New life is to be breathed into Coventry’s hidden River Sherbourne, Ann Evans looks to its past, its present and its future.
Even if you were born and bred in Coventry, you probably won’t know that the River Sherbourne runs beneath the city. And for those who have heard the story will probably never have noticed where it occasionally emerges into fresh air before being taken back into a concrete tunnel beneath roads, shops and buildings again.
Yet the River Sherbourne was, for more than a thousand years, vital to Coventry’s citizens providing fresh fish and drinking water. It was vital also to the traders and six monasteries in and around the city, with thriving wool and weaving industries making Coventry one of the most important Medieval Cities in the country.
The saying ‘true blue’ is derived from Coventry’s weaving industry. A unique shade of blue dye was used by the weavers using a secret recipe passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. It included water from the River Sherbourne
But with the post war rebuilding of the city centre, the River Sherbourne was taken underground as concrete structures were erected overhead – houses, roads, shops, a ring road, leaving just occasional glimpses of this once important river, emerging only to disappear again through concrete tunnels.
However, things are about to change. The Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s River Sherbourne Valley Living Landscape Theme has been awarded £253,600 development funding by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. This will help them to progress plans over 18 months then hopefully to be in a position to apply for a full National Lottery grand of around £1.8 million to deliver a further 4-year scheme of projects focused on the river in Coventry.
The scheme aims to reconnect the people of Coventry with the city’s river, restore the river for wildlife and complement the growing City of Culture programmed linked to nature.
Match funding for the scheme has been kindly provided by Coventry City Council, the Environment Agency, Severn Trent, Citizen Housing and Coventry Diocese. Working with these organisations and others such as Historic Coventry and City of Culture they will be engaging with the local community over the coming months to develop ideas on how to improve the river and its surroundings for the benefit of people and wildlife.
The scheme will create three new jobs. It will also investigate the possibility of using virtual reality and other innovative techniques so people can get an understanding of where the river is beneath their feet, enabling them to reconnect with the river and celebrate the role it plays in the past, present and future.
A key element of the scheme is to raise awareness of the existing natural and built heritage already present on the river. Two Grade 2 listed bridges, one scheduled monument (a single span bridge), and two locally listed sluice gates span the river. The ruins of St Christopher and St James’ chapel sit adjacent to it in Spon End, the foundations of which are around 1,000 years old. The scheme will aim to safeguard, restore and interpret these features to help the people of Coventry be proud of their river once again.
The scheme will also develop an extensive volunteer and events programme designed to enable local people to develop a sense of ownership for their river. Working with community groups and schools, people from across Coventry and further afield will benefit from a revitalised River Sherbourne which will change lives forever.
Commenting on the award, Ian Jelley, Director of Living Landscapes at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust said: “We are absolutely thrilled with the news that the National Lottery Heritage Fund is supporting this scheme. We have been working in partnership with local people for over 5 years developing ideas and this investment enables us to make a real impact on the ground. 2020 is Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s 50th anniversary, and with next year being City of Culture, this is excellent timing. We are really excited at what this scheme could deliver for people and wildlife in Coventry.”