River Sherbourne Valley secures National Lottery support

Whitley Bridge
Whitley Bridge

Our partners the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has received initial support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for the River Sherbourne Valley Living Landscape project, it was announced on 10th August. Made possible by National Lottery players, the scheme aims to reconnect the people of Coventry with the city’s river, restore the river for wildlife and complement the growing City of Culture programme linked to nature.

Development funding of £253,600 has been awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to help Warwickshire Wildlife Trust progress their plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant at a later date.

The scheme will create 3 new jobs and aims to restore and celebrate the natural, built and cultural heritage of the river, which starts near Corley Moor to the west of the city and travels through a number of greenspaces like Coundon Wedge and Lakeview Park before  passing beneath the city centre and then past the historic Charterhouse and its surrounding fields, eventually connecting to the River Sowe in Whitley.

A major part of the Lottery proposal is to create a wetland habitat area south of the Charterhouse, which builds on the work that Historic Coventry Trust is doing to naturalise the bank of the river immediately outside Charterhouse. This work should be completed by the end of the year.

Match funding for the scheme has been provided by Coventry City Council, the Environment Agency, Severn Trent, Citizen Housing and the Diocese of Coventry. Collaborating with those partners and others including the Coventry Society, Historic Coventry and City of Culture, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust will be working with local communities to enhance the area for the benefit of wildlife and people. Helping locals to improve, interpret, share and celebrate all aspects of the river’s heritage.

River Sherbourne in Spon End
River Sherbourne – not looking at its best in Spon End

The scheme will investigate the possibility of using virtual reality and other innovative techniques to allow people to better understand where the river is beneath their feet in the city. Enabling people to reconnect with their river and celebrate the role it plays in the past, present and future.

A key element of the scheme is to raise awareness of the existing natural and built heritage already present on the river. Two Grade 2 listed bridges, one scheduled monument (a single span bridge) and two locally listed sluice gates span the river. The ruins of an old chapel sit adjacent to it in Spon End. These and other features go largely unnoticed by people who pass it during their busy lives. The scheme will aim to safeguard, restore and interpret these features to help the people of Coventry be proud of their river.

The scheme will also develop an extensive volunteer and events programme designed to enable local people to develop a sense of ownership for their river. Working with community groups and schools, people from across Coventry and further afield will benefit from a revitalised River Sherbourne, which will change lives forever.

River Sherbourne - awaiting improvement
River Sherbourne – heavily canalised with a weir

Commenting on the award, Ian Jelley, Director of Living Landscapes at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust said: “We’re absolutely thrilled with the news the National Lottery Heritage Fund is supporting this scheme. We have been working in partnership with local people for over five years developing ideas and this investment enables us to make a real impact on the ground. 2020 is Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s 50th anniversary, and with next year being City of Culture, this is excellent timing. We are really excited at what this scheme could deliver for people and wildlife in Coventry.”

This Round 1 project will enable the WWT and its partners to develop a full project for Round Two, with a target funding level of £1,815.600 for a four year scheme.

Spon Gate Bridge
Spon Gate Bridge

Ghost Signs of World War Two

On the wall next to the Hay Lane entrance to the Golden Cross Pub is a wall painted black. It was painted 75 years ago to cover a war time sign done by Coventry Firefighter. Over the past years the rain has slowly washed this black paint off to reveal a mysterious yellow and black circle with the letters EWS in the middle. It stands for – Emergency Water Supplies.

During the November Blitz of 1940, the bombing was so intense that most of the central area mains water supplies got ruptured by bombs. Obviously with water cut off this hampered the efforts of the fire-fighters and fires were able to burn out of control. Due to this large fires burned buildings such as St. Michael’s Cathedral, Owen-Owen and St Michael’s Baptist Church plus many other business and residential properties were burnt out and lost. To prevent this catastrophic loss of water resource in future raids Emergency Water Supplies (EWS) were set up around the city, some in the central area with others at locations such as Whitley, Gulson and Coventry & Warwickshire Hospitals.

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Markings such as those in Hay Lane were put in place to direct the fire-fighters to the water supply. Normally these signs comprised of a large black and yellow circle with the letters EWS painted on it. In Hay Lane below the circle you can just make out black arrows pointing in different directions with the words, “Broadgate”, “Cow Lane”, “Hay Lane”, “Little Park Street” and either distances or capacities. This is for when this supply of water runs out where to find more and not all the fire fighter were from Coventry on big raids many other fire fighter would come from other towns and cities to help in the fight.


The cellars of bombed buildings everywhere were utilised as water storage tanks, the walls were coated in bitumen and made water-tight, firefighters would drop their suction hoses into this water supply and pump it out to use on fires. The shell of St. Michael’s Baptist Church, which stood on the corner of Hay Lane and Bayley Lane opposite to the Golden Cross, was one of them.

Sadly over the next few years the rain will slowly wash the sign away and there will be no ‘Ghost Sign’ any more. The sign is noted in the Hill Top Conservation Area report but there are no plans to save it or conserve it and the Conservation Report is slowly running out too!

Another well preserved EWS sign is, on a brick pillar on London Road adjacent to the pedestrian crossing by Asda. It is currently being preserved by a layer of ivy covering it.

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As a young lad I can remember another water storage tank in the cellar of the bombed out building on the corner of Jordan Well and Much Park Street, now built on and known as the site of the Lady Godiva Pub.

EWS, emergency water supplies, popped up all over the country during the blitz due to the bombing cutting water mains. Signs usually painted on houses at the end of a road with a arrow pointing which way. They were never used for drinking so being open to the air was not a problem.

There are few signs still about, have you noticed one? If so, let us know.

Phil Consadine adds “Around the city, there were many emergency water supplies. Factories filled basements and installed the rubber and canvas reservoirs. You may also remember gates in canal bridges. These gates in the bridge walls were locked and a key was kept on the fire appliances; there was enough room to pass a suction hose through the gate hole. Only recently were the holes bricked up. Swimming pools such as Gosford Green could also be used and do not forget the big dams on the Sherbourne! In Corporation Street there are some metal covers and below these water wells can be found.”

Emergency Water Storage Tank 1942 by Charles Ginner 1878-1952
Emergency Water Storage Tank 1942 Charles Ginner 1878-1952 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05695

In the TATE collection is a painting by Charles Ginner called Emergency Water Storage Tank 1942, the caption reads – “The City of London is shown in ruins after prolonged Nazi bombardment. In response to the bombing, the National Fire Service had established emergency water supply tanks across the city.” As one writer remembered, ‘the sun sparkling on the surface often lent a new charm to the drab urban scene’. This tank was situated on Upper Thames Street, and the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral can be seen in the background. Ginner was an admirer of the Italian artist Canaletto, whose paintings of Venice may have influenced this work.

Paul Maddocks, Deputy Chair of the Coventry Society

Special thanks to Phil Consadine for pointing out the EWS sign and providing the information about it.

Acorn Peace


Fifty two years ago, in June 1968, I went to the Coventry Cathedral Exhibition of British Sculpture in and around the old Cathedral. I was only 18 years old at the time but remember it well. It was a collection from some of the biggest names in British sculpture: Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Frederick Edward McWilliam, plus many more up and coming artists. So why exhibit modern sculpture in the midst of a Gothic Cathedral ruin? One reason was Coventry was on everyone’s lips with its new Cathedral bristling with modern artwork and some of the artist who were not included in this major building wanted to be part of the action. The other answer was that the old Cathedral was, and still is, an amazing space to exhibit artist’s work. Modern sculpture was concerned with its enveloping space, and enveloping its own space, expressing space, sky, trees, open air and many other things.

Because it was such an important artistic event many artists wanted to get involved and one of them was Yoko Ono. However she was a bit late in getting involved and the exhibition was already nearing completion, but the organisers saw that the publicity would do them good. So John and Yoko were included in their first public event, in which the couple famously created ‘Acorn Piece’ or should it be ‘Acorn Peace’? It was a conceptual sculpture in which two acorns were planted facing east and west for peace, then two halves of a round bench were brought together over the spot, so when the trees were grown they would be within the centre of the circular bench. This was within the grounds of Coventry Cathedral on Saturday 15 June 1968. But within a few days the acorns had been taken and the bench had been moved 50 feet way from its original spot.

You will see in the photographs first John digging the hole and you can see Holy Trinity Church behind him, the next photo shows John and Yoko planting the acorns, then John and Yoko sitting on the bench with the Chapel of Unity behind them. The other photos show two ladies sitting on the bench but this time it’s in the St. Michael grave yard with the Golden Cross in the background. Another photograph shows a different two ladies sitting on the bench with the old Cathedral Book shop behind them.

So the bench did move around a bit. In the end John fell out with the Cathedral and got his driver to pick it up and take it back to their home. I understand it is featured in the film ‘Imagine’ with John and Yoko.

Another image shows a photograph of John and Yoko sitting in one of the sculptures made of bright yellow perspex just in front of the Cathedral’s Altar. On the day I visited I was standing looking at this perspex piece, and I was asked if I would like to sit in it? Then I was told by one of the people who was looking after the exhibition that I had just missed John and Yoko. I thought it was a wind up and did not think any more about it, and carried on looking around the various exhibits.


On 15th June 2008, Yoko Ono came back and planted two more acorns. A replica of the white bench seat was also at the ceremony – and it can now be seen in the Coventry Music Museum, Ball hill, Coventry.

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So next time you’re walking around the grounds of Coventry Cathedral, keep a look-out for the two trees that will hopefully grow into mighty oaks – and remember the history and reasoning behind them – Peace.

Paul Maddocks, Deputy Chair of the Coventry Society

In homage to this artwork, the new plans for the Unity Lawn at the Cathedral include a bench around a tree in the lawn.

Towpath improvements along Coventry Canal

Photo – Canal and River Trust

Work has started on a project to improve the towpath of the Coventry Canal from Leicester Causeway to Hawksbury Junction.  The work will enable walkers and cyclists to use the towpath throughout the year as an alternative route avoiding traffic.

The work is being undertaken by a partnership between the City Council and the Canal and River Trust, the national charity that took over from the British Waterways Board.

The Coventry Canal is one of the early contour following canals and was built by James Brindley in 1768. The whole length of the canal has been designated as a Conservation Area.

The project builds on earlier improvement work between the Canal Basin and Leicester Causeway and means that local people will have easy access to the whole length of the canal throughout the year.

The length of the canal to be improved 

The work involves re-surfacing and widening of the towpath in places and improvements in access to the canal from adjoining neighbourhoods. The work will be undertaken in stages starting from Sutton Stop with temporary closure of successive sections of the canal towpath.

A recent survey by the West Midlands Combined Authority found a 40 per cent increase in cycling to work and walking to shops in Coventry during the recent lock-down period, with 17% expecting to cycle more and 47% expecting to walk more than they did before Covid-19.

The improvements will be completed ahead of Coventry being City of Culture in May 2021 and ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Photo – Sustrans

Update on the Local Air Quality Action Plan

Photo – Coventry Telegraph

In March we reported on the latest plans submitted by the council to meet the Government targets for reduction in NO2 levels in the city, which was at that time out for public consultation.

Since then, the Government has given the go ahead to implement the scheme and on 21st July the Council’ Cabinet gave approval for issuing the necessary statutory Traffic Regulation Orders and Compulsory Purchase Orders that the scheme requires.

The scheme comprises a package of measures that, in combination, achieve compliance with the legal limits for roadside NO2 levels across the city. The three main elements of the package are measures aimed at:

  • Reducing the level of car traffic by encouraging modal shift to sustainable and active modes of travel such as walking, cycling and public transport through infrastructure improvements (a new, fully segregated, cycle route linking the city centre with Coundon), and through engagement with schools, businesses and local communities to promote sustainable and active travel, especially for shorter, local, journeys.
  • Reducing the number of older, more polluting, vehicles on the transport network by encouraging people and businesses to invest in low emission vehicles through a range of incentive schemes and initiatives. This includes the promotion of electric cars, buses, taxis and commercial vehicles.
  • Enabling dynamic traffic management on the key routes into the city, notably Holyhead Road and Foleshill Road, by implementing highway improvements on these and parallel corridors to reduce traffic congestion (and therefore vehicle emissions). The specific improvements are focussed on the Allesley Old Road at Spon End and Junction 7 on the ring road (next to the Arena), the Holyhead Road / Barras Lane / Upper Hill Street area, and on Foleshill Road.

The Coventry Society is disappointed that the Spon End proposals include the demolition of the former Black Horse Public House to create an extra traffic lane.


The Government has awarded the Council £24.5 million in grant funding from the Air Quality Implementation Fund to implement the scheme. The Council is required to have delivered the scheme by the end of 2021, which is a very early deadline.

The engagement programme with schools, businesses and local communities will commence from this September, whilst the construction schemes will start in October with Coundon Cycle Route being the first scheme coming forward for construction.

It should be noted that the measures within the scheme form only part of the work underway within Coventry to reduce transport emissions, and that other separately funded initiatives are being delivered by the City Council and its partners, such as the continued expansion of electric vehicle charge point network, the introduction of electric buses onto the cities’ bus service network, the electric fleet programme, and future transport zone work such as the mobility credits scheme, as well as infrastructure projects such as the Binley cycle route and the Very Light Rail project.