25th Sep, 2018

Great novelist George Eliot's home forgotten amid Coventry's City of Culture bid

Les Reid 5th Oct, 2017

By Steve Chilton

As Coventry waits to hear if it will be City of Culture 2021, the former home of its most celebrated literary figure lies forlorn and forgotten.

Today there’s not even a plaque on the wall to record that Victorian novelist George Eliot lived at Bird Grove House, Foleshill, for seven years.

The period was a time of her intellectual blossoming, sowing the seeds for works like Mill on the Floss and the classic Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest novel in the English language.

Her admirers believe the house could be an international attraction and prove a winning card in the city’s bid to host the cultural year.

The George Eliot Fellowship which has members worldwide, including 100 in Japan, has issued a rallying call to the city’s movers and shakers to make the house an attraction worthy of her genius.

Coupled to a visitors’ centre being developed at Eliot’s earlier home near Nuneaton, it could even steal Stratford’s thunder as the region’s cultural hotspot, says chairman John Burton.

He has written more than 20 letters to Coventry councillors, university officials and culture chiefs urging them to combine forces.

He said: “This could be a tremendous asset to the city and bring great kudos to, say, Coventry University, if they acquired it.

“At present Bird Grove is empty and looking very sad.

“There is a long list of things it could become which could help to boost the cultural diversity of Foleshill and of the city.

“We think the building is of international importance for its literary associations; English Heritage clearly think it of national importance since they listed it, even though the authorities appear to have sanctioned plastic window frames.”

Ideas include conversion to a visitors’ centre, with rooms furnished as they would have been during Eliot’s time, and areas for literary research and European studies – she travelled extensively all over the continent – women’s studies, and arts group workshops.

The author, born Mary Ann Evans, moved to the house, now no.9 George Eliot Road, with her father in 1841 after he retired as manager of at the Arbury estate near Nuneaton.

In recent years the house had been used by the Bangladesh community as an educational and resource centre.

It is registered as the office of The Coventry Bangladesh Centre Ltd whose directors include well-known city businessman and Labour councillor Rois Ali.

​According to the Land Registry records, four directors, including Rois Ali, bought the property for £150,000 in 2003.

​The house is now boarded up and ​enclosed by a bolted steel fence.​

A notice on the wall advertises it is ‘To Let’ and gives the telephone number of ​the ​centre.

Repeated calls to the number have not been picked up, ​and Mr Ali​ has not responded to telephone messages inviting him to comment of the Fellowship’s proposals.

* COVENTRY’S final bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021 has been submitted.

The Coventry City of Culture Trust has filed the 30-page document with the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Coventry is up against Paisley, Stoke, Sunderland and Swansea for the title.

Coventry will be visited by the judges in October before a present to them in December in Hull.

The winner will be announced in December.

 

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