Coventry’s Favourite Conservation Area

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Hill Top Conservation Area

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

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

So what is a Conservation Area?

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

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

The Council has powers to:

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

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

So how many Conservation Areas Does Coventry have?

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

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

Are any Conservation Areas at risk?

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

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

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

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

So what is your favourite Conservation Area in Coventry?

The Last Hanging in Coventry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plaque outside County Hall

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

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The Death Mask of Mary Ball

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

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Recreation of the image of Mary Ball by Paul Maddocks

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

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Damaged rainwater pipes at County Hall

Coventry Design is Celebrated on Mugs, Tee Shirts and Badges

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For many years the only thing you could buy to commemorate a visit to Coventry was a postcard or bookmark from the shop under the Godiva clock. Now with City of Culture on the horizon several new promotional products are coming our way.

CovKid is producing a new range of Coventry inspired designs to promote the city. They tell us that “Covkid came from two things:

1) An appreciation of the city’s post war design – architecture and art – much of which isn’t fully recognised – it is “hidden in plain sight”.

2) The shortage of Coventry things to buy for locals and visitor mementos in the run up to City of Culture. If we’re going to boost the visitor economy, we need things for people to buy that are iconically Cov! This is needed both to build local pride and to remind visitors to come back and tell their friends how great the city is.

The idea was to highlight design that is uniquely Coventry through a range of products using graphic reinterpretation – graphic art work inspired by key city features, not actual technical drawings. By highlighting the design, the city’s architecture and art features are more likely to be recognised, valued, preserved and enhanced.

“MidCentury” design is now cool and the city is pretty unique in the scale and quality of the post war reconstruction. Other cities have grasped this and bring in high spending visitors – such as Le Havre, which is now a World Heritage Site.

The first products were four mugs, produced in a limited edition of 250 of each. They feature the Cathedral, the Elephant building (Sports Centre), Broadgate House and the University’s Engineering & Computing Building.

“The core ethos is to go for a high quality special product, rather than mass market and the mugs are bone china.”

The mugs were launched at MIPIM, the international conference for property developers, earlier this year. A further four mugs are being launched in October and a range of tee shirts is also being produced.

You can see the designs on CovKid’s website and Instagram site.

One of the tee shirt designs that is really successful is the graphic reinterpretation of the Baptistry window in the Cathedral.

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Tee shirts are now on sale at the Cathedral shop and there are bags and cushion covers coming of both this design and the Elephant which has proved very popular. Ladies scarves are also being made ready for Christmas 2019 with both a design inspired by the window and another by the tiled artwork in the lower precinct.

“The plan is to try things out and see what products and designs people like in preparation for 2021.”

The Covkid image for the Telegraph Hotel has recently gone up on the hoarding (see photo below).

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CovKid mugs are also on sale at the Herbert Gallery and the Transport Museum.

Another company that has taken on the challenge of producing Coventry promotional products is Etch and Pin. They are producing enamel badges of some of the iconic buildings and features of the city, including the Elephant building and the Old Cathedral.

Their website states “Our limited-edition pin badges were launched in July 2018, with a brand-new badge released every month. Each badge has its own limited edition number and comes with a backing card displaying the limited edition number.”

The badges sell for £6 each with £1 from each badge sold donated to a local charity. To date, they have raised over £2,500 for Coventry charities. So far they have released 14 Coventry pin badges – all celebrating the city in various ways.

Another recent initiative is the creation of a new website and magazine called “Coventry Native”. According to their website “Coventry Native is home to inspiring and imaginative products made by some of the most exciting creatives in the city. We search, stock and collaborate with independent makers providing you beautifully made, independent products that support and sustain our community. We also publish features and interviews with individuals who are changing the future of creative culture in Coventry.”

The Native Magazine is produced quarterly and products, including cards and other memorabilia, can be purchased via their website.

CovSoc Visit to Tamworth

Our August visit was to the historic town of Tamworth, courtesy of the Tamworth and District Civic Society. We gathered in the 18th Century Town Hall and were officially greeted by the Mayor, Cllr Richard Kingstone who told us about the town, the building, the Council and the mayoral regalia. We were then shown the Mayor’s Chamber before a tour of the town led by Chairman of the Society and Green Badge Guide David Biggs.

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Tamworth Mayor Cllr Richard Kingstone

The Town Hall was built in 1700 and paid for by Thomas Guy, famous for Guy’s Hospital in London. It stands on pillars above the historic butter market. In front of it is a statue of the town’s most famous citizen, Sir Robert Peel, who lived in nearby Drayton Manor. The statue stands in front of the window from which tradition holds that he recited his Tamworth manifesto which created the modern Conservative Party.

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The statue of Sir Robert Peel outside Tamworth Town Hall.

The town itself is much older than Coventry and was the capital of the realm in the Anglo Saxon period. The town was founded at the confluence of the Rivers Tame and Anker, which link to the River Trent, the Humber and the North Sea which were navigable by early settlers.

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The confluence of the Rivers Anker and Tame, which connect via the Trent to the Humber

Tamworth became famous courtesy of King Offa (he of the dyke fame) who was King of Mercia. He built a palace here and made it the capital of Mercia. However it was burnt to the ground by the Vikings in 874. It was rebuilt in 913 by the Aethelflaeda the daughter of King Alfred the Great. She is held in high esteem in the town even today and last year they celebrated the 1100th anniversary of her death in 918.

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Statue of Aethelflaeda in front of Tamworth Castle.

Over much of its life Tamworth was divided between Staffordshire and Warwickshire, with the boundary running right through the town and consequently the town having two of everything – magistrate, town hall etc. The town only became firmly part of Staffordshire in 1888.

The castle dates from the Norman invasion and stands on its original motte, being the second highest in the country after Windsor. It is believed that it was built on the site of a previous Saxon fortification. In the Civil War the castle was besieged by Parliamentary forces in 1643 and its destruction was ordered but never carried out, unlike Kenilworth and our own city walls. It stands today as a wonderful example of a mediaeval castle.

In 1345 Tamworth suffered a disastrous fire and much of the town was destroyed, but it was soon re-built, with new buildings being built on the foundations of the previous ones.

Tamworth suffered the fate of many towns and cities in the 20th Century, with the Council allowing the large scale destruction of historic buildings to create a “modern” town centre that is now looking rather sad. The town became an overspill area for Birmingham in the 1960s and several tower blocks were built to destroy the historic profile of the town.

We had a really interesting visit and tour of the town and we give our grateful thanks to the Tamworth and District Civic Society for this. We will be hosting a return visit in 2020.

There are more photos on our Flickr site

Draper’s Hall Dig Reveals Ancient Coventry

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Excavations at Drapers’ Hall have revealed details of how Coventry’s historic centre was used through its long history.

The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has excavated the site between Draper’s Hall and the former Browns Bar ahead of the transformation of Draper’s Hall into a new music venue. MOLA staff say that finds from the site have provided a ‘tantalising insight’ into what the artefacts uncovered may have been used for.

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Finds include a ‘bird bone pen’, medieval glass and even bone fragments.  Negotiations are taking place with the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum to display the finds there.

A MOLA spokesperson said: “These observations are just the beginning. Our specialists will analyse the finds from the site in detail to tell us even more about the medieval industrial processes, production and craft activities taking place in the area.

“It is hoped that the artefacts found from the dig will be displayed at the Medieval Gallery at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, alongside those from the 1989-89 dig, and that the artefacts will also form the basis of a major exhibition on Coventry’s textiles history.”

Among the finds during the excavation were 18th or 19th century ladle bowls, with the heraldic arms of the Drapers Company – active from 1613 onwards. Also a 16th or 17th century bird bone pen has a tapering ‘nib’ at its distal end which would have been dipped in ink.


It also uncovered stone moulds that would have been used for casting metals in the 14th or 15th century.  Two similar broken examples have been found in Coventry in antiquity.

MOLA says it is thought that the fragment of painted medieval glass may have once been part of the nearby Benedictine Priory and Cathedral of St. Mary. This is due to similarities with other glass fragments found on the priory site.

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A set of 16th century beads was found in a rectangular stone-lined pit, thought to have been used for fulling, together with the remains of a bone used to create buttons.


The Grade-II listed building was built in the classical style in phases from 1832 and follows other buildings on the site. It was the headquarters of the city’s Worshipful Company of Drapers and has also been a magistrate’s court, church centre and even an air raid shelter. It has lain empty since the early 1990s.

The Historic Coventry Trust, in collaboration with the Princes Foundation, aims to have the restored hall opened in 2020, in time for the city’s tenure as UK City of Culture the following year.

There is more information on the Museum of London Archaelogy blog.  All photos courtesy of MOLA.