Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Picks of Coventry

Coventry has an overall ugly kind of thing going on, but look carefully and there are some real gems. I will just caveat this by saying that I really didn’t have much time while I was there. My 2 hours to refresh my memory were eroded down to just 40 minutes thanks to my meeting over-running so much, so I didn’t have time to go to many places, such as the transport museum or Memorial Park, but I assure you I did my best! Also, the economic climate means that bars, restaurants and shops are changing all the time, so I won’t go into too much detail there.

That said, there is still quite a bit here, and it can all be found by walking one continuous loop well within the compact city centre - no trekking required!

Coventry has a rich history of inventors and engineers, and statues or monuments to famous Coventrians can be found around the city. Among them James Starley, whose Rover safety cycle, invented in Coventry in 1885, led to all modern bicycles.

James Starley Monument

My favourite bar in Coventry is Inspire bar. It’s an inspired name – the bar is in an actual spire – and it does nice beers, nice food, and regularly has live music. The spire was part of the Church of the Grey Friars built in 1359. The church was demolished in 1542 but the spire was left standing, and was later incorporated into Christchurch, built in 1829. This church was destroyed by Second World War bombing in 1941, but the spire survived.   Inspire was closed when I walked by, but I sincerely hope that this is not a permanent state and that the place is still running!

Inspire Bar

Fords Hospital alms house for women, established in 1509 and now scheduled as an Ancient Monument. It is named after William Ford, who endowed the alms houses in his will. Built around a narrow courtyard, this is one of the most perfect examples of timber farmed architecture in Britain. The building was badly damaged by bombing during 1940, but was rebuilt with original timbers in the early 1950s.

Fords Hospital Alms House "for old ladies of Coventry"

The fa├žade of Coventry Town Hall is, in my opinion, intricate and very beautiful. I always think this when I see it.

One thing I can’t understand is why anyone with eyes and a brain would then deface it’s beauty with this monstrosity of a sky-corridor linking it to new council buildings across the road!

The Golden Cross pub dates from 1583, but was first mentioned as an inn in 1661. The structure of the building is typical of the Tudor-style of this period with three vaulted or ‘jettied’ upper floors. As you can see it is currently closed and to let, but the outside is still pretty special. When I lived in Coventry this pub regularly hosted live music events, and sometimes attracted an alternative crowd, so I really hope it can be revived – such a refreshing change from the regular chain-bars elsewhere in the city.

Very close to the Golden Cross is St Mary’s Street, which runs to the rear of the Town Hall and down the side of the old cathedral. It also contains St Mary’s Guildhall, which is free to visit, and can also be used for weddings (In fact we considered it for our wedding when we were planning it!) A wedding was going on when I was there on this occasion, so my interior photos are from an earlier visit. This building really is spectacular, I love it.

Old Cathedral to the left, St Mary's Guildhall centre
Inside the Guildhall

Coventry’s old cathedral was blitzed during the war and just a shell of it survives. It now contains are work dedicated to peace and reconciliation, and the new replacement cathedral adjoins it. 

The new cathedral has a very unusual style – very 1960s / 70s – and is sometimes used for events such as concerts and Coventry University graduation ceremonies (I had mine there back in 2005). The new cathedral also has Sir Jacob Epstein’s sculpture St Michael's Victory over the Devil.

The Screen of Saints and Angels, the new Cathedral
Old and New
Sir Jacob Epstein's 'St Michael's Victory over the Devil'

Coventry University has main buildings across a new plaza area from the cathedrals. There has been a lot of new building at the university since I was there, but one thing that was ready before I left is the Herbert Art gallery. I’ve never actually been in there, although I always intended to!

Herbert Art Gallery

Walking back towards the city centre from here you pass Priory Row. These elegant late 18th – early 19th century town houses were built over the site of the original cathedral priory, which was founded in 1043. Some of the cellars even incorporate parts of the priory ruins.

Priory Row

Slightly further on from Priory Row is Holy Trinity Graveyard extension, begun in the 1770s. This has been excavated and is now a bit of a feature.

Holy Trinity Graveyard Extension

I’m not a church-goer, but from a cultural and historical perspective I do love our old churches in Britain. Holy Trinity church is my favourite Coventry church, it suffered some damage from the bombs that destroyed the old Cathedral, which is very nearby, but survived remarkably intact. This is particularly good news as the church contains the oldest complete doom (or ‘Last Judgement’) painting in Western Europe.

Holy Trinity Church Doom painting
I love this ceiling
I also love this window. Walking home from work during the winter, in the dark, I would pass this and the lights from inside the church would make it glow so beautifully

The Godiva statue stands in front of a shopping centre next to Holy Trinity Church. The real Lady Godiva lived a thousand years ago and was one of the most powerful women in England. According to legend dating back to at least the 13th century, she rode naked through the streets of Coventry in protest at the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants. The name "Peeping Tom" for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Tom had watched her ride and was struck blind or dead.

Across from the Godiva statue is the Godiva clock (you can see it in the background above). On the hour, Lady Godiva rides out from the wall while Peeping Tom pops out for a good eyeful!

Walk past the clock onto Hertford Street, and amongst the ugliness you can see some rather nice doors which belong to Natwest bank, and a Peeping Tom effigy up on another sky-corridor.

Medieval Spon Street contains a high concentration of Tudor aged buildings. Many of them are not original to the street and have been rebuilt there after being saved from demolition in other streets, and a preservation order is in place to ensure their survival. Other ancient buildings can be found dotted around Coventry, and I am always amazed that more is not done to preserve and promote them.

Spon Street
I got my wedding dress from this lovely shop (the one in front, not Ikea!)

Spon Street and the modern shopping arcade of Grey Friars Walk contain Coventry’s best concentrations of independent retailers, and if you like Indian food then I would thoroughly recommend Turmeric Gold on Spon Street. Deee-licious!

There is more in Coventry if you are interested, and if you should fancy a visit then this map would be very useful, and this website about Historic Coventry contains lots of information for swotting up on.

If you don't go there, no worries - but if you do, keep your eyes peeled for the gems, and enjoy!



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