Bringing Coventry’s heritage treasure back to life!

COMMUNITIES

An Allchurches Trust grant of £125,000 is supporting the restoration of one of only two Carthusian Monasteries in the UK. The Grade I listed monument, once surrounded by beautiful countryside, is now on the ‘Heritage at risk’ register, and Historic Coventry Trust are determined to save and restore this treasure to its former glory. 

Historic Coventry Trust (HCT) was established by the local community in 2011, to keep Coventry Charterhouse in public ownership when it was offered up for sale - causing local outrage.

The historic gem was once situated in a 35 acre estate, but now borders Coventry city centre- a sore thumb in a disadvantaged urban area.

The Charterhouse is rich in archaeological remains waiting to be restored and celebrated by the community. The lower section of the Carthusian mural, depicts the crucifixion and is remarkably preserved, as are two renaissance murals. 

Extensive surveys and archaeological investigations have taken place to develop an ambitious plan to bring the Charterhouse back to life as the centre of an exciting heritage park.

The work will include the complete restoration of the Grade I listed Prior’s cell, refectory, adjoining Victorian house, cloisters and gardens – as if that isn’t enough of a transformation HCT will reconstruct two monk’s cells and the surrounding area will be landscaped and taken back in time to reflect the history of the building.

Scaffolding surrounding the building
An excavation site

“The outcome of our work will leave a legacy for future generations because schoolchildren and visitors will find out more about this exciting period in history as well as having the opportunity to learn outdoors. The new heritage visitor centre will also strengthen our links with people living nearby because of the community facilities, activities, employment and training opportunities that will be generated.” 

Ian Harrabin, Chairman, Historic Coventry Trust

HCT will bring the Charterhouse, its walled gardens and grounds back into public use, as intended by Colonel Sir William Wyley in 1940, who bequeathed the estate to the community for use as a museum and park. 

The grant from Allchurches Trust will mean that HCT is within touching distance of the £8 million pound target towards opening a heritage visitor centre, educational attraction and 30 acres of the planned 70-acre Heritage Park! 

The restoration will be a real asset to the city, as a drawer for visitors, a wedding venue, conference centre, cafe and educational trip for schools around the country. Research shows that the local economy will benefit by around £4 million annually from the Charterhouse.

It will include interactive displays charting the extensive history of the monastery, which was founded by King Richard II in 1385; with guided tours illustrating the history of the Carthusian order, monastery life, the murals, dissolution and later use of the building.

The wall paintings alone are among the finest examples of medieval and Elizabethan art and will be an exciting part of this educational exploration for children and adults alike!

An old painting showing a figure with a halo
An old tile which appears to have a face in it sticking out its tongue

 “We’re delighted to support this project to restore it to its former glory, not only because it will preserve an important heritage gem for future generations but also because it will be returned to the local community, providing new leisure and learning opportunities and boosting wellbeing through some really exciting partnerships.” 

Paul Playford, Grants Officer for Allchurches Trust

After the discovery that the original roof was collapsing and causing damage to the historic wall paintings below, specialist building conservationists have been painstakingly restoring it since the end of January 2020, working very carefully to protect as many of the original features as possible.

The building work has made the Charterhouse structurally sound, whilst also having a minimum impact on the beautiful original oak timbers which have been restored alongside modern steel to tie the roof together.

Some exciting discoveries have been made as the restoration has gone on, including burn marks on the roof timbers made by 500 year old candles, as part of an ancient ritual to protect the building against lightening and fire – the definition of fighting fire with fire!

It was also realised that the roof had undergone major repair in Victorian times, propped up with wooden beams – these have been reinstated to highlight the rich history of the building.

Once the structural work is complete the roof will be re-covered with new handmade clay roof tiles.

The new visitor attraction is on schedule to launch in time for Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture, in 2021.

An exterior shot of the Charterhouse
Photograph shows the structure of a roof without tiles