Moving the Cross!

People who read the local press will be aware of the plans of the City Council to move the reconstructed Coventry Cross from its current location next to Holy Trinity Church in order to facilitate a private development.

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There is a current planning application to demolish the Coventry Cross. We have previously written about the Coventry Cross here.

Coventry Cross is located on Cuckoo Lane, outside the garden area of the Slug and Lettuce Public House (formerly the County Hall). It is within the Hill Top Conservation Area.

This modern replica of the historic Coventry Cross was funded by The Coventry Boy Foundation. The idea of a replica had been suggested many years ago in the 1930’s, but it was not until 1971 that discussions and plans were shown to the Coventry Civic Amenities Society (now the Coventry Society) and the Church authorities. It now stands next to Holy Trinity Church, 100 metres way from the original site of the old cross. The completed replica was unveiled in 1976. The figures for the new cross were made by Philip Bentham (of the Coventry Boy statue fame), Wilfred Dudeney and George Ford. George Wagstaffe made the crown and pendants. This modern version is different to the original by being mainly made from cast ferro-concrete, with only some of the statues being carved out of stone. At 17.4 metres (57ft) high the replica Coventry Cross has 20 niches with many figures.

In 2007 it was suggested that replica cross should be moved to Cross Cheaping. But because of local opposition this was not implemented. The idea of relocating it arose again in 2015, but nothing happened because of the cost and difficulty of doing this.It is now reported in the press that there is a proposal to relocate the Cross to nearby Ironmonger Row. However the planning application has been amended so that it now only includes the demolition of the existing cross and not its rebuilding.

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It has been quoted in the press that the City Council is prepared to spend £150,000 to move the cross. However the Coventry Society has researched this figure and established that the cost of £150,000 is the budget for dismantling and cleaning the sculpture and putting it into storage. The Council is currently putting this work out to tender. The City Council has been asked about the total cost of restoring the sculpture and re-erecting it and is not able to answer the question. They say that until the existing cross is dismantled and they have been able to assess the fixing arrangements, existing steel frame and other key elements no final cost can be provided from contractors.However we have heard from a  reliable source that the total cost is likely to be in the region of £500,000, leaving a shortfall of around £350,000. 

“The Council’s view is that the removal and relocation of Coventry Cross is an important project for the city. Our ambition is to relocate the cross nearer to the location of the original Coventry Cross and the relocation will also improve the context and setting of the medieval core of the City for residents, visitors and local businesses.”

We have asked sculptor George Wagstaffe, who was involved in the original design of the replica, for his opinion about relocating the cross. Whilst not totally against such a move, he pointed out the appearance and materials of the cross were more appropriate to its current location than the proposed one. He said that the surroundings of the proposed location on Ironmonger Row was more like a Mondrian painting than a suitable environment for a medieval stone cross.

The Coventry Society is not opposed to the City Council’s plans to improve Cuckoo Lane. However we do not want to see another of Coventry’s Public Art works put into storage, probably never to to be seen again. We also question why the Public Sector is being asked to pay for a relocation which only appears to benefit one business. How much is that business putting into the pot? Where is the budget for the reconstruction of the sculpture to come from? If the sculpture is to be relocated, where is the best location to put it? We feel that the demolition should not go ahead until these important questions are answered.

We also point out that there is a Conservation Area Management Plan which covers the demolition of structures in a Conservation Area and we would like to hear the Council’s justification for the demolition, which we have yet to see. We feel that the absence of a City Council Conservation Officer is leaving the Council without good advice on conservation matters.

We are pleased to note that the planning application has been referred to the Secretary of State and we hope that a sensible decision will be made.

What do you think? Should the Cross remain? Should it be moved? If so, where to? Would the available budget be better spent on improving the sculpture in its current location, e.g with gold leaf etc. to make it more like the original?

 

Heritage Open Days – Old Grammar School

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Come along and meet the Coventry Society at the Old Grammar School for Heritage Open Days 2018. We are open from 12 noon – 4 p.m. on both Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th September 2018.

We will be sharing this beautifully restored medieval building with Coventry Family History Society and the Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

We will have displays about the Society and what is going on in the city. We look forward to seeing you there.

Free. See event on Eventbrite

Meet George Wagstaffe – Coventry’s Best Known Sculptor

Meeting poster

The next meeting of the Coventry Society will be a talk by renowned Coventry Sculptor George Wagstaffe. George is famous in the city for at least three of the city’s iconic pieces of public art, although only two of them are currently on display.

Phoenix is currenly located at the bottom of Hertford Street, although it was originally contstructed for the Precinct.

Phoenx by George Wagstaffe

The Coventry Cross is a replica of Coventry’s historic market cross. It is currently outside Holy Trinity Church, although there are plans to relocate it.

Coventry Cross

Not currenly on public display is the Naiad. This was formerly located in the new Council House square, which was formerly Palace Yard. It is planned to put the sculpure on display in Friargate House, although the Coventry Society would like to see it relocated to its original location when the University development goes ahead.

Niaid

Come along and meet George at the September meeting of the Coventry Society on Monday 10th September at 7.15 p.m at the Shopfront Theatre, City Arcade. Attendance is free for members. Non members are welcome and asked to make a £2 donation towards refreshments and venue hire. You can book tickets here.

George Wagstaffe

George Wagstaffe

The meeting will also include a presentation to long serving member of the Society, Ralph Butcher, some formal society business and an update on the current work of the society.

Walking Through Litter

A personal account of living in Coventry by Nirmal Puwar

This article was written as a piece of creative writing just before Coventry was awarded the City of Culture 2021, but it is even more relevant today. It was previously published in the newsletter of CAN (Coventry Action for Neighbourhoods).

Litter

Very recently I have moved back to Coventry and the neighbourhood I grew up in to be near my frail elderly mother. There is something eerie about walking with my three year old daughter the same streets I walked as a child, hand in hand with my parents, on a daily basis. Even when we take the same routes the footsteps are not the same. There is an uncanny spirit to our everyday walks, such as walking to the bus stop or going to the local shops, visiting the library or going to the park. The spectral absence not only of people but the specific configuration of people and places hangs as a layer in the geographic atmosphere of the strangely familiar environment. Some lived well, worked hard and had long lives, like my father whose absence is palpable and whose loss is deeply felt in our daily lives. But other losses, of young lives, of my brother Harbans and sister-in-law Kulwarn, continue to take hold of us as we walk the streets. They too worked extremely hard, but their right to walk the streets into old age, as my father did, as well as to witness the changes around us, as I do with my three year old daughter, was snatched away from them by complex health issues. Walking through the neighbourhood I traverse layers of family history, and meet with familial and familiar estranged spectres.

All neighbourhoods change, though some change faster than others. Buildings come and go at a different pace, depending on which part of the country one is in. Oxford for instance, located fifty miles from Coventry, has more than its share of heritage sites which are protected and preserved. Coventry was heavily bombed during WW2 and lost many of its medieval buildings. Since then new concrete and glass buildings have over time been raised and pulled down. The city centre decays in some parts and arises anew in other pockets. One change I have witnessed from taking a walk in my neighbourhood is the phenomenal rise in litter. There is undoubtedly a social class demarcation of litter. Well-to-do neighbourhoods are not beset with street litter to the same degree.

For example, Earlsdon High Street in Coventry, which is the part of the city where Warwick University academics are likely to live if they live in the city at all, is remarkably clean and litter free in comparison.

My part of the city never was spotless, but you certainly did not have flares of litter around your feet as we do today. The streets were not paved over by a scattered patchwork of paper, lids, cans, suitcases and plastic bottles.

litter

In Coventry, as the city has been prepared to bid for City of Culture 2021, cultural icons, many of which are long forgotten, have been picked out and foregrounded as local illuminations. A central artery in the neighbourhood I grew up in during the seventies and eighties and now have come to temporarily live in has for example been mooted as a ‘music mile’ by Pete Chambers, Director of the Music Museum.

Along this mile well known bands performed and lived, as did Paul King on my road. I live less than a minute away from the independently run Music Museum and the Two Tone Cafe which are on the route at one end and Far Gosford Street is on the other end. The band Lieutenant Pigeon, who lived a few doors away from my family home, actually recorded a song titled ‘Gosford Street Rag’. Alongside the rich music heritage today the walk is full of litter. Its density in places can amount to ‘grot spots’, a term used by a parliamentary committee concerned with the national rise in litter. On a morning walk my daughter scooters past the Music Museum as we set off on our ten minute walk to Far Gosford Street, where the new creative quarter Fargo village, which features prominently in the City of Culture bid, is located. As soon as we take a few steps away from our garden gate we are met by flying litter. It is a little windy. As we hit the main road, some of the light litter is dancing around my daughter’s ankles. She finds it amusing to ride amidst and against the litter.

Councils have a legal obligation to keep land in their area clear of litter and refuse (including dog mess).

On my walks I have seen a small white lorry with a notice in blue on the side declaring its role in keeping Coventry clean.

The lorry catches random bits of litter in automatic rotating brushes. It passes a busy bus shelter which has built up a blanket of litter over time. The vehicle is too big to go into the bus shelter. So the rubbish remains there. To the side of the bus stop is one of the many fast food take-aways that line the road. Subway’s large bins are on the pavement and they are bulging, with litter scattered all around them.

Next door, the public pavement right in front of the window of a newly renovated barbershop, is piled with a broken worktop, rubble, litter of all sorts and even a piece of raw chicken breast. No doubt the local cats will clear up the meat fast.

This mound of debris has been sitting there for days. There are several household bins with different coloured lids which have items hanging out of the lids and on the pavement around them.

One is bright yellow labelled ‘Clinical Waste’. Clothes and paper are falling out of it.

litter

The lorry scuttles down the main thoroughfare with the driver seemingly not noticing what can’t be caught by the wheeled brushes.

He is focused on the route.

Our walk continues….

As the wheels of my daughter’s scooter whizz down the hill, the crushed cans, crisp packets and cardboard pizza boxes offer entertaining games for her. The debris now seems to come with the territory. Sadly, I recall how this was not always the case, certainly not in my childhood. In fact, in the last three years the litter has escalated exponentially in the area. We walk past houses with gardens full of litter. Weeds and overflowing bins line the pavement, as do discarded suitcases. And it’s not even bin collection day.

A great deal of the Victorian housing stock has become prime rental property, especially for students who can walk to Coventry University from here. On average the weekly rental charge is £80 per room, which is high, but still undercuts the much higher rental charges of Coventry University halls of residence. These are in keeping with national averages for student rent; a sector which is not only not subsidised any more but has become a burgeoning source of profit through the student debt cycle. Investors carve up housing for multiple occupation without turning an eye to how the properties will be maintained and rubbish collected, or, how transient tenants will dispose of superfluous goods without leaving them in front gardens, pavements and over flowing bins which are not collected. Uncollected bins can be reported to the council, but the relentless energy involved in reporting each and every one of the many uncollected bins on a weekly basis is unsustainable. It is also an inefficient use of council time. A universal rule to collect all bins might be one solution.

More responsibility could be imposed on landlords and letting agents whose profits have altered the landscape. Whilst the walls of the university extend across the city and into our neighbourhood so does the litter and rubbish. The old conflict between ‘town and gown’ is exacerbated by the enterprising university without civic responsibility. There is much the university could do with respect to students and litter.

On our route we reach the Carnegie designed Stoke library, a listed building built between 1912-13. This is my childhood library. I have written about the books I have met here, and of how it became a second home to my ageing father. Now my daughter frequents it. She has become attached to the library to the extent that she laments the removal of the shelving in the children’s area which was designed as a wooden car you could sit in. The library is maintained extremely well on the inside. But on the outside there are over-growing weeds and litter. Broken glass, cans, plastic bottles, crisps packets and the usual fly tipping of take away eaters depresses the spirit as one approaches this treasured public service. Library services nationally are having to find ways to carry on under the threat of closures and job cuts. The street cleaning services too have been drastically cut. I have been told Kingsway is only swept by the council once a fortnight. By then a storm of litter has built up, especially after the bin collectors have been. Their interaction with the bins noticeably adds to the amount of litter on the streets. Austerity policies are felt here in the most palpable ways. Ironically, the council supports huge flower pot hangings on the side of the dual carriage way on the approach to the city centre. It prides itself on being awarded gold for the Heart of England in bloom competition, whilst the litter flies around us. Walking is full of litter, fast depleting everyday pride in the environment of the city. Regardless of which awards are achieved, City of Culture is already City of Litter.

litter

Litter

The empty grass verge at the side of Stoke library, on Walsgrave Road, has become one phenomenal litter verge. Should you want to conduct a content analysis of the litter to understand consumption and discarding habits, here you would have your work cut out for you. This is a mega ‘grot spot’ on our route to Fargo village. A few seconds walk away, in the park that follows it, I have often spotted two men with a van and bags randomly picking litter whilst leaving other bits to rest and rot or fly around some more. I have witnessed them drive off whilst litter is still scattered in the park. On many occasions they must have also have driven past the litter verge. Even if it is only in their job description to focus on parks one hopes they have reported the ‘grot spot’ to their colleagues. I have complained several times about this specific litter verge to the Council. In response to the complaints it has on occasion been cleaned up. But it is not cleaned up as a matter of course, on a regular basis, even though the council pick up litter in the park right next to it. Again, like the continuous line of over flowing bins, I would need to complain on a weekly basis just about this specific site of litter to get it cleaned up regularly. Each spot one identifies as a source of complaint to the council requires a singular entry, online or via phone. With a repetition of the same personal details for each and every spot of complaint. You can’t complain of several litter issues in one complaint. Needless to say, one tires of the cumbersome process involved in the complaints and more often than not gives up. Serially logging litter complaints is not a long term option. Besides, it is unsustainable and no way to run a city.

My daughter and I rush past under the bridge located next to the litter verge, laughing nervously. We don’t want to be caught by the pigeon shit falling from overhead. Very recently workers have spent at least four weeks of night time shifts to paint the underside of the bridge blue. It was a fine dark green before. The signature colour blue for all city logos refers to the shade of blue the cloth was dyed in Coventry when it was at the centre of the weaving industry in the medieval period. The blue paint under the bridge was another initiative in memory work, in preparation for the City of Culture. Other bridges have also been painted blue in keeping with the heritage colour of the city. Who knows what the costs are, residents are rarely consulted.

Unfortunately the plastic spikes which deter pigeons from taking occupation under the bridge were not replaced after they had been removed for the paint work by the contractors. As a consequence of this oversight, now the pavement, and the pedestrians if they are unlucky, are plastered with pigeon shit. I logged a complaint about this. Now the contractors are on site again, placing netting under the bridge to deter pigeons. This is going to take approximately two weeks of labour time and money.

Ironically, the underside of bridges are painted blue, in the name of heritage, while the streets under it are paved in litter.

litter

Our walk continues….

We venture through Gosford Green Park. Testing terrain for a toddler with a scooter making steering turns through the windy paths. Once, hedgerows, now removed, walled the small park. Today traffic noise and fumes wall the park. At the traffic lights we stop at the dual carriage way which cut up the local walk to the city centre, demolished local shops, and flooded our walk with cars and lorries to make way for the ironically named Sky Blue Way highway which was opened in 1986. In the late 1300s a single combat event between the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Hereford was set to take centre stage on Gosford Green and was called off at the last minute. Despite this historic significance, Gosford Park is not one of the five parks in the city which have been awarded the Green Flag award by Keep Britain Tidy. Perhaps the design of these awards could mitigate against cities being able to cherry pick parks to maintain and spruce up for the selection for awards whilst neglecting others, by auditing conditions of parks across cities. Green spaces, nationalism and litter are often discursively connected in rather emotive ways.

The ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ clean campaign for instance was started by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. Inspired to take action because of the increasing ‘throwaway culture’ in the post-war boom of the 1950s, they wanted to stamp out the rising problem of litter. Campaign materials speak of “Pride in our country” and “Get England back to the green and pleasant land”. Anti-immigrant sentiments can sit alongside nostalgia for a mythical idyllic past. Indeed they are easily surfaced by far right organisations.

In 2016 the magazine Country Life in partnership with Keep Britain Tidy launched the campaign ‘Clean for the Queen’ for volunteers to pick litter in time for her 90th birthday. Regardless of this campaign for queen and country, there are hundreds of volunteer litter pickers who have integrated litter picking into special events or everyday walks. Litter picking and walking are activities which are increasingly occurring together out of necessity. Well known figures, such as David Sedaris, are heralded as heroes in Sussex.

Others are quietly getting on with it, because they don’t want to walk through mess or see litter in their parks and streets. They are impassioned by a right to the city as a clean city. If citizenship is approached as an urban practice, developing the capacity of citizens to control and influence the urban environment, then the practice of walking through litter needs attention.

Pressure has been placed on national government to respond to the issue of litter. The Local Government’s Select Committee on Litter and Flytipping (2014-15) used photos to illustrate the problem. However the government responded by considering visual proof to be perceptual and not valid evidence.

Instead data provided by the Local Environment Quality Survey for England was acknowledged as incomplete but still used to authorise the government’s view that there was not a national epidemic in litter. A government National Litter Strategy for England was announced in April 2017. Part of the strategy will involve data collection on litter. Data based on walks and visual records will need to be considered as part of evidence. Not least because visual reportage from citizens via words or digital photographs is treated as noteworthy by councils when complaints about litter are registered. Volunteer litter pickers across the country are mass observers. Walking methodologies need to be instituted amongst social policy administrators as both practice and evidence.

Finally we reach Far Gosford Conservation Area (as of 1992). Since 2005, this down at heel high street has benefitted from a Townscape Heritage Initiative with economic and physical regeneration. Parts of the architectural heritage, some of which goes back to the 12th century, have been restored. Many of the shop fronts are occupied by low cost food suppliers. The predominant trade on the heritage high street consists of African male barbers, of which there are at least ten. Some of the buildings above the shops are rented out as flats to students, usually to international students, at rents of around £1400 per a month by Coventry University. Here the enterprising university meets the civic heritage industry and international markets. Should you take a bus along the dual carriage way, which offers a view of the back end of buildings on Far Gosford Street you will see litter collected together here, there and everywhere. Nothing is protected from litter. My daughter scooters ahead of me into Fargo village, located in a turning in the middle of Far Gosford Street. She sits in the kids’ book corner of The Comfy Bookshop, whilst I take a much needed tea. I ask the assistant if they have had any books come in on litter. I too have become obsessed with this problem, in the context of the civic, commercial and educational states which have placed us in this desperate situation of living and walking through litter.

So what do you think should be done about this?

Is it Time to Re-think City Centre South?

As House of Fraser announces it is pulling out of Birmingham and Solihull, Keith Draper argues that it’s time to re-think the City Centre South shopping development. Designed specifically to attract the multi-nationals. He asks the question: “Isn’t it time to think again? Isn’t it time to stop putting all our eggs in one basket, relying forever on the whims of profit-driven big boys?”

City Centre South

It’s understandable our City Fathers should want to see our retail offer move up the rankings, but half a minute, shouldn’t we really be taking a fresh look at this grandiose City Centre South scheme granted outline planning consent all those years ago in 2012. Six years ago! Hasn’t the retail trade moved on since those days?

From what I read it’s a challenging market for retailers. Spending is squeezed and costs are rising. We are already seeing an acceleration of store closures among the multi-nationals. Online continues to outperform the rest of the market. Clearly the multi-national store still has a part to play but it looks as though there will be fewer of them. No doubt you will recall that the whole purpose of City Centre South was to provide a considerable number of units with deeper trading floors for the big chains. Does this make sense in the prevailing climate?

The Society has always believed the small local retailer needs better support, especially in these challenging days. Often the owner has invested considerable time and sums of money to provide an individual service to shoppers. Think Agers; think Walter Smith; think Butterfly Bras. Take the City Centre South redevelopment area. There are still some highly successful businesses that have clung on here despite no security of tenure. No promise of alternative premises to trade from when the day of eviction arrives. Does this make sense?

Some of us will have lived through the years of comprehensive redevelopment that brought to fruition the precincts we enjoy today. Has the Council thought through the effect of massive demolition in Market Way, Shelton Square, the City Arcade, Bull Yard and Herford Street? How will it affect trading in the rest of the city centre as these challenging times continue. It’s hard to imagine the effect it will have on the reputation of Coventry as we head towards City of Culture 2021. So what is the alternative? Few would deny that much of the city centre needs to be updated. It’s scruffy and ill-kept. Frontages once the pride of the Gibson plan have been neglected. They appear to provide the ammunition that developers and the Council look for to demolish. What happened to pride in our central streetscapes and precincts?

Oddly enough the more intimate environments of Shelton Square and Bull Yard and the City Arcade have the sort of premises eminently suited to the small trader. So why not restore, modernise, re-face?

City Arcade

The shopping experience in City Arcade, neglected for years

Form a small retailers’ trust. A co-operative that might negotiate the sort of rents that are affordable. A sustainable city centre shining out with the sort of shop window displays we once enjoyed? Put together by enthusiastic shop staff.

Isn’t it time to give our young entrepreneurs a real opportunity to become part of a new small trader community. The seeds are there. You see them emerge in shop units that have lain waste for months.

This approach may well not appeal to developers like Shearer. Perhaps not entirely true if only our City Council gave a lead. Surely there has to be an alternative plan at this crucial time. I urge the Council to think again.

Keith Draper. Vice Chairman of the Coventry Society, July 2018

This article first appeared as the lead article in the July 2018 edition of the Coventry Society newsletter. It was subsequenly reprinted in the Coventry Telegraph. There was support for Keith’s position in an editorial in the Coventry ObserverWhat do you think? 

Reader Comments (3)

The article has expressed most of my opinions. Many of the independants stores have been there for years so can’t be too unsuccessful. The arcade is viewed by many as a relaxing area of the city centre that is both historically valuable and functional today. It was previously a very appropriate site for the Carers Centre too – far more accessible and approachable by those who most need their sevices than the tiny space they are squashed into at the rear of the library room. I was amazed to discover that plans to remove the arcade in favour of large businesses are not already being reconsidered

By Beverley Jameson on Monday, July 23, 2018

This article expresses so much of what I feel and what I have been saying about the city’s food offering on my website (https://foodcovolution.wordpress.com/) . I’d be surprised if the council can even find an ‘anchor’ department store group that is expanding at the moment. The changing retail economy means that most of them are closing stores, rather than opening new ones and because of that, the whole City Centre scheme needs re-thinking. What is expanding is the the so-called ‘experience economy’ – and that is all about uniqueness and offering what cannot be had elsewhere. This is where Coventry city centre should be heading – preserving and exploiting its heritage mid-century architecture and promoting independent businesses within it. With a revamp, City Arcade would be the perfect setting.

By Food Covolution on Monday, July 23, 2018

The arcade is a dump, and the “independent” shops you talk of are places like Chinese herbs and pet stores. Not things I would consider exciting, or necessary for a City CEntre. The prevailing retail climate is a concern, which is why as a young person my idea of success would be to provide decent nightlife, creativity and education. Retail and such has been driven out by rising costs, not only of goods and services, but cost to rent the floor space. Ultimately I would love to see the Arcade, Shelton square and Bull Yard gone. Even the market – I can’t see why people think it’s of any architectural merit what-so-ever. It’s tatty, dated and no amount of polishing can bring it to life IMO. A decent sized music venue could replace the market, and a fairly big plaza could replace bull yard and shelton square – surround said square with some high class cafes, bars and restaurants… get rid of the poundshops and betting shops and liven the place up. I honestly think if people want to come and leisure in the City, the retail may actually being to pick up. At the moment, there are few who really need or want to come into the City for much other than a browse round cheap shops…. give people a reason to be in the City!

By Matthew Richardson on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Coventry Mystery Plays

Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, calls for the return of the Coventry Mystery Plays.

Coventry Mystery Plays

I see in the press that Chester Cathedral has recently completed a programme of the Chester Mystery Plays. These plays are only performed every five years and they are always well received.

Coventry Cathedral used to have its own series of Mystery Plays, that were performed every three years up until 2006. I was fortunate to be able to perform in the last two productions in 2003 and 2006.

The Coventry Mystery Plays date back to the early Medieval Mystery Plays which were perhaps best known as the source of the Coventry Carol. Performances of the Coventry plays are first recorded in a document of 1392–3. It is very likely that the young Will Shakespeare saw them as he quotes from the Mystery Plays in some of his own plays with scenes and events from them. Various Coventry Trade Guilds would put on small plays on mobile stages around the city. The plays were mostly taken from scenes from the Bible. Each Guild would perform a scene while the other guilds were changing in preparation for the scene that they would perform. Unfortunately few records of the plays now exist but the Shearmen Guild and Tailors’ Guild plays were transcribed and published by Thomas Sharp and most recent performances are loosely based on these plays, from Adam and Eve to Noah’s Ark then Annunciation, Nativity, Massacre of the Innocents to Christ’s Crucifixion.

They were very popular with the citizens of Coventry and Warwickshire, although they often got to be a bit political and they would parody local dignitaries and like pantomime they would add local issues and gossip.

After the Second World War the Cathedral started to perform the Mysteries on a small budget.

Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays

I had seen the Coventry Mysteries a few times over the years. I went with my wife to see the 2000 Millennium production which was performed by the Teatr Biuro Podróży (Travel Agency Theatre), an award-winning theatre company based in Poland. I was amazed that they created and performed a large-scale, outdoor theatre show, in the ruins of the old Cathedral with stilt walkers as the Three Wise Men riding a Ostrich, a turtle and other strange animals plus many other special effects including ‘death’ who was very scary.

Coventry Mystery Plays

In 2003 I volunteered to be in the new production that was planned. I had got hooked by the last one. So along with many other local community people we had great fun. You got to see the production grow from the first rehearsals in Drapers Hall to the full performance in the ruins. There were a lot of amazing props including two of each animal on long poles, who would do a dance routine before going into the Noah’s Ark. I was one of the carriers of the giant wooden ribs for the Ark; it took two men to carry each rib,with about sixteen of us all together. We would move them around creating boats shapes and cathedral shapes; we were all dressed like peasants from a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Coventry Mystery Plays

So in 2006 I was very pleased to be involved in another performance. This one was bigger and more extravagant. There was a large water feature down the middle of the Cathedral ruins. A waterfall and stage at one end and a large stairway to Heaven at the other. This time I got to say a few words and was one of the Disciples. I sat at the Last Supper and at the end had to stand in the water, getting my trousers and pumps wet. The water feature was made by a Coventry based Aerospace company for free. It had a rail system down the middle to take the launch of the large Noah’s Ark with animals on it that came out from under the stairway stage end. Each production had professional actors who said most of the lines and took the lead parts. But because it was a mixture of both professionals and amateurs, we could not get copies of any photos or filming of the productions as the Actor’s Union was very strict about copyright and performance payments. So not many photos or videos exist of the production, only these below, unless anyone knows more?

Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays  Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays

The name Mysteries has been a bit hijacked over the years, with Coventry University setting up a festival based event which had various students and voluntary groups putting on performances and plays but had nothing to do with the Bible stories.

Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays

It would be nice to have the Coventry Mystery Plays back! Maybe a bit like the Chester Cathedral performances, not too expensive. How about putting on a special for Coventry City of Culture 2021?

Scenes from Chester Cathedral- Noah’s arch and Christ’s Crucifixion

Chester Mystery Plays

Paul Maddocks, Chairman of the Coventry Society