Mary was visited by the prison chaplain, the Rev. Chapman, but he became frustrated by Mary’s refusal to confess to the murder and on the 4th of August held her bare arm over a lighted candle, causing burns and blistering. News of this disgraceful behaviour reached the governor of the Coventry prison and Rev. Chapman was dismissed from the prison service. The following day Mary reportedly made a confession.

Asked what made her do it, Mary could only say: “My husband was in the habit of going with other women, and used me so ill – no one knows what I have suffered.”

Mary’s execution was thus set for Thursday, the 9th of August and she was duly returned to Coventry. She was led the New Drop gallows set up in front of County Hall in Cuckoo Lane just before 10 am. A crowd estimated at between 15 and 20,000 people had come from miles around to watch. She was hanged by William Calcraft, assisted by James Japhcote and appeared to die easily.

Plaque outside County Hall

Mary was buried within the prison grounds. This would be the last execution at Coventry and there is a plaque on the wall of County Hall commemorating it.

The Death Mask of Mary Bell

As was not uncommon at that time a death mask of Mary’s face was made and this is still on display at the West Midlands Police Museum in Coventry (see photo above). Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, has added eyes and skin colour and put it on a photo of a woman dressed in the style of that time in order to give an impression of what Mary would have looked like (see photo below).

Recreation of the image of Mary Bell by Paul Maddocks

The Society is concerned about the state of maintenance of the old County Court building (now the Slug and Lettuce). The building is looking a bit sad with a broken rain down pipe that has been like this for many months and the building is getting damp. We have reported our concerns to the owner and the City Council.

Damaged rainwater pipes at County Hall