BLACKADDER actor and former Time Team presenter, Sir Tony Robinson, has said the Priory Visitor Centre is an ‘irreplaceable part’ of global heritage that needs to be saved from closure.
Speaking exclusively to the Observer, the actor and archaeology aficionado said the centre – closed as part of widespread Coventry City Council cuts – houses “the most important monastic pieces of archaeology found since World War II.”
Sir Tony and the Time Team crew first visited the site in late 2000 after work on the Pheonix Initiative uncovered the ruins of Coventry’s first cathedral – St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral – that was founded by Lady Godiva and Earl Leofric nearly 1,000 years ago.
Time Team also made a rare return visit to the site after further digging revealed well-preserved remains of the cathedral’s undercrofts and cellars.
Sir Tony said: “It is an irreplaceable part not just of Coventry’s heritage, but of the country’s heritage.
“Something is being cut here that is irreplaceable and that should only ever be done as an absolutely final recourse.
“You can count the number of sites Time Team returned to twice on the fingers of one hand, so it was enormously special to go back.
“I said at the time that it was one of my top three digs, and although we did an awful number of digs over the years, I would still say it is one of my top three favourites. The undercrofts are particularly spectacular.”
St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral is the only cathedral in the country to have been completely destroyed by King Henry VIII in his dissolution of the monasteries.
The Priory Visitor Centre, which opened in 2003, houses the ‘nationally important’ artefacts and restored undercrofts which remain of the cathedral – providing visitors with what Sir Tony believes is ‘an absolute snapshot’ into the country’s Tudor history.
He added: “What puzzles me about the closure of the Priory Visitor Centre is that the Tudors are still part of every school curriculum.
“If any kids – or adults for that matter – wanted to learn about the Tudors in general and the dissolution of the monasteries in particular, the centre is a fantastic place to visit.
“Coventry is the only place in the country you can see a cathedral that was pulled down by the Tudors, but has enough remaining to still capture our imaginations hundreds of years on.
“The Priory Visitor Centre really is unique in that respect.”
The Observer launched its #SavethePriory campaign three weeks ago after Coventry council closed the centre’s doors weeks after cutting £100,000 of funding for the historic gem.
But Sir Tony said closure of the Priory Visitor Centre should have been a last option, after all other alternatives – including council proposals to find volunteer groups to step in to run the centre – had been exhausted.
“Times are hard and every council is on its uppers,” he said.
“But is appears to have been closed without the local people being aware of what the real savings were, whether local authority resources could have been used to raise the centre’s profile, and whether other alternatives that had been truly pursued before its closure was decided.
“The big question is whether your average Coventry resident understands its significance – and if they don’t, why don’t they.”
How YOU can support our #SaveThePriory campaign:
- Our letters page.. Share your thoughts and experiences, in words or pictures, and say what Coventry’s proud medieval history means to you.
- On Twitter @covobserver. Using the hashtag #savethepriory to pledge your support.
- On Facebook.co.uk/covobserver. Keep up to date, and share your thoughts.
- Head to our dedicated #savethepriory web page, and get the latest on the battle to Save the Priory Visitor Centre.