Are we brave enough as a City to solve the Canal Basin problem?

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Everyone agrees Coventry's Canal Basin area should be a major attraction for the City - but the problem is it's too isolated, and doesn't feel like part of the town - so very few bother going there. We - at Visit Coventry - think it's time for a bold re-think, - and with the City of Culture bid shortlisting just around the corner we reckon Coventry needs to get serious about finding solutions to the general problem of how off-putting the ringroad is when it comes to encouraging folks to venture more widely around the City Centre on foot. 

One idea we like is to pedestrianise the top of Bishop St next to Machine Mart, and create a new full width pedestrian crossing spanning all five lanes of the ringroad. You can see how it might look by clicking the slideshow image above.

A similar concept was floated a few years ago by the Council, when it thought it might be getting a chunk of infrastructure levy money from the developers of the old Royal Mail site (the plan changed tho when Cov Uni bought it in 2012 - from mixed use, to just student)  - planning legislation says that as students don't have cars, the levy can't be applied - so as a result developers are 'off the hook' on this type of scheme and don't have to make any contribution to improving roads or access.

We don't remember seeing this in the news as we were doing other stuff back then, but apparently there was a big outcry as drivers felt it would cause unnecessary delays, and residents felt it would be less convenient/more dangerous? vs using the bridge.

The thing is though, most bottlenecks and delays aren't caused by the ringroad - it's the quickly narrowing roads that lead off at each junction away from town that create problems (poor original design - ringroad should have been set much further out). Anyhow, Cov traffic/congestion is peanuts anyway vs most cities plus there's already traffic lights at the Foleshill Rd roundabout 100 yards away interrupting traffic flow regularly - so an extra set of automated lights  (3 min green, 1 min red - with folks crossing the whole width in one go) - sync'd with the roundabout - would work just fine. 

How a part-pedestrianised Bishop St - with ringroad crossing - might look..

Convenient, and safe, with minimal impact on traffic flows. And more significantly, restoring, in an instant, the original main north-south pre-ringroad sightline -  'bringing in' the canal basin and northern canal-side waterfronts so they feel like part of the town centre visiting experience.

This whole area  - with it's huge potential for touristic/cultural appeal - desperately needs bringing back into the fold of Coventry's city centre (which has its own problems, but is definitely improving) - so whether it's this scheme - or another - it's clear something needs doing.

There is money out there for bold, transforming schemes that capture the West Midlands regional aspiration to re-invent itself as THE place to live, work and visit - we (in Coventry) just need to get into the habit of challenging stuff that doesn't work, asking questions, then getting really vocal about what we like the sound of -  so that financial cases can be made and put forward. Demonstrate widespread public appetite for solving a specific problem, and suddenly the Council are listening. Moan about things, or shout stuff down without offering an alternative, and, hey presto - deaf ears.

ps. Like always, if you've any other ideas - or just want to tell us that we've lost the plot - we'd love to hear from you!  >>  email alan@awd-restorations.com

The return of the Electric Tram.. ?

Pre-Blitz Coventry had one of the most popular tram services in the country - and after seeing Birmingham's new trams yesterday for the first time, Visit Coventry reckon it's time Coventry Council made a pitch for West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) cash to create our own overlay network - and make the city more accessible. 

Planned correctly, tram networks are great - that's why all the best cities in the world have them. Dedicated light rail systems picking up (and dropping off) people right where they want to be, with fast, reliable, cheap, pollution-free automated carriages.. sounds good to us!

We had a little play with how brum-styled trams might make our N-S precinct feel more accesible - open, and 'street like'. 

We had a little play with how brum-styled trams might make our N-S precinct feel more accesible - open, and 'street like'. 

Interestingly, there's an inaugural select committee event that's been set up by the Councils 'scrutiny board' to investigate Coventry's public transport provision - it's this Wednesday (click here for detail) - and they want 'tell it how it is' feedback on how well the local bus and train services in the city are doing. What works, what doesn't - and any ideas people have for improving things. You can email the cllr who's heading this up  (john.mcnicholas@coventry.gov.uk) or just jot your ideas down on the contact form - and we'll pass them on.

ps. our 'precinct trams' idea - based on what we've seen in Birmingham - is to link up Warwick University in the south, with Ansty in the north - passing through the outskirts of Earlsdon (Kenilworth Rd/Warwick Rd), Coventry Station, Warwick Row, Market Way/Smithford Way, Corporation St, Fairfax St, Gosford St, Far Gosford St, Walsgrave Rd (Ball Hill), Ansty Rd (alongside the hospital), then onto Ansty Business Park - close to where 1000's of new homes are planned on the Coventry/Warwickshire boundary.

Btw, here ere are some old images of trams in pre-war Coventry, the new tram in Colmore Row, Brum, plus another quick mock-up of one of our fave precinct images (from 1963 - so cleaner, with original artwork, and no clutter!) showing how trams might make this thoroughfare feel more accessible, and 'street-like'..

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Exploring the River Sherbourne - underneath Coventry City Centre!

Mostly encased by concrete shuttering, the River Sherbourne running beneath Coventry's streets is a fascinating place to explore.. 

Some say the city derives its name from the word 'couaen/cune' - meaning the meeting place of two rivers. The Radford Brook - in Saxon times undoubtedly a much larger body of water than today -  originally joined the Sherbourne almost directly beneath the 'Whittle Arch' in Millennium Place at the centre of town, whilst the earliest recorded habitation - a Saxon nunnery founded c. AD 700 by St. Osburga - is likely to have been nearby (possibly beneath ruins of the Benedictine 'St. Marys Priory' monastery, approx 60 yards south).

 

Anyhow, we've merged a 1980s city engineers map of the culverted River Sherbourne onto a 2017 Google Earth image so you can see exactly where it routes in relation to present day buildings - and then included an overlay showing the 1920's pre- war streetplan (rollover the first image to reveal this - it's helpful for identifying ancient bridge landmarks, several of which are still visable today, underneath).

The image below (from Peter Wilford's excellent colouring-in book) depicts Medieval Coventry in 1534 - and shows the Radford Brook coming in from the n-w, then running parallel to the Sherbourne just above what is present day Corporation St - and meeting up close by 'St Osburgs pool' (not show, but located just north of Mill Lane Gate under present-day Pool Meadow bus station).

The route we took, exploring todays 'Underground Sherbourne' buried beneath the city, starts to the east - the point where culverting begins - at the site of the ancient Gosford Gate bridge, on Gosford St (sandstone bridge supports are still visable directly beneath, a few steps inside).

Within 50 yards, the main culvert is joined by a large side culvert coming in from the north (on the right) - possibly the original Spittal Brook - and then, approx 200 yards further in, two larger side culverts join up - again from the north  - most likely linking up with the Swanswell Pool/Springfield Brook. 

Just a little further on, somewhere close to Priory St is the first of the 'entombed bridges' - what looks to be a short single carriage width early 19th century arched bridge. 

(Update 5/2/17: we've now done some research, and reckon this is most likely the Cox Street river crossing - directly in front of present day Cov Baths and 'the elephant'. Originally referred to as 'Mill Lane', this was the location of the medieval city wall 'Mill Gate' - also called 'Bastille Gate' due to it's proximity to the Priory Gaol. Interestingly, this is the area in which a Roman-era ford crossing was discovered during building excavation works in the early 1900s, reckoned to have linked Mancetter with Bagington, with a route that took it via higher ground in Hillfields - where there are also several earlier accounts of an ancient road surface being uncovered).

The concrete culverting along this first section - under the Sky Blue Way ringroad junction, and along past the Swimming Baths is impressive in its own right - very wide (15-20ft) with surprisingly high ceilings. The 200 yard stretch that begins west of Priory St incorporates the original 19th C brick retaining walls, exactly as they were in the late 60's  - but with concrete shuttering overhead - providing a beautiful glimpse of how the 'open' River must have looked in earlier times, particularly enjoyable within the section of wide sweeping curves beneath Millennium Place.  

The short 20m daylighted section adjacent Palmer Lane, behind 'Subway' fast food shop on Burges, is quite magical - we were lucky enough to choose a clear sunny day for the trip, so had a fabulous view of the overlooking buildings - all but hidden above ground by bushes.

Interestingly, there are exciting plans for this section to be extended with more daylighting, exposing - and landscaping -  a further 20m or so to the east in 2018 (the Harrabin 'Sherbourne Walk' cafe/riverside bar development).

The proposed 'Sherbourne Walk' development (note - the nominal water level is about 10ft lower than shown on this artists impression!)

The proposed 'Sherbourne Walk' development (note - the nominal water level is about 10ft lower than shown on this artists impression!)

With it's location, almost exactly half way between the Spon End and Gosford Gate openings, this spot makes an ideal exit point for pedestrians - should the possibility for end-to-end walkways be investigated (more detail on this idea, later). The majority of the hidden river has a concrete base throughout its length, however this short section - and the 60 yard 'arched' section a little further on in the vicininty of Agers Shoe shop - still retains an original bed.

An elegant archway opens up to the passage beneath 'Burges' - revealing ancient sandstone supports, and a beautiful brick bridge structure still intact across the width of the street - before reverting again to concrete culverting for approx another 100 yards - mostly beneath present day West Orchards Shopping Centre.

Shortly after, a smaller side culvert opens up (again to the north) bringing water in from what is the now fully enclosed (apart from a small section adjacent to Middleborough Road) Radford Brook.

The brook links up with Nauls Mill Park Pond approx half a mile away, and originally fed another of the many mill's that populated the banks of Coventry's rivers in earlier times. The present junction lies beneath the service yard entrance to the 1950s Co-op building, beside Agers Shoe shop. This is an early 19th c 'improvement' - designed to drain the marshy land between here, and today's Hales Street - and suitable for building.

Shortly after this, there is what appears to be a very early extended arched ceiling section linking what were the Smithford St and West Orchard ancient thoroughfare crossing points. The roof structure presents as a wonderful 100 ft canal- 'esque tunnel, finished in blue brick and is quite something to experience up-close. The image below shows this section really well - illuminated brightly with a pro torch - taken by a group of 'urban explorers' a few years back..

The final section runs from Lower Precinct, under the present day multistorey car park, through to the front of Ikea. Eight large rectangular concrete inspection covers visable at surface level (close-by the raised planting area) - indicate just how wide the culverted section is at this point.

A brief daylighted section just to the left of the Skydome, adjacent the ringroad - gives another glimpse of the river before it disappears beneath the final stretch of culverting across the flyover junction, and over to the flood defense grill another 30m or so further out beyond the ringroad at Spon End. 

It's not possible to exit here, or at any point other than the entrance in Gosford Street - so in all, the route works out to an almost 3 mile round trip. Very dark, and peculiarly eerie - with all the obvious watery noises - but, also, astonishingly loud random clanking sounds. These reverberate regularly from all directions via storm drain channels, and are made (we finally realised - after having almost turned and fled, several times) by cars and buses passing regularly over loose manhole covers above. In parts, it's also quite brick and rubbish strewn, so, overall, definitely *not* (we're afraid) recommended for the faint-hearted.

ps. A final (serious) footnote.. we hadn't appreciated just how limited mobile phone coverage would be beneath the concrete shuttering. Apart from a few manholes where it's possible to get signal by holding your phone up high - it's not practical to be ringing for help if any emergency situation were to arise... so, our advice has to be, don't attempt the walk yourselves.

That said, we *do* however think there are good possibilities for opening up the Underground Sherbourne to visitors longer term, and this is mostly what prompted our exploration. We love new possibilities for telling Coventry's interesting history, encouraging more pedestrian journeys into the city-centre - plus anything uniquely distinctive with potential for boosting touristic appeal.

In summary then, whilst we don't claim to have all the answers, we see possibilities that could include:-

the introduction of a tow-path style raised pedestrian walkway (providing an attractive/innovative short-cut commuter link into the town centre, using 'Sherbourne Walk' as an mid-town exit point, with newly created pedestrian entrances at both Gosford St - in the east, and Spon End - the west) -

and/or, the 'canalisation' of the underground river (allowing access by shallow draft electric punts like they have in Oxford - this could be possibly - dependent upon gradient,  be created with a shallow 2ft weir constructed downstream at the Gosford Gate entrance, the river being less than a foot deep at present for most of it's' underground journey).

Illumination of the tunnels - using daylight spectrum lighting - this presents an exciting possibility for the re-introduction of water-margin plants, attracting bio-diversity into what (without daylight) is a sterile environment devoid of fish, insects or flora.

This kind of urban regeneration initiative does of course cost money - but such a scheme would surely be amongst those worthy of consideration as 'big ideas with potential to transform Coventry' called for by the 2021 City of Culture bid - something to capture the imagination of both citizens and visitors as an integral element of the city's regeneration.

Re-imagining the culverted underground Sherbourne, dramatically illuminated - with a pedestrian walkway providing a fast track direct into the heart of the city.. (thx to Lisa Miller for this image - showing similar approach adopted at a Coventry Canal underpass, in Foleshill).

Re-imagining the culverted underground Sherbourne, dramatically illuminated - with a pedestrian walkway providing a fast track direct into the heart of the city.. (thx to Lisa Miller for this image - showing similar approach adopted at a Coventry Canal underpass, in Foleshill).

Would you consider using the 'Underground Sherbourne' as a short-cut, avoiding the ringroad? (encouraging you to travel, by foot, into the town centre, or to your place of work) 

Or would you consider - as part of a touristic visit to Coventry - exploring the Underground Sherbourne on foot, or paying for an 'electric punt tour' ?

(with engagement encouraged, via information boards or walking-tour guides - telling the history of Coventry from the perspective of it's emergence at the edge of the Ancient forest of Arden, marked by an old oak, at the point where two rivers meet)

Whatever your thoughts - we're not sure of the practicalities either..  but we'll speak to a few folks who know about setting up stuff like this, and report back soon - meantime, keep watching this space :)

 

STOP PRESS.. (3/4/17) Coventry City Council have just issued a questionnaire asking for what you'd like to see as part of the heritage transformation of Burges area scheduled for next year. Excitingly, one of the options is for 'public tours of the underground river sherbourne tunnels' - sounds good to us! Take a look here, and tell them what you think >> https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/theburges?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn&utm_source=Twitter

 

Ted Atkinson Sculptures

Coventry had a rich post-war tradition of incorporating sculpture into the public realm - with many works commissioned to complement the various buildings and schemes. This interesting background piece about a well known sculptor came our way recently c/o Paul Maddocks of the Coventry Society:-

''Edward 'Ted' Atkinson (1928-2016) trained as a sculpture first at Liverpool College of Art then the Central School of Art, London. He taught in many colleges, including Coventry College of Art between 1967 - 70.

He did a famous sculpture in Coventry's Smithford Way in front of the Central Library between it and the Marks and Spencer building - three standing white figures more like bags of sausages two outer fat figures and the middle one looking like a string of sausages standing up. The central figure suffered vandalism within weeks of unveiling - and was snapped off at the base, with the remainder placed in store.

Ted described his work as 'three totem-like shapes standing side by side . . . to form a sculptural screen'. The bulbous form of the work and its smooth machine-like finish, relate this work to the sculptures by Joannis Avramidis of the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

This piece was commissioned after twelve years of discussion between the planning committee, British Home Stores and Marks and Spencer. The two companies had taken the premises in the Upper Precinct on the understanding that they would provide some sort of sculptural work associated with their buildings. Donald Gibson, the city architect, had planned that this work would take the form of sculptural reliefs in Caen stone installed on the exterior walls of the two buildings, but his successor Arthur Ling, changed the plan, first to free-standing pieces projecting out from the walls, and then to a free-standing work in Smithford Way. BHS pulled out of the scheme, but Marks and Spencer's made £1000 available for the scheme. In 1962 Arthur Ling suggested Elizabeth Frink's work, but the Committee were unable to agree to this idea. Instead the city architect, art director and art college principal were asked to suggest alternative ways of selecting a piece of sculpture. Their report suggested a piece of sculpture based on the them of 'future technological progress' be commissioned from a 'younger sculptor of potential reputation'. Ted Atkinson was asked to submit a maquette and was then commissioned to carry out the work. The work was removed in circa 1985. The central, tall element had long been missing.

Over the years he contributed to many shows nationally and internationally with the main body of work directed towards architectural commissions, with major public sculptures sited in Britain, Germany, Holland and the USA.

In 1988, along with Moore, Frink and Armitage, he was one of six sculptors invited to represent Britain at Expo'88 in Brisbane.''

We (at Visit Coventry) think it's about time that the surviving sculptures are dusted off to find a new home in Coventry's new-look city centre.. maybe at the entrance to the Broadgate 'ramp'? (see last pic ;)0 )

Sub-Urban graffiti

Coventry had a bit of a 'thing' in the 60's for subways - something to do with keeping pedestrians in a nice cosy rain-free environment, away from the noisy, smelly, dangerous motorcar. They even became shrines (breifly, before cost became an increasing issue for the cash-strapped council) for the betterment of the public through innovative artistic design, often featuring tiled motifs in vibrant colour schemes. Subways also had alot to do with the ringroad having truncated fifty or so of the ancient streets previously used by folks walking to/from town.. but anyways, many have been filled in, in the admirable rush to humanise the city centre - so we thought we'd post a couple of surviving examples for your perusal, plus two other colourful thoroughfares (the blue graffiti can be found on 'anarchy bridge' - linking Central Six Shopping area to the suburb of Earlsdon, and the rainbow effect lighting illuminates a short passageway from Hertford St to Fords Hospital in Greyfriars Lane).

Sent to Coventry.. from Stoneleigh

Someone contacted us and said I should check out Stoneleigh Abbey as their friend had been on a recent visit and loved it.

It's only 4.5 miles from Coventry town centre, but I'm sure I remembered it all being converted in the 90's into posh apartments - and wasn't open to the public..  

Anyways, seems I'm wrong. The beautiful riverside grounds, ancient 13th century abbey gatehouse, tudor manor house, huge c. 1730's residential 'extension' and ten or so lavishly decorated rooms on show today are a bit of an unknown gem as they (whoever owns the Estate) don't do much of a job of promoting the place to visitors. It's open Mon-Thurs, and costs £5, but there's free parking and the price includes a (very interesting and well delivered, by a nice albany theatre chap) approx. 60 min guided tour that runs at 11.30am - lot's of nice anecdotes and stories like the one about the Catholic supporting Lord Leigh who owned Stoneleigh in 1640's and gave Charles I shelter after Parliamentarian Coventry had closed its doors - he was imprisoned after Charles' defeat and 'sent to coventry' (under lock and key in St Johns Church) within Coventrys old medieval city walls with many other condemned royalist prisoners, and only released almost a year later after payment of £75,000! Queen Victoria also stayed here in 1855 - and was apparently mightily impressed with the 'Thomas Crapper' flushing loo (Stoneleigh was only the second place to have one installed in Great Britain!).

Not up to the standard of NT properties in terms of signage, visitor shop, information displays or tea-room experience but its an astonishingly beautiful spot with great riverside walks and a lovely ambience - we reckon it's a must-visit before they give it the full tourist treatment and - probably - double the prices :).

1000 year history makes Coventry top Pokemon GO visitor destination..

I'm doing daily the 'school run' earlier, with my 14 year old son and he casually says.. 'You know what Dad - Coventry's really brilliant for rare pokemon go spawning'.  Er, what? 'Yeah - all the history, old buildings, churches and stuff - means it's way better than other places we've been to'.

coventry city council pokemon go map

Right, um, ok. So I get home and take a look on-line, and guess what - he's correct. The algorithm they use apparently seeks out places globally with the highest density of noteworthy landmarks and interesting 'things' - and 'spawns' the rarest pokemon characters so as to entice players into cultural enrichment (or something like that - probably more to do with it latching to what google has historically 'tagged' as worth visiting). Anyhow, there's even a page on Coventry City Council's website dedicated to showing you the real-time status of 'hotspots and gyms' (sorry, I've no idea what that actually means).

So why is this relevant to a city guide?

Well, in our experience - if your kids are having fun, chances are you will be too! 

 

 

 

The clock, the naked lady and the guy with big eyes!

Yesterday, standing in Broadgate - (as it happens, listening to a talk by architectural historian Jeremy Gould on Coventry's fabulous post-war buildings!)  - I heard a loud bell strike. A kind of hush descended briefly as lots of people turned round to see a crowd of tourists get out cameras and point toward the Clock Tower.

Weirdly, I've never actually seen the doors opening and Godiva riding out - and had to double-take when another set of shutters popped open with Peeping Tom's big eyes learing down. I think the mechanism had been broken for so long I'd just forgotten it existed. But now, with the huge Broadgate Square having been newly pedestrianised - now on a par with any large European piazza'ered City - it's been re-furbished, and is, well, quite striking with it's quirky stripped down 1950's design style and geometric patterns.  Great stuff!

lady godiva and peeping tom broadgate coventry

Subway Sect?

Not sure what Vic Goddard would have made of these - but we love 'em. That's one of the interesting things about Coventry - you're always coming across, um, interesting things you've never seen before.. like these 1960's tile mosaics - reclaimed in the late 1990s from a redundant subway by the Butts Technical College (now, a Premier Inn) - and set up as wall-art in Ikea's ground floor car park. I'd genuinely not noticed before - took a few snaps, and dived online to find out the story. Nice eh?

Turning Japanese, we really think so..

One of my favorite spots in town is Priory Place - it started off life back in 2000 with several bars, but now has a more refined feel. Three restaurants, a media centre, a chinese mini-supermarket and (at least the rumour is) possibly a beauty salon.

Anyhow, I've never tried Japanese food but loved the look of the new 'Shin' bar-eaterie - so thought I'd stick my head in and have a look. Really friendly staff, and lovely artwork on the walls - it seems they have another restaurant in Cheltenham and chose Coventry for their next venture. Good for them!

The mostly sushi menu doesn't work for me as I'm a veggie, but did notice a £12.95 (v) platter for two option, so think I'll bring wifey along some day soon.. anyways - just sitting at the bar looks fun too, so maybe i'll just try inbibing The Vapors on my own!