25th Sep, 2018

Listed George Eliot home's owners ordered to restore it by council amid our campaign

Les Reid 15th Mar, 2018

THE OWNERS of world-renowned novelist George Eliot’s Grade II* listed house in Coventry have been told to restore its historic character – after council inspections in response to our campaign.

A Coventry council statement issued to us amid our Bring George Eliot Home campaign has confirmed: “We have written to the owners outlining the external works that we expect to be undertaken to ensure the historic nature of the building is preserved.

“This includes repairing the roof and reinstating the windows. We are waiting to hear back from the owners on this.”

It is understood there are concerns the total bill could be a six-figure sum.

The campaign had raised matters with the council and Historic England, and this triggered the recent council conservation officers’ inspections of the Victorian mansion.

It was listed in 1974 for its national importance due to its famous 1840s inhabitant – whose enduring classic Middlemarch is based on Coventry and her formative years in the city.

A crucial meeting between the owners, George Eliot enthusiasts and councillors has also now finally taken place to examine the building’s restoration.

It discussed, among other things, potential bids for external grants to help restore the building, called Bird Grove, in the renamed George Eliot Road, Foleshill.

Among those present were Coventry City Council deputy leader Abdul Khan, and John Burton of the George Eliot Fellowship, which our campaign has been supporting since October last year.

It comes ahead of next year’s bicentenary celebrations of the great Victorian novelist and Coventry hosting UK City of Culture in 2021.

As we have reported, it is understood concerns have also been raised about a front porch and an imposing steel fence surrounding the forlorn mansion, which has been mainly closed in recent years.

We have also reported that council leader George Duggins, in response to our questions, pledged to discuss potential external funding for restoration at a private meeting of the Coventry City of Culture Trust.

The Trust is among the city’s culture and heritage organisations which have backed our campaign.

So too have national and international academic, literary and TV heavyweights, including Kenilworth-based TV screenwriter Andrew Davies who adapted Middlemarch for a BBC TV series a year before his 1995 adaptation of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice.

Our campaign calls for Bird Grove to be preserved, restored and re-opened – initially on occasional days at the least – for international visitors and George Eliot-related activities.

We have also called for a blue plaque, after an old plaque was removed.

The building remains mostly closed after the Coventry Bangladesh community centre hit hard times. An arabic school started lessons there recently on Saturdays after some decorating and repairs.

The building’s four registered owners are Labour councillor Rois Ali, the centre’s Motasem Ali, Azir Uddin and Abdul Hasnat.

They bought the building in 2003 for £150,000. It had previously been used for church and community activities since being owned by the council up to the 1950s.

Some concerns with the building could pre-date the Bangladesh centre’s ownership.

A council spokesperson told us the planning and conservation officers’ letter stopped short of being a strict ‘enforcement notice’ – as they “try and resolve things informally wherever possible”.

He added about the owners: “They came back saying they would like a meeting and we are trying to confirm a date.”

The owners were unavailable to comment.

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