Published Wednesday, 02 June 2021
Completion of a £2m project to restore Coventry’s London Road Cemetery to its former glory has culminated in the transfer of ownership its Anglican Chapel to Historic Coventry Trust ownership.
The Trust has been working with Coventry City Council for the last eight years to restore the Grade I listed London Road Cemetery, designed by Joseph Paxton as an arboretum in 1847. The historic cemetery is considered to be one of the top five in the country.
The charity completed the new 250-year lease at a signing ceremony held at the chapel with Cllr Ann Lucas, the emeritus Lord Mayor of Coventry, and the Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration Cllr Jim O’Boyle handing over the property from Council ownership. Representing Historic Coventry Trust were Chairman Ian Harrabin and Secretary John Ruddick as well as Charterhouse General Manager Hannah Jones, who will manage the property.
The work also included the linking of the cemetery through a re-opened historic arch under the Terrace Walk to Charterhouse, with a new crossing over London Road which will be finished next month (June). The crossing will combine the cemetery and Charterhouse sites to form the 70-acre Heritage Park as a major visitor attraction.
Next month, the City of Culture Trust will be using the chapel for a major digital exhibition called ‘Observations on Being’ exploring links between the human body and the natural environment. Following the exhibition, from August, the beautiful chapel will be available to hire for corporate and community meetings, receptions and events and will be licenced for weddings.
Historic Coventry Trust started a further £200,000 project in March to install an underfloor heating system in the Anglican Chapel which is powered by an eco-friendly air-sourced heat pump.
The remainder of the cemetery will remain in council ownership with Historic Coventry Trust contracted to run activities and events as well as organise volunteering.
Ian Harrabin, chairman of Historic Coventry Trust, said the Anglican Chapel was designed in Norman style by Joseph Paxton along with his architectural assistants George Robertson and George Henry Stokes.
He explained: “In 1845, Coventry’s council set up a committee to find a solution to its overcrowded cemeteries which were under pressure as the city was growing quickly.
“They selected Paxton to design what would be one of the first municipal cemeteries in the country on the site of a former quarry that provided stone for the city wall.
“Paxton’s design made full use of the unusual site to create an undulating park, using his experience at Chatsworth to bring in many fine exotic trees to create both a cemetery and an arboretum park.
“It was described at the time as ‘More the air of a gentlemen’s park than a city of the dead’, with its broad ‘Terrace Walk’ and outstanding landscape.
“Two chapels, the Anglican and the Non-Conformist, were designed as major focal points of the landscape in very different styles.
“The Anglican chapel was completed in 1847 as the major feature as you enter the cemetery and is set on a hill, next to the landscaped hollow, so that you can see it from most parts of the cemetery.
“The chapel is built in red sandstone with an attractive tower and weathervane on top, and above the main entrance is a rose window with stained glass.
“The chapel was used for funerals, but with little space left for burials had been little used in recent years and was in need of repair which we are delighted to have completed.”
Cllr Ann Lucas said: “The cemetery is a really special place, with the chapel having such a commanding position over this fine landscape. I was stunned by how beautiful the building is following its restoration and am very pleased to be able to hand it over to the caring hands of the Trust as one of my last tasks in office. I am sure it will be a great asset for the community for generations to come.”
Cllr Jim O’Boyle added: “This is another step in our transfer of the city’s heritage buildings to the Trust following restoration and a major addition to the attraction of the Heritage Park to visitors. It is great to see a building that had been declining in Council ownership for so many years, being brought back to life as one of the city’s jewels.
“The chapel is a handsome addition to the growing list of properties providing exceptional places for business and the community that will drive the city’s economy forward in the years to come.
“It underlines how right we were to bring in the Trust as our partner to make real productive use of these largely overlooked city gems. The best of the old really is beginning to drive our city forwards.