Heritage Open Days – Old Grammar School


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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.


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