25th Sep, 2018

BRING GEORGE ELIOT HOME: Council to look into re-opening novelist's house following our campaign launch

Les Reid 27th Oct, 2017

COUNCIL leaders have pledged to explore resurrecting the city’s greatest literary giant’s former house, following the launch of our Bring George Eliot Home campaign.

This newspaper is backing the George Eliot Fellowship’s call for the locked-up and forelorn Bird Grove House in Foleshill to become an international visitors’ centre and educational facility, as Coventry bids to become UK City of Culture in 2021.

We have also called for more to be done in the city centre to mark the Nuneaton-born icon, considered to be among the greatest novelists of all time.

She lived at Bird Grove House in Coventry for seven years in her formative 20s in the 1840s, and was earlier schooled in the city. There is not even a plaque to mark the genius that resided there.

Responding to our campaign launch last week, Coventry city councillor Linda Bigham, cabinet member for community development, said: “George Eliot is an important part of the city’s history and I certainly wouldn’t want her memory to be forgotten.

“There is a plaque in Greyfriars Green where she attended school, but we would be happy to work with the George Eliot Fellowship to consider what options are available to maintaining her legacy.

“We would want to work with partners and obviously talk with the foundation to understand what options there are for the house to be brought into some use to mark her literary work.”

We have asked whether the matter is being addressed as a priority, given 2019 will see the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mary Ann Evans, who adopted the pen-name George Eliot to avoid prejudice in a male-dominated world.

A plaque in Greyfriars Green, on a memorial trough, commemorates Cara (Caroline) Bray. It notes her husband Charles, and that the Brays were friends of George Eliot, schooled nearby.

Some of George Eliot’s earliest writings appeared in the Coventry Herald and Observer under its influential editor, the wealthy ribbon manufacturer and philanthropist Charles Bray. Her close friend Cara Bray is commemorated on the trough for being the founder of the Coventry Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

An unofficial plaque also hangs on the Loveitts estate agent’s former school building in Warwick Row, where she boarded between 1832 and 1835.

Her experiences in Coventry were described in her later novels including the classic Middlemarch, brilliantly adapted for BBC television by Kenilworth-based scriptwriter Andrew Davies.

Some academics and literary figures argue she is the greatest novelist in the English language. Generations of students will continue to turn to her radical and enduringly relevant work, which exposed Victorian notions of morality, gender and religion.

Yet the house where she lived with her father is in a sorry state, guarded by an unsightly bolted steel security fence, despite being listed.

The George Eliot Fellowship, which has members as far afield as Japan, had written an ‘open letter’ to Coventry City Council, Coventry University, and the city’s culture trust, calling for developments at Bird Grove House in conjunction with an expanded George Eliot offering in Nuneaton, here in the same region as Shakespeare’s Stratford.

The road where George Eliot lived was at least re-named ‘George Elliot Road’. Yet her name was spelt wrong until recently.

The building has been owned by The Coventry Bangladesh Centre Ltd since its £150,000 purchase in 2003, and it is advertised as ‘to let’.

Its recorded directors include well-known city businessman and Labour councillor Rois Ali.

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