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Public Art versus Public Safety

By Paul Maddocks


Public art is a bit like beauty, it's mainly in the eye of the beholder.

You may love or hate a public work of art, but is it harmful to you health?

Francois Scheins " Time Zone Clock" in Millennium Place was taken up last year so people could watch the big TV screen showing the Olympic. It had been for a long time a problem every time a big event was staged, a hard floor had be put over the Time Zone Clock to stop people tripping over the raised lines of lights.

Other large public artworks have also had problems like "B of the Bang" (a quote from Linford Christie) by Thomas Heatherwick for the City of Manchester Stadium at Sportcity. Bits of heavy large pipes have been dropping off and it was dismantled in 2009.

In Birmingham the "Forward Statue" by Raymond Mason in Centenary Square (installed in 1991) was made of Fibreglass and set on fire in 2003.

Before that there was "Polaris" by David Mach made out of rubber tyres. This submarine was a protest piece of art, anti nuclear arms. It was located by the River Thames in front of the Royal Festival Hall in London. This too was set on fire, but the person who did it died with it.

So one of the problems with public art is that it has to meet with Health and Safety guide lines, like materials it's made of, its construction and most of all how the public react with the piece of artwork. If the public are to walk on it it should not trip or make them fall. The work of art, a water feature to honour Princes Diana was a big problem when people started paddling in the flowing water and slipping over.

I had the pleasure of meeting the artist of Time Zone, Francois Scheins when she came to talk to the Coventry Art School. After the talk Jenny Hann a senior lecturer of the college and I took Francois to see the 'Time Zone Clock' as she had not seen it finished. When were arrived at Millennium Place, Francois was surprised that there was a Transport Museum looking over the clock. She said "no one told me that it was going to be in front of a transport museum, if I had known I could have changed it to reflect wheels and travel".

This had come about because the artwork had originally been a competition piece for the New York World Trade Centre. It had not won the competition, but she was asked to alter it to fit the 'shell shape' of Millennium Place. The strip lighting was supposed to be set into the paving but was installed proud, presumably for budged or practical reasons.

The description of the artwork was-

"The notion of the time zone evokes an image of straight, parallel lines, one besides the other. In contrast, the lines of the Time Zone Clock are corded and irregular, there are the familiar but imaginary lines that mark the geopolitical borders between the nations of the world. An important part of how people define themselves and are defined by other, these lines are often drawn on maps and documents, but do not exist on physical and itself. The Clock's line of light are slightly curved outward, giving the impression of the natural pleats in the earth, the way that they traces left on the sand by the movement of the wind and water resemble waves of the ocean"

If the design had been straight lines i.e. wheel spokes, it could have been set into the paving, because straight lines are easier to cut with a circular saw. We would still have a clock that works and represents Coventry's past industry.



The Changing Face of Central Library

By Paul Maddocks


Central Library has just had a makeover with new carpets furniture and a good lick of paint. The Coventry Society was asked to put up its recent Camera Principis photograph exhibition on the balcony of the library.

Adam, Lucy and I jumped at the chance: we are able to reshow this wonderful display but also put on a exhibition about the Coventry Society and hopefully recruit a few new members.

The refurbishment looks really good but it took me back to when it used to be a Dance Hall; where Chuck Berry recorded 'My Ding a ling'; where the Specials started and where Pete Waterman started off?

But over time, as the specials sang in Ghost Town, all the night clubs closed down. The Building was not being used and a friend of mine was at a council meeting in the middle 1980's when the question of what to do with the empty Locarno ball room came up. As a joke someone said we need a new home for the Central Library so we can develop the Broadgate area.

It could have been any empty building at the time.

That was the seed that ended up growing into the Central library being where it is now.

Later when they wanted to develop West Orchards, The developers insisted that the glass tower which housed the stairs and lift was to be taken down so that it did not screen off the new West Orchards development, They also insisted that they had a greater access from the Precinct. They were offered some shop fronts that would house the escalators that would take people into the West Orchards site. This was not good enough. They insisted on having the escalator come right into the centre of the Precinct and the glass tower of the Locarno to be taken down or they would pull out of the development! The city council were so weak they gave into both of these demands.

If you missed the Coventry Society's Camera Principis exhibition, why not pop into the library and take a look. 


Janet Vaughan; Talking Birds. 22/3/2013

I was one of two artists in residence at the library in 2001 (part of the Year of the Artist) - there's some library history on our blog - we ended up making a set of "books" for the library. I must find out whether they still have them! You can follow the process and see the works we made here.

Paul Maddocks; 22/3/2013

It's great that people are adding to the history of the Licarno and the Central Library.




The Loss of a Coventry Tradition

By Paul Maddocks


Coventry once had a strong Working Men's Club tradition. Many began in wooden huts but quickly became popular meeting places. They were full of activity: boxing lessons for young boys, men playing billiards, bagatelle, dominos and darts, with women and children’s entertainment and bingo at the weekend. Nearly every factory or place of work, housing estate, religious or ethnic group had a club. The city's most famous club was the Cox Street Club which the Queen visited in 1977 as part of her Silver Jubilee year.

It was at the pinnacle of working men's clubs success, but over the years its popularity fell. When a factory closed so did its club.  But Cox Street was different. This wasn't the problem. It carried on, but was too large, with many snooker tables and large bars and a concert hall to run. It had to close and move to the one time Builders Club in Whitefriars Lane. Later the building was taken over by the Coventry University as a facility for its students and was cleverly re-named as LIV, which is the Roman numerals for its address 54 Cox Street. Sadly when the Hub was built and the students moved into it the old building had to go. It followed many other great names in working men's clubs: like Stoke Ex-service Men's club, Brass Workers, Binley Colliery Working Men's, GEC, Tom Mann, Triple Triangle and many more. If you have other memories and photographs please get in touch.

Queen's visit to Cox Street



The Future of Browns

By Paul Maddocks


Browns’ building fits nicely between the Council House and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. It sits on the foundation of the first, but incomplete art gallery for the city. The outbreak of Second World War stopped the building being competed and after the war Sir Alfred Herbert put a great amount of money to have a bigger Art Gallery and Museum to be named after him.

The building was used as public toilets for a long time, it then closed because its underground location made it difficult to access.

Ken Brown a successful pub owner, firstly of the General Wolfe on Foleshill Road and then Browns Bar in the Lower Precinct.

When the council wanted to do up the lower precinct he moved to the present site. The building is of high quality using wooden interior and a copper roof, it has won many design awards and is a credit to the city.

But at present it's up for sale, and could go the same way as the former Yates Wine Bar, turned into a mini super market or an off license.

A precedent has been set and larger retailers can see the benefits of supplying to the student population. Ken Brown is now 72 years old and he wants to sell up, his daughter does not want the agro that they had last year. The door policy has been very strict: it is his own bar and he turns away people who he feels he would not have in his home so they do not come into his bar.

In all the years the place has been open he has not had any trouble till the incident of not serving two soldiers in uniform. He apologised, but for months he has had right wing objectors standing outside his front door. I personally was shouted at when I went in one evening. It was a warm evening and the front window screens were open, two women were sitting in the window space when suddenly they were shouted abuse at from people outside only feet away. This was very scary. All the time I was in Browns there were other supporters of the protesters driving up and down the road blowing their horns. It was like a scene from some southern American lunch mob movie. In another incident a motorcyclist tried to drive his large noisy motorcycle in to the bar. What did the Council do? They just said they would discuss with Ken Brown his door policy; no support for keeping the peace and a good clean and well run establishment.

So what of the future, we could lose this lovely bar /eating place and as usual with Coventry dumb down and end up with a mini supermarket /off licence. Are we to blame? We did not make a big fuss when Yates dumbed down!

What do you think?

Online Responses 

14/1/2013: Cameron Moon:

I could not agree more. An error was made and an apology was issued ( with a financial donation I might add) Browns is by far the safest place to have a drink and meal in town. The zero tolerance policy is perfect. Many other places in the town centre have the air of danger and threat. Being Asian I want to be in a safe environment. I'm not for one second suggesting that ALL the places bar Browns are unsafe but many house exactly the sort of right wing clientele you mention. If Browns is to close it will be the closure of the safest place in town. Ken and his daughter have been nothing bit courteous to me and my friends on each and every visit. Safety is paramount when visiting the town center and Browns provides it.

16/1/2013: covkid

Mr Browns boys!!


Civic Voice Conference

By John Payne

Coventry hosted this year’s Civic Voice Conference and AGM. Civic Voice is the umbrella group for civic societies around the country. It has over three hundred member organisations and over 100 of these came to Coventry on 19th and 20th of October.

The Coventry Society organised four walking tours for participants and we received very positive feedback from these, with several people commenting how interesting and nice Coventry is. We took them to Far Gosford Street, Electric Wharf, Black Swan Terrace and the Charterhouse with society members acting as tour leaders.

We also helped with the organisation and administration of the conference. On Friday evening we supported a civic reception in St. Mary’s Guildhall and we laid on entertainment in the form of a recital of harp music. Cllr John Mutton, the Leader of the Council, gave the official civic welcome to the conference. We liked John telling us that the Coventry Society was a “pain in the a*se” but he admitted that an effective civic society is important. He also complimented Ron Morgan, a founder member of the Society, for having the foresight to save important buildings in the city. The evening also included an awards ceremony for societies who have undertaken innovative and effective work during the last year. The Blackpool Civic Society members were very proud of their “Calendar Girls” style calendar, but you will be pleased to hear that our committee members decided to spare the city the indignity of a similar experience.

At the conference on Saturday, our Vice Chairman Colin Walker gave the Coventry welcome to the delegates and told them about the history of the society. The highlight of the morning was the address by Civic Voice’s president Griff Rhys Jones who spoke from the heart and personal experience about the need to conserve our heritage at the same time as being open to sensible alternative uses of historic buildings. He said that history tells us that the recession will not last for ever and we should avoid making rash decisions to destroy our heritage on the dubious justification of the current recession.

The conference broke into four workshops on key themes for the civic movement: participation in neighbourhood planning; the future of Heritage Open Days; the Portas Pilots for town centres and Placecheck – a tool for the improvement of neighbourhoods. We divided our members between these workshops and found them very interesting.

One of our members, David Tittle, is a trustee of Civic Voice and he led a session about the Civic Voice Leadership programme. Participants on the programme gave an interesting demonstration of a new tool they have devised to assist civic societies to become more effective and strategic in their development. The Coventry Society will find this a very useful tool to help it shape itself for the future.

The conference was very interesting and stimulating and we are pleased that the Coventry Society made an effective contribution in making it a success.

 John Payne

Coventry Society Committee Member

Griff Rhys Jones


Streetscape, Shared Spaces and Urban Design



The removal of traffic lights at certain junctions in Coventry city centre sparked a lively debate in recent months over some key issues in urban design – central to which is an argument about the best way to achieve a sensible balance of power between pedestrians and traffic.

 A crucial concept in this debate is the strange notion of "shared space", a radical and apparently foolhardy idea which seems, at first sight, to turn common sense onto its head. But while we in Coventry continue to ponder the rights and wrongs of this brave new experiment, town planners in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have taken this idea considerably further with the total redesign of London's Exhibition Road, a busy main artery which runs right through the centre of the capital's cultural heartland, with magnificent buildings on either side such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, Imperial College and the Science Museum.

This road, leading up to the Royal Albert Hall at its northern end and once the main route to the Great Exhibition ‐held at Hyde Park in 1851 – has in recent years become an unpleasant and congested thoroughfare, often choked with lines of coaches and usually tricky for pedestrians to negotiate.

But since February this year, when the new scheme was officially unveiled, Exhibition Road has been re‐born and reinvigorated, courtesy of an extraordinary transformation. Gone are the traditional pavements, kerbs, barriers and street clutter. In their place is a single surface "shared space", with a stunning chequered granite design, which runs from South Kensington tube station to Hyde Park, covering the entire width of the road from building to building.

Motorists have been slowed down to 20mph and the distinction between roadway and walkway is achieved by visual and tactile lines which subtly delineate those areas for pedestrians, who enjoy the lion's share of the space, and those for traffic.

 The result is a splendid pedestrian‐friendly streetscape which allows visitors to stroll from one end of the road to the other, and from one side of the street to the other, relatively untroubled by motor vehicles which are obliged to negotiate the space with more care than usual, precisely because the road lacks the more common assumption of an automatic right of way. The whole effect is enhanced by impressive street light columns down the centre of the road, occasional street benches, and an outdoor exhibition of sculpture.

 The scheme was designed by the architects Dixon Jones and has already won several awards, but the real pioneer of the "shared space" concept was the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman and the Danish urban planner Jan Gehl, who have helped to make the concept relatively common in Holland and Scandinavia.

Like the traffic junctions in Coventry, the redesign of Exhibition Road has not been without its critics and it is acknowledged to be an experiment. But the apparent success of the scheme does seem to indicate that "shared space" has much to offer and that Coventry, in a small but significant way, may be at the forefront of a fascinating development in contemporary urban design.

John Marshall

Coventry Society Member



An appeal has been lodged against the Council's refusal of planning permission for Peugeot's storage and distribution warehouse on Plot 1 at Lyons Park. 
The proposed building, that would operate 24/7, would clearly have a considerable impact on the surrounding residential area and Green Belt at Coundon Wedge.
In the outline planning permission for Lyons Park the Council had already stated that large warehousing on Plot 1 would not be suitable, yet Peugeot's current proposal is even higher and larger than the outline plans show. 
This development would clearly be  better suited to Peugeot's former site at Ryton. 


Lyons Park 

Posted 4/2/12

An appeal has been lodged against the Council's refusal of planning permission for Peugeot's storage and distribution warehouse on Plot 1 at Lyons Park. 

The proposed building, that would operate 24/7, would clearly have a considerable impact on the surrounding residential area and Green Belt at Coundon Wedge.

In the outline planning permission for Lyons Park the Council had already stated that large warehousing on Plot 1 would not be suitable, yet Peugeot's current proposal is even higher and larger than the outline plans show. 

This development would clearly be  better suited to Peugeot's former site at Ryton. 

Keith Draper





Charterhouse Fields - an opinion

Posted 28/4/11


Society members who have been following Facebook and Twitter or read the Coventry Telegraph will be aware of the controversy about the future of Charterhouse Fields.

The land in question was part of the estate of the Charterhouse, the former Carthusian monastery on London Road. It forms part of the London Road Conservation area. The Charterhouse and some of its surrounding land were left to the people of Coventry in the will of Sir William (Colonel) Wyley (1852 – 1940), the last private owner of the estate. The land in question was purchased separately from Colonel Wyley's estate by the City Council in 1941.

In 1964 part of the land was used for the construction of Blue Coat Church of England School and its playing fields and the land in question has been maintained by the school  since then. However the fields were never fenced off and continued to be used by the local community for casual recreation.  

In 1989 the City Council sought to prosecute three local residents for trespassing on the land, but dropped the case when it was taken up by local MP and solicitor Bill Wilson. Since then there has been no challenge to local residents in using the fields. There is a footpath across the land, but the Council and the School hold the view that it is not a public right of way. This is disputed by local residents who have used it for many years.

These issues came to a head recently when the governors of Blue Coat School decided to seek Academy status. The law requires that all land wholly or mainly in use by the school should be transferred from the Council to the Academy and this is to be in the form of 125 year lease without restrictions. When local residents found out what was happening they formed a campaign to "save our fields" and retain access to the land. A petition with 1349 signatures was quickly collected and the residents protested before the Scrutiny Co-ordinating Committee on 27th April. At that meeting the Council decided to appoint legal experts to advise them on whether public right of access could be written into the lease agreement. In the meantime Councillor Nellist has submitted an application for the land to be designated as a Village Green.

The main concern of residents is that the land will be fenced off preventing access except at the discretion of the school. Although the school have denied any intention of fencing off the land, there is back history as a planning application for just that was submitted by the school in 2006 but not determined by the Council.

If you don't know the site, its well worth a visit. The access is a left turn off London Road going out of the city, after Acacia Avenue. You will be surprised to find a lovely quiet area of countryside so close to the city centre. You can follow what's happening on facebook by linking to Charterhouse Fields or on Twitter with #Charterhouse