These Grade I Listed gates and the section of wall in between are the remains of the 2 mile long city wall that once ringed the city centre. Now set in the outstanding Lady Herbert’s Garden, Swanswell Gate and Cook Street Gate will be brought back into use by the Trust as unique visitor accommodation.
Both buildings will be fully restored and removed from the Heritage At Risk register. In addition to sympathetic repairs to the buildings, each city gate will be fully restored and adapted internally to create high quality accommodation, combining comfort with a heritage feel. Cook Street Gate will provide a single studio unit, accessed by new stairs, and including kitchen and bathroom facilities. Swanswell Gate will be provide accommodation on three floors, and will be able to sleep a family or group.
In addition to the restoration as bespoke visitor accommodation, we will collaborate with the local community to deliver a programme of events and activities that interprets the heritage for a wide audience. This will include open days and activities. This will bring life back to the adjacent gardens while helping people make sense of their shared history.
New uses for the buildings will help tell the story of Coventry’s medieval (and later) heritage and will bring new visitors to the city, enhancing the economy of the area.
The story of the gates is the story of the people passing through them: priors, earls, soldiers, workers, refugees and migrants.
Swanswell Gate and Cook Street Gate are the two remaining gatehouses of Coventry’s medieval fortifications. They were constructed around 1350 and would have been two of the main points of entrance to the city. They show the importance of Coventry in the 14th and 15th centuries, a city where parliament was held twice in the 15th century. Coventry was a key city in the Wars of the Roses, and the city gates would have been complete by then. However, by the English Civil War in the 1640s and 1650s, Coventry was a staunchly Parliamentarian city, and the city defences held back the Royalist forces trying to breach them. However, by the Restoration, Charles II had the walls demolished in retribution. From that point on, the city gates gradually disappeared, with Bastille Gate being demolished in 1847, leaving just Swanswell and Cook Street Gates.
During the Victorian and Edwardian periods, Coventry became an increasingly important city, known for silk and ribbon weaving (using skills brought to the area by Huguenot refugees), watch and car making. However, by the Edwardian period, the pub adjacent to Cook Street Gate (the Old Tower Inn, which incorporated the upper floor of the gate as part of the pub) was closed and Cook Street Gate was bought by Colonel Wyley (philanthropist and owner of the Charterhouse) who restored the gates.
In 1930, Sir Alfred Herbert, a wealthy industrialist (who gave his name to the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in the city), redeveloped the land between the two city gates as a memorial garden to his late wife, Florence, repairing both of the gates and building almshouses adjacent to the gardens. Bombs in World War II destroyed part of the city wall between the gates, and the Old Tower Inn was demolished in 1964, but the gates have remained as an important reminder of the city’s medieval heritage. Although Swanswell Gate was used for residential and retail purposes until the 1990s, both buildings are now empty and derelict.