Coventry’s Favourite Conservation Area – the Results

Today we announce the results of our campaign to find Coventry’s Favourite Conservation Area. After a three week online campaign, which included over 100 social media posts, and a vote at a meeting of the Coventry Society, we finally made the choice about which Conservation Area to submit for Civic Voice’s England’s Favourite Conservation Area competition. Last year this was won by Swindon’s Railway Village.

Coventry’s favourite Conservation Area is (roll of drums and suitable delay etc) – Hilltop – Coventry’s Cathedral Quarter.

Hill Top Conservation Area

People asked for the reasons why they voted for Hilltop said:

  • Every time I walk up Hill Top treading on those cobbles I get goose pimples, I feel I have gone back in time. I feel it is very atmospheric.
  • Beautiful buildings; historic heart of the city; represents a thread of history through the ages; needs much more recognition locally, regionally, nationally. Currently does not have the recognition it deserves and this needs to be rectified.
  • This is a beautiful place with a unique combination of new and old, reconciliation, culture, tolerance and respect for everybody.
  • Beautiful area in the heart of Coventry, that the Council planners have not destroyed yet.
  • Largely unspoiled historic area of city.
  • Historic and iconic.
  • Because it’s so beautiful, and it has so many interesting buildings from different periods in one location in our city.
  • Because it is a quarter, of the two cathedrals, the Guildhall, the cobbled lanes and the Herbert.
  • It’s an area that has survived over all the years and where the city grew from, the Cathedrals the guild hall the timber frame buildings – it’s just amazing.
  • This is the most historic part of Coventry as a unit left standing. It also contains a world heritage site and is widely known.
  • It is the essence of medieval Coventry.


The runner up was Stoke Green, which wows local residents with its beautiful parks and avenues and sense of community.

In third place was Lady Herbert’s Garden and the Burges. Support for this area was tainted by concern about the current state of the area.

The next stage will be for the Society to put forward a strong case for Hill Top being England’s favourite Conservation Area. We believe that we have a strong case. In 1976 it was given “outstanding status” by the Department of the Environment. There are more listed buildings in the Conservation Area than almost anywhere else in the country and the submission is backed by the people of Coventry.

But our involvement in this campaign is not just a “bit of fun”. The Coventry Society is seriously concerned about the future of our Conservation Areas in the absence of a Conservation Officer or any paid staff working in Conservation in the city.

There are two important elements in the planning system that are required for a Conservation Area.

  • A Conservation area appraisal document. This document records the special architectural and historical interest of the designated (or proposed) area and identifies opportunities for enhancement.
  • A Management Plan presents Proposals and Actions that will guide and manage future change, enhancement and preservation of a Conservation Area.

The designation of a Conservation Area is only a useful planning tool if it’s Appraisal and Management Plan are up to date and relevant. Otherwise developers can pretty much get away with anything. The city’s previous Conservation Officer had introduced a programme for reviewing and updating all of the Appraisals and Management Plans for the city. Before his unfortunate departure the society supported his review and updating of the Hill Top and Lady Herbert’s Garden and the Burges Conservation Areas. In his absence no further reviews have taken place.

As well as updating the Appraisals and Management Plans the Conservation Officer’s role is to prepare the documentation for additional Conservation Areas. The recently approved Coventry Local Plan proposed two new Conservation Areas in the city: Earlsdon and Brownshill Green. Work has already commenced on the appraisal of the Earlsdon Area. Following a public petition the Conservation Officer organised community workshops in 2016. Many members of the Coventry Society and local community participated in training workshops and the appraisal of streets in Earlsdon. However this work has not been progressed since the departure of the Conservation Officer.

No work has progressed at all on the designation of the Brownshill Green conservation area appraisal.

The Coventry Society is willing to support the City Council with the designation and updating of the City’s conservation areas but it cannot do this on its own and the appointment of a new Conservation Officer is becoming a priority for the city.

Another task of a Conservation Officer is to recommend action to address Conservation Areas that have been designated by Historic England as being “At risk”. Currently there are three Conservation Areas in the city that have been so defined. These are Lady Herbert’s Garden, London Road and Naul’s Mill. Two of these areas are within the city’s Heritage Action Zone and there are prospects for their improvement. However for the third meeting running, nobody from the City Council turned up for the last meeting of this multi-million pound project. What is going on???

It’s time for the City Council to get its act together on conservation!

The Vertical Forests of Utrecht

In the third and final story about Utrecht we look at a couple of other environmental projects that the city has sponsored or supported.

The first is a 90m high residential tower block designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti. This attempts to create, in Utrecht city centre, “an innovative experience of cohabitation between city and nature”.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 18.31.51The Utrecht Vertical Forest will host on its façades around 10,000 plants of different species (360 trees, 9,640 shrubs and flowers), equal to 1 ha of woodland.
Once realised, the “Wonder woods” will contribute to the absorption of more than 5.4 tons of CO2.

A second project is a clubhouse for a local hockey club. The project’s program can be roughly divided into two parts — the changing rooms and everything that supports them, and the clubhouse itself. The changing rooms are partially underground, while the clubhouse volume is placed on top, allowing for beautiful views of the fields — the raised ground level serves as a terrace and stand.

img_11_1549380991_75a05ab3f7ec7e7738e043086ff1b2a4The basement is designed in concrete, the light exterior with a wooden cladding contrasts nicely with it and stands like a pavilion on the basement. The field side is kept as transparent as possible with glass fronts that can open in the summer, so that inside and outside flow into each other. In order to accentuate the subordinate function of the other façade openings, the view is filtered through slats.

The layout of the clubhouse is divided into different spaces that can be opened and closed according to the required use — it is flexible and suitable for different ways of use and number of people present. The solar panels on the roof and the heat pumps ensure that the building generates more energy than it uses. The main field features LED lighting — as soon as the traditional lighting of the other fields is replaced by LED, the entire complex is expected to become energy-neutral.

Lonely Planet recently included Utrecht in the top 10 of the world’s unsung places. This short series of articles perhaps explains why. There is much for Coventry to learn as we move to the low carbon future.

The Little History of Coventry by Peter Walters


Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, reviews a book written by one of our own members, Peter Walters. Let’s hope they are still friends!

Paul writes…

‘The Little History of Coventry’ – yes it is little as the title says, but this lovely hard backed book with its deep red ribbon bookmark is a nice and handy size that can easily fit into your side pocket or hand bag. But what hides among its 193 pages are fascinating stories bursting to get out. Best of all – it’s full of things about Coventry! The story takes us from its early beginnings with Lady Godiva and the Earl of Leofric, through the growth of the Benedictine Priory of St. Mary into a large and powerful Cathedral. The growth of other monastic orders of the Greyfriars’, the Whitefriars’ and the silent order of the Carthusian’s at the Charterhouse monastery to the Cistercians out at Coombe Abbey – they all played a major part in the growth and wealth of the city.

The book lists the surprising number of different Kings and Queens that have been involved with this city due to its wealth, central location in the country and its defensive walls. It also covers the people who have played a major part in forging this city into what it is today, as well as its trade guilds and various religions, companies, societies and clubs.

The book describes the many industries that have been the back bone of the city such as the early woollen weaving and dyeing of cloth which led to the expression ‘true as Coventry Blue’. The silk ribbon weaving industry and many precision craft based industries like watch and clock making. It was its small manufacturing of high quality precision items that allowed Coventry to quickly change to manufacturing other engineered goods like sewing machines, cycles, motorcycles, cars, aeroplanes, machine tools and anything new.

I also like the more recent history of people like George Hodgkinson who played such a big role in Coventry before and after the Blitz and the rebuilding of the city, onto the big players in Coventry’s economy the city’s two universities, Warwick and Coventry.

The book is neatly laid out with easy to access subjects and will be a very good ‘go to first’ reference book. This timing of the book is very good with the up and coming City of Culture 2021. It puts Coventry’s background of where we came from and where we may be going to into focus. I hope schools that do not usually learn about local history can find this book a good way into getting their student to appreciate their city and learn about the importance of our history and culture.

Through the dark times of war and famine the city has always been able to rise like the phoenix. As they say from Boom time to Ghost town and back again, a roller coaster through the history of Coventry.

The book is truly an eye-opening journey through the events and characters that have shaped Coventry and its story and made the city one of England’s hidden jewels.

I think Peter Walter the author and fellow Coventry Society member has truly made himself a Coventry citizen, though he is not a native, but it sometimes takes an outsider to point out our strengths and our positives and Peter has done a great job with this lovely little book – a must for everyone in this year’s Christmas stocking.

Paul Maddocks

Peter Walters will be attending the next meeting of the Coventry Society at 7.30 p.m. on Monday 9th September and will be selling signed copies of this book at a substantial reduction.

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.