Coventry’s boutique quarter

Spon Lane, Coventry, West Midlands

Spon Lane, Coventry, West Midlands

Wikipedia has a main-page feature that asks annoying “Did you know?” questions that are so specialised you’re supposed to click on the article to find out something or nothing.

Once the question was “Did you know… that Spon Street survived the air raid that obliterated much of Coventry City Centre and is now a Conservation Area?”  Well, actually I did, for once.

Spon Street is now “Coventry’s hidden treasure” – “a unique selection of quality and niche shops… occupying a range of historic renovated medieval buildings”:  http://www.sponstreetcoventry.co.uk.

It’s also a conservation tragic-comedy.

In the early twentieth century Coventry, according to its historian, Mary Dormer Harris, had so much genuine medieval architecture it could have been the “English Nuremburg”;  J B Priestley in his English Journey (1934) commented, “you peep round a corner and see half-timbered and gabled houses that would do for the second act of the Meistersinger”.

After the Luftwaffe devastated the centre of the city in November 1940, the City Architect, Donald Gibson (1908-1991), set about destroying much of what the Germans left.

He grasped the opportunity to give the people of Coventry a splendid new city centre, spacious, clean, modern and new, aligned on an axis with the tower of the bombed Cathedral, with duplex shopping arcades based on – of all things – Chester’s Rows.

Meanwhile, a Worcester architect, F W B (Freddie) Charles (1912-2002) took a contrary approach.

He was the architect of Shrewsbury’s fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Bear Steps and a founder of the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildingshttp://www.avoncroft.org.uk.

In Coventry he transplanted timber-framed buildings from elsewhere to join surviving structures on Spon Street, a former road into the centre severed by the inner ring-road.

7-10 Much Park Street became 163-4 Spon Street in 1970-4;  142-3 Spon Street was restored on a different-shaped site as 16 Spon Street in 1972-5;  the former Green Dragon Inn at 122-123 Much Park Street became 20-21 Spon Street after partial collapse between 1972 and 1982.  159-162 and 167-168 Spon Street were restored in situ, with new “medieval” facades in 1981-5.

So it was that some fragments of Coventry’s wealth of medieval buildings that existed in 1900 and survived 1940 were – literally – sent to Coventry.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

 

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