Coventry's guildhall "decaying, vandalised and closed"

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Coventry's guildhall "decaying, vandalised and closed"

Postby dutchman » Mon Jan 28, 2013 2:55 pm

Coventry's magnificent medieval guildhall is being damaged and neglected, says a leading councillor.

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Coun Ed Ruane looks around the medieval guildhall.

The state of St Mary’s Guildhall has prompted a call for the 760-year-old building - one of the city’s ‘‘crown jewels’’ - to be better preserved.

Labour councillor Ed Ruane, cabinet member responsible for tourism, wants the architectural masterpiece to open all year round as a major tourist attraction.

The Telegraph was given a tour of the Coventry City Council-owned building - which closes for six months each year, and is used for wedding receptions.

Beyond the immediate splendour of the hall, scheduled as an ancient monument, there is evidence of vandalism, damage and neglect.

Coun Ruane claimed he had also been informed of valuable items going missing.

He wants the hall placed firmly on the city’s international tourist map where it belongs – with general public admission all year round.

He wants the council to explore the potential for bringing in an independent trust to manage and operate the historic venue in medieval Bayley Lane, opposite the ruins of St Michael’s Cathedral.

The building is considered by heritage experts to be Britain’s finest medieval guildhall - boasting a rare giant tapestry and stained glass windows, an ornate ceiling, and life-size portraits.

Coun Ruane also wants the council to link up with national organisations, such as the tourist board Visit England, to market the attraction.

In several historic rooms off the Great Hall above a kitchen - which include the old council chamber - there is an overwhelming rancid smell of chips and fatty food.

Coun Ruane claims sick was left for a week in the corner of the old council chamber after one wedding reception before Christmas.

In the rooms above, graffiti can be seen etched into window panes.

Urinals in the toilets are fixed to hardboard screwed into the historic walls. Elsewhere, the stone interior walls are stained with what appear to be food or drink marks.

Coun Ruane also complains modern office-style chairs are out of keeping, and are stacked and propped up by fine wooden carved features adorning walls - supposed to be protected by unused screening panels strewn to one side.

While the Great Hall itself appears to be better preserved and a screen protects the giant Coventry Tapestry, paintwork on a coat of arms next to it is being eroded.

Coun Ruane, who became a cabinet member last year after Labour gained control of the council in 2010, is also calling for responsibility for the guildhall to be transferred from the council’s City Development department to his tourism portfolio.

He said: “Knowing how highly valued the guildhall is by Coventry people, it’s shocking to see this level of damage and neglect.

‘‘Some valuable items have gone missing, and vandalism is being caused to the place. Having spoken with people with expert knowledge of its history, I know it causes heartache.

“This is a unique building in what should be Coventry’s cultural quarter and a major international tourist destination.

“Instead, groups of people see the cathedral, then get back in their coaches. They do not see the guildhall or anywhere else. It’s a massive missed opportunity.

“We need to do much more. We can’t do all the promotion ourselves, and should be looking to use national marketing organisations such as Visit England.

“It’s not good enough that what should be a key attraction is only open for six months a year, except for pre-bookings. It sends the wrong message to visitors.

“Families from all over the world also come to Coventry for graduation ceremonies at the cathedral. They can’t see the guildhall or get their pictures taken there when it’s closed.”

Dr Jonathan Foyle, chief executive of the World Monuments Fund Britain, agreed it was Britain’s “finest surviving medieval guildhall”.

He added: “It’s a real jewel in Coventry’s crown. It has many national importances, and you could spend a day unpicking its history.

“It’s living history at its best. It’s still operating as a civic monument attached to the council house, the city’s centre of government. It’s a crying shame that active decay is allowed to happen.

“With a little investment and the right marketing, it would bring people flooding to Coventry.

“Coventry looks at Warwick with envy. That doesn’t need to happen. It has much to be proud of. Once lost, it is gone forever. Bayley Lane is one of the best medieval streets in Britain.”

He argues the council, not a private trust, should realise the guildhall’s true potential.

He said: “Trusts often don’t have the means to take on grand civic buildings. I think the council should accept the opportunities of presenting Coventry’s history with pride.”

He said the Coventry Tapestry in the guildhall’s Great Hall was older than those in Hampton Court, while another hidden treasure was its preserved medieval window depicting kings of England.

He said it was a little known fact that Coventry’s guildhall was once the seat of Royal Parliament in the 1450s, when Henry VI fled to Coventry in the War of the Roses.

Coun Ruane said Coventry’s tourism potential was generally missing out from the city not making use of Visit England, relying instead on council and local marketing of key attractions.

He said it meant Coventry was left out of tourist pamphlets at key travel locations such as Coventry station or Birmingham Airport, where he said people could pick up leaflets advertising Warwick, Kenilworth and Stratford’s historic assets, but not Coventry.

A scrutiny committee of councillors is now set to examine the concerns. Labour councillor Colleen Fletcher, chair of scrutiny board one, said: “We are looking at a number of venues and how best we can promote the history and culture of Coventry for people who live in this city, and elsewhere.

“We’ve discussed how we might influence tour operators to include the guildhall in tours, if it had better opening times.”

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Re: Coventry's guildhall "decaying, vandalised and closed"

Postby dutchman » Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:49 pm

Council on Coventry's guildhall

Concerning the guildhall, a Coventry City Council spokesman said: "The guildhall is a fantastic and much loved building. And although it is an important tourist attraction – it is also a fantastic function room.

"Caring for and protecting listed buildings requires a really delicate touch – in fact it’s all about balance. But what is certainly true is that buildings need to be used, or we run the risk of them falling into disrepair. They very quickly get cold and damp and then the very fabric of them begins to suffer.

"The guildhall has been used for a wide range of events throughout history, many centred around eating and celebrations.

"The events might be different today, but the Great Hall is certainly in good hands and is in such good condition thanks to the events that it holds which help to support its upkeep.

"We are constantly talking to other organisations, like Visit England, about successful marketing of tourist attractions like the guildhall."

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Re: Coventry's guildhall "decaying, vandalised and closed"

Postby dutchman » Sun Mar 03, 2013 6:43 pm

Bomb damage to the 14th century St Mary's Hall following the air raid of the 22nd October 1940.
The hall was amongst many historic buildings damaged in the raid:

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