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Coventry’s Overlooked Post-War Heritage Celebrated In New Book

  • Historic England publishes new book exploring Coventry’s rebuilding
  • Post-war architecture an important part of our heritage
  • Proposed changes could alter the now-historic Civic Quarter

Coventry’s post-war rebuilding was innovative and influential yet has often been overshadowed by the story of the catastrophic war-time bombing of the city. Today, Historic England publishes a new book which celebrates the rebuilding of the city.

Broadgate House, left, and Hotel Leofric, right, placed symmetrically on the entrance to the Upper Precinct marked with the City Standard. Broadgate House was listed at Grade II in 2013 © Historic England
Broadgate House, left, and Hotel Leofric, right, placed symmetrically on the entrance to the Upper Precinct marked with the City Standard. Broadgate House was listed at Grade II in 2013 © Historic England

Coventry: The making of a modern city 1939-73 explains what was achieved in Coventry in the wake of wartime destruction.  In an era of hope, reconciliation and renewal, the city led the way in post-war planning and rebuilding.  Home to the first pedestrianised shopping centre in Europe, the city became a model for the redevelopment of Britain. It was internationally renowned, widely published and visited by architects and planners from across the world.

Interest in the post-war era has grown in recent years. The new cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence, has long been considered one of the best post-war buildings in the country. Historic England now wants to shine a light on some of the other 20th-century buildings which may have fallen out of favour, so that they can be better understood and appreciated as an important part of our heritage.

New Coventry Cathedral. Grade I listed in 1988 (Basil Spence & Partners, 1951−62) © Historic England
New Coventry Cathedral. Grade I listed in 1988 (Basil Spence & Partners, 1951−62) © Historic England

Historic England has worked hard to ensure the best examples of Coventry’s post-war architecture have been protected by listing. The Cathedral and ruins, Central Swimming Baths, Broadgate House and its mechanical Godiva clock and the circular Central Market all have a place on the National Heritage List for England, among other buildings in Coventry.

Proposed changes look to alter the now historic post-war Civic Quarter of the city, which may include the re-development of the elegant former City Architect’s office on Earl Street – from where the delivery of Gibson’s city centre vision was co-ordinated. By raising the profile of Coventry’s most significant post-war buildings and places Historic England aims to encourage appreciation of the past when planning for the future. We hope to see the retention, conversion or adaptation of unlisted historic buildings and places wherever possible.

Coventry's circular Central Market, grade II listed in 2009. When Coventry was rebuilt following wartime bombing, the plan was to create a complete ring of roof-top and multi-storey car parks interconnected with each other and directly linked to the ring road. The ramp (on the top left) to the roof-top of this reinforced concrete market building led to the first open-deck, multi-storey car park in Britain. © Historic England
Coventry's circular Central Market, grade II listed in 2009. When Coventry was rebuilt following wartime bombing, the plan was to create a complete ring of roof-top and multi-storey car parks interconnected with each other and directly linked to the ring road. The ramp (on the top left) to the roof-top of this reinforced concrete market building led to the first open-deck, multi-storey car park in Britain. © Historic England

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said:
“The city of Coventry is a great example of pioneering post war planning and is a significant part of England’s story of revival after the devastation of bombing in the Second World War.”

Jeremy and Caroline Gould, joint authors, said:
“The buildings and streets of post-war Coventry are the material evidence of one of the greatest moments in the city’s history, a time when Britain and the wider world looked to Coventry for hope and a vision of a better future.”

Coventry: The making of a modern city 1939-73, written by Jeremy and Caroline Gould, can be purchased in the Historic England online shop.

Jeremy and Caroline Gould are architects and Jeremy is Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of Plymouth.

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