St Mary's Guildhall, Coventry
Coventry City Council
St Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry, is almost 700 years old and one of the finest surviving medieval guildhalls in the UK. It was lacking in visitor experience, losing money and in a state of disrepair.
We have led a team of conservation specialists in a project to conserve and restore this important Grade I listed historic building. This included uncovering and restoring the medieval kitchen which is now fully accessible for the first time in 100 years.
Initially we were appointed to undertake a feasibility study to find out how the building could be sympathetically restored and transformed into a commercially viable venue for corporate events, weddings, etc that Coombe Abbey would run on behalf of Coventry City Council.
A project team was then set up, and included building, property and heritage consultants, specialist architects and there was extensive consultation with Historic England.
The team also included Oliver Architecture, conservation-accredited architects, who have a broad experience in relation to heritage buildings. They conducted a Condition Survey and produced a Conservation Statement reporting on every room, ceiling, window, floor, wall, rainwater pipe and fireplace. Market research was also carried out to find how the local community could use the venue, and forecasting was conducted to identify how it could become profitable in the future.
Wherever possible, existing materials have been reused, and where this was not possible, historic and sustainable materials have been used for the conservation and restoration, such as oak and lime, that are less energy intensive.
Accessibility throughout the venue has been a key priority, ensuring that both able bodied people and wheelchair users can enjoy the best this medieval property has to offer. Importantly, the building needs to be flexible, so that several events could be held simultaneously, in individual event spaces.
St Mary’s has one of the few secular medieval kitchens remaining in the UK, but it was hidden behind a 1960s Formica and asbestos kitchen. This was completely removed to reveal the kitchen in all its splendour, exposing the original fireplaces.
The Great Hall houses a medieval tapestry, thought to have been made between 1505 and 1515. The tapestry has been conserved and restored and is now housed in a new casing underneath the stained-glass window it was made for. A new spiral staircase has also been installed from the Great Hall to the Minstrel Gallery.
St Mary’s Guildhall has now moved from being a part time visitor offer, available for just half the year, to an all-year-round visitor attraction with a much more engaging visitor experience including augmented and virtual reality digital tours. This has increased footfall, boosting the local economy to support the development of the Cathedral Quarter and contribute to the wider aims of the city’s Destination Management Plan.