The luck of one of Coventry’s most important historic buildings may be finally changing following the announcement of funding for major repair work.
The Grade II* listed Nonconformist Chapel forms one of the main features within the Grade I listed park and garden of London Road Cemetery, which was designed by renowned landscape architect and engineer Sir Joseph Paxton and opened in 1847.
The Nonconformist Chapel is located in the southern part of the cemetery and was designed in the form of a classical temple with giant ionic columns framing the portico entrance and two flanking side pavilions.
The building has had a history of misfortune, with its first fire in 1884 when dynamite used for blasting holes in the stony ground for graves blew up in one of the wings.
Then the building was damaged in the second world war bombing of the city and has remained unused ever since.
Finally, there was a major fire in 2006 caused by arson that destroyed the roof and interiors. The main roof has since been reconstructed by the Council but the side wings remain unroofed. The building is unsurprisingly on the national register of important heritage buildings ‘at risk’.
Historic Coventry Trust working with Coventry City Council has secured £215,000 of funding from Historic England to restore the fabric of the building as the first phase of a larger project to convert the building into offices for creative businesses.
Contractors Cooper-Whyte Conservation Ltd from Lichfield has started work on the six-month project.
The work will involve the repair and reinstatement of the roof and stonework, adding new external doors, repointing, and the restoration of the ceiling in the portico.
The restoration of the chapel follows on from the £2.3m restoration work to the northern part of the cemetery funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that was completed last year, by the Council and Historic Coventry Trust. The Anglican Chapel has now been fully restored and is now owned by Historic Coventry Trust and is available for hire for meetings and events.
A new pedestrian crossing over London Road connects the Chapel and Cemetery to the large car-park at Charterhouse, which is also undergoing a £10 million renovation to create a new visitor attraction for Coventry.
Hannah Jones, of Historic Coventry Trust, said this scheme was part of a long-term goal to give the building a sustainable use.
She said: “We are grateful to Historic England for their generous grant to enable this first phase to get underway to restore this beautiful old building.
“We have already fully restored the Anglican Chapel within the cemetery and to get the first stage of the works needed on the Nonconformist Chapel completed will be a great step forward in securing the maintenance of these important buildings in perpetuity.
“We are still working on securing grants for the second phase to create offices to generate the revenue needed for its future maintenance and on-going running costs.
“This is one of Coventry’s most unique buildings and it is wonderful to be giving it a new lease of life for the community.”
Louisa Moore, Partnerships Team Leader at Historic England, said: “Historic England is delighted to be able to support Historic Coventry Trust and Coventry City Council in repairing this intriguing building, paving the way for its re-use.
“Bringing historic buildings back to life often requires a lot of imagination, ingenuity and funding to take that first step.
“However, once these repairs are underway it will be easy to appreciate that the chapel not only has an interesting past, but can play a vital role in the future. Historic England is continuing to work with partners to transform Coventry through our Heritage Action Zones scheme.”
Cllr David Welsh, Cabinet Member for Heritage at Coventry City Council, added: “This is great news, and an excellent example of what can be achieved through partnership working.
“I was at the London Road venue this week and it’s impressive seeing what has been achieved so far. Restoration work has already given it a new lease of life, and this extra funding is a further boost to the overall project. I’m looking forward to seeing the next stage of work getting underway.”
He added: “In early September we’ll also be hosting this year’s national Heritage Open Days, and London Road cemetery will be open on Saturday 10 September as one of dozens of city heritage venues that people can come and view.”
More information can be found at www.historiccoventrytrust.org.uk/whats-on/
All opening times for the Heritage Open days, tour booking information and venue details are on the webpage www.coventry.gov.uk/hod and contained in the free Heritage Open Days brochure which will be available at the Council House reception.