September 27th, 2016

#SaveThePriory: Now magnificent Guildhall closes to tourists for more days

COVENTRY’S magnificent medieval Guildhall is to close to the public on more days throughout the tourist season, our #SaveThePriory campaign has learned.

Following the council closure in February of the nearby Priory Visitor Centre – home to the ‘internationally important’ 1,000-year-old remains of the city’s Lady Godiva-founded first cathedral – we also disclosed last month that St Mary’s Guildhall and the Tourist Information Centre had been forced to close on Sunday, April 3 and due to staff shortages.

We stated the Guildhall was also set to close to the public for at least one other Sunday this summer to make way for weddings. It is already closed throughout the winter, while Fridays and Saturdays in the spring/summer are scheduled for commercial use, but not always used.

Now we have learned the Guildhall in Bayley Lane – described by eminent architectural historian and TV presenter Dr Jonathan Foyle as the country’s greatest surviving mediaeval guildhall – will be closed or partly closed for many more days in the months ahead.

It presents more evidence to support the claims of many observers including Dr Foyle – and until recently some leading Labour city councillors themselves – that the city should be doing more to open and promote its medieval ‘crown jewels’ to boost tourism and income, as well as to preserve them for current and future generations of Coventrians.

The Coventry Observer’s #SaveThePriory campaign call for the council to ensure the urgent re-opening of Priory Visitor Centre in Priory Place, off Priory Row, city centre, has been supported by key figures including Dr Foyle, the Bishop of Coventry the right reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham, TV’s Blackadder and Time Team presenter Sir Tony Robinson, tour guide Roger Bailey, heritage group the Coventry Society, and others.

The council has now confirmed in response to our questions the following Guildhall closure dates, with the following reasons given:

* May 9: Closed all day Monday – a day business conference

* May 12: Closed all day Thursday – a day business conference on Work Related Learning

* June 21: Closed all day Tuesday – a day business conference on Climate Change solutions

* June 30: Cosed from 3pm – closure just one hour earlier than normal for event set-up. Community Cohesion Awards – event starts early owing to special needs of many in attendance

* July 31: Close from 2pm – closure maximum two hours earlier than usual for event set-up. Wedding.

* September 8: Possible evening conference dinner. (Not confirmed)

* September 25: 70th anniversary dinner for Coventry Freemen’s Guild. Timings not confirmed.

* September 28: Possible closure one hour earlier than normal for evening dinner. Not confirmed.

The council said early closing on some afternoons would enable furniture changes and other preparations for evening events.

A council spokesperson said: “St Mary’s Guildhall is a much loved attraction and we continue to give people free access to it.

“But the Guildhall is also a popular venue for events. And it’s these commercial activities which help us to invest in its future and continue to fund free public access.

“These events also boost tourism as they enable us to showcase the beauty and history of St Mary’s to new audiences, nationally and even internationally, as we were able to when the President of Ireland visited.”

But sources in addition to those supporting our campaign are concerned about public closures, and insist functions which help the Guildhall financially were supposed to be reserved on Fridays and Saturdays.

St Mary’s Guildhall is a 760-year-old spectacular architectural masterpiece next to the cathedral ruins.

The Great Hall houses the Coventry Tapestry masterpiece, stained glass windows, an ornate ceiling, and life-size portraits.

Dr Foyle has pointed to the Coventry Tapestry being older than those in Hampton Court, while another hidden treasure was its preserved medieval window depicting kings of England.

Coventry’s guildhall was also once the seat of the Royal Parliament in the 1400s, when Henry VI fled to Coventry in the War of the Roses.

But scratch below the surface and there is evidence of neglect in Covntry City Council hands – including a pervading rancid smell of fatty food and chips from years of weddings and banquets.

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