The Burges is one of the few surviving traditional ‘high street’ areas in Coventry and Historic Coventry Trust is leading a restoration scheme which involves repair of the buildings, restoration of shopfronts and windows, and new development around a deculverting of the River Sherbourne on Palmer Lane. This is a national demonstrator project for Historic England’s £95M High Street Heritage Action Zone programme which is helping to revive high streets across the country.
Historically, The Burges was the main road running north from the old market place in Coventry’s city centre. The name “The Burges” probably derives from “Between the Bridges”, first documented in 1223, and the two bridges were located at either end of the street; crossing the Radford Brook to the north, and the River Sherbourne to the south. The area was known as St John’s Bridge from the early 1300s and from the 1860s as The Burges. Cross Cheaping is documented from about 1280; before then it was referred to as the Market Place. Historic maps show the buildings laid out in characteristic medieval ‘burgage plots’; with shops and houses fronting onto the market place and narrow strips of land behind containing outbuildings and gardens. Palmer Lane is documented as early as 1225 and was where pilgrims lodged when visiting St Mary’s Priory. “Palmer” comes from the palms, Christian symbols that pilgrims used to carry. Today it contains the only visible stretch of the currently culverted River Sherbourne in the city centre. (See the historic photos from © Coventry Archives)
The medieval streetscape of Coventry remained largely unchanged for centuries as the long medieval burgage plots were gradually filled in with smaller court dwellings. In 1794 The Burges was widened; the shop fronts on the eastern side of the street were rebuilt in brick, hiding the earlier buildings behind the new façades. The library wing of the Old Grammar School was demolished around 1800 and its gardens were lost when Hales Street was built in 1848. Road improvements for the congested city in the early 1930s saw the demolition of the western side of The Burges, as well as the medieval timber framed buildings along Butcher Row, for the construction of Trinity Street. During the Second World War (1939– 45) air raids damaged several buildings. The area was redeveloped and repaired between 1948 and 1954, with financial support from the government.
One of Coventry’s Conservation Areas, and containing many locally listed buildings, the Burges and Hales Street are home to many independent businesses. Funded by Historic England and Coventry City Council, and working in partnership with Coventry BID and local businesses, the restoration works will be complete in autumn 2020.
Development on the historic Palmer Lane, including de-culverting of the River Sherbourne and creation of a new public space, will happen in 2021.
CGI Images: © Corstorphine + Wright