‘FEARS for the future’ of George Eliot’s Coventry home – listed for its national importance – will be debated for the first time at a full council meeting next week following this newspaper’s campaign.
Opposition councillors have tabled a motion for debate on Tuesday (January 16) which states: “This council recognises the literary contribution made by George Eliot and resolves to celebrate her links with the city.
“This council resolves to explore every option to ensure that the Coventry home of George Eliot is open and accessible to the public and visitors we can expect to receive during our City of Culture year.”
Last month, the Coventry Observer exclusively revealed plans by the owners of Bird Grove house in Foleshill – including Labour councillor Rois Ali – to convert it into an Arabic school.
Our Bring George Eliot Home campaign and the George Eliot Fellowship had been calling for a blue plaque there, and for it be used as an international visitors’ centre and suitable cultural space, even if it does become an Arabic school. We say more should be done in the city centre too, with George Eliot’s Bicentennial approaching in 2019.
Preparatory building work on site followed a period of the mansion in George Eliot Road lying derelict, surrounded by its unsightly steel fence. It also has UPVC windows.
Despite its national listing since 1974 designed to protect it, Coun Ali told us last month nobody had contacted the planning or conservation departments concerning any alterations or change of use.
The Nuneaton-born great novelist lived there in the 1840s in her twenties, a decade after being schooled in the city.
Her formative experiences in Coventry, where she became an associate of philanthropist Charles Bray, were a greatest influence on, and featured in, her enduring later works, including the celebrated Middlemarch.
Our campaign’s growing list of supporters includes BAFTA-award winning screenwriters Andrew Davies and Giles Foster, Eliot biographer Professor Rosemary Ashton, Culture Coventry, Coventry City of Culture Trust, Historic Coventry Trust, and Coventry University.
A Coventry Conservatives statement today about the council debate states: “Fears for the future of George Eliot’s Coventry home will be debated by councillors in Coventry on Tuesday 16th January.
“Elected members will investigate claims that changes have been made to the historic Bird Grove property. This includes the removal of a commemorative plaque and alterations to the building without approval.
“An influx of visitors is expected to descend on Coventry in 2021 as the city celebrates its year as the UK City of Culture. With the city thrust into the national spotlight the future of the house has taken on extra significance.
“Coun Roger Bailey, shadow cabinet member for community development, believes the property should be accessible and protected for future generations.
“He also wants to know why Bird Grove wasn’t included in the trust established by the council last year to manage key historic sites across the city.”
Coun Bailey added: “George Eliot is one of our nation’s finest literary figures and we should be proud, really proud of this dazzling writer – it’s time to bring her home. “Her Coventry home, Bird Grove’ is a valuable asset which we’re allowing to vanish before our very eyes.”
Coun Gary Ridley, leader of the Conservatives in Coventry, said: “The house provides a valuable link between our modern city and that which George Eliot would have known.
“Why can’t everyone work together to find a way to preserve and protect Bird Grove in a way that makes it accessible and showcases it to the entire nation?”
At present, the city centre only has an unofficial plaque above the door of Loveitts estate agents, and memorial trough to commemorate Cara Bray which mentions the Brays’ connections with George Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans) in Greyfriars Green, and a plaque in Holy Trinity Church which her father attended.