Historic Coventry Trust are the Council’s development partner in the restoration of the London Road Cemetery which forms part of the overall 70 acre heritage park proposals.
The Grade 1 Listed cemetery was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton in 1845/6 at the same time as he was working on Birkenhead Park, the first publicly funded park in the UK.
We worked for the early part of his career at Chatsworth and his work there on the Great Conservatory was the forerunner of his most famous project, The Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851.
The cemetery, now one of the top five in the country, was designed at the height of Paxton’s career and used the topography of the former city wall quarries and exotic trees that he brought back from a trip to the Americas to create an exceptional landscape.
Description from 1862:
“A country road … brings us to the string of green trees before the Italian lodge and entrance gate of the Cemetery. We approach on octagon stone prospect-tower on which a small notice board is fixed. This informs us that it is the entrance of the Cemetery. But for this notification we might have fallen in to error, the place having much more the air of a gentleman’s park than of a city of the dead. The general effect is charming …
Embanked terraces with parapeted walls; cypresses, cedars, yew trees .. every description of flowering shrub growing luxuriantly in dell, plantations and on rockeries; rows of fine tall trees …”
Those buried in the cemetery include the majority of the city’s leading Victorians and those involved in the pioneering early cycle and car industry, including the Starleys who invented the bicycle as we know it. There is also a large memorial to Paxton, who was also Coventry’s Member of Parliament from 1854 to his death in 1865.
Coventry Council, supported by the Trust, have secured initial approval for £2m of funding from the Heritage Lottery to restore the cemetery to its former glory.
The project includes the restoration of the Anglican Chapel, one of two cemetery chapels, the raised promenade and landscape features including some of the tombs that have fallen into disrepair.
The project will also open up a former entrance on London Road directly opposite the Charterhouse, with a new pedestrian crossing the directly connects the sites.
The cemetery is one of Coventry’s forgotten gems and is now little used or visited.
A major aim of the project is to both increase visitor numbers to this important heritage asset but also to educate, engage and inspire local people in the city’s Victorian history.
Work on the restoration project is due to start in 2017.