An exciting project to bring back to life a much-loved historic building in Coventry city centre – known for decades as the ‘Toy Museum’ – has started work on site.
Historic Coventry Trust has secured grants of £180,000 from Historic England and £100,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund to start the next chapter in the history of Whitefriars’ Gate in Much Park Street.
Conservation and restoration specialists Midland Conservation Ltd has been appointed to carry out the initial work at the Grade II* listed building which involves repairing the roof, stonework, windows and doors, and making the fabric of the building secure.
The five-month restoration programme is underway as part of a wider project to convert Whitefriars’ Gate into bespoke visitor accommodation and office space under the existing planning and listed building consent from Coventry City Council.
Whitefriars Gate is the 14th Century postern gatehouse of Whitefriars Monastery, the Carmelite Friary located adjacent to the London Road ring road roundabout.
During the dissolution of the monasteries, the gatehouse along with the main friary buildings passed into the ownership of John Hales in 1538. The gatehouse was adapted to provide two separate cottages. A rear extension was built in the early 18th century with a further two cottages including a weaver’s loft.
Much Park Street suffered bomb damage during the Second World War, and the other medieval buildings that survived were relocated to Spon Street, leaving Whitefriars gatehouse standing isolated in this part of the street.
The building’s last resident was Ron Morgan, a potter and ex-city councillor. His love of children’s toys led him to open the building as a museum from 1973 until 2007, and the building is still affectionally known by many people in Coventry as the ‘Toy Museum’.
Graham Tait, assistant director at Historic Coventry Trust, said the adjacent part of the building suffered fire damage in 2009 and was subsequently repaired, but the building has been empty and unused ever since.
“We are really excited to see this work get underway because it will address the urgent repair needs of this important ‘At Risk’ building and will provide a sound structure for the future fit out works, which will provide a long-term sustainable use for the building.
“The future fit out will provide a unique opportunity for people to stay in this much-loved historic building as well as access for all during future Heritage Open Days.”
From the left:
Graham Tait (Historic Coventry Trust)
Mandy Hall (Architectural Heritage Fund)
Cllr David Welsh (Coventry City Council)
Cllr David Welsh, Cabinet Member for Heritage at Coventry City Council, said:
“We have been working with Historic Coventry Trust on a number of projects, including Charterhouse, Drapers’ Hall and Lychgate Cottages and the standards of restoration work is excellent.
“I’m sure with the same attention to detail the Trust will be able to breathe new life into Whitefriars’ Gate. We all have fond memories of the building when it was the Toy Museum and it will be great to see it back in use.”
Louisa Moore, Partnerships Team Leader at Historic England, said:
“Historic England is thrilled to support the work to repair and repurpose one of Coventry’s precious medieval buildings. For the past five years, we have worked with Historic Coventry Trust, Coventry City Council and other partners on the Coventry Heritage Action Zone – this project will be the crowning achievement for the work that has been done so far to transform Coventry through heritage.”
Matthew Mckeague, CEO of the Architectural Heritage Fund, added:
“As one of AHF’s Heritage Development Trusts, Historic Coventry Trust has been doing fantastic work in reviving historic buildings in Coventry over the past few years.
“We are thrilled to have awarded a grant towards capital works of Whitefriars’ Gate, enabling the Trust to restore another much-loved building and to continue playing a significant role in the heritage-led regeneration of the city.”
Jason Graham, director at Midland Conservation Ltd, said:
“We are delighted to be entrusted by Historic Coventry Trust again to breathe life back into one of the city’s much-loved buildings.
“The ‘Toy Museum’ as it was fondly remembered sadly closed its doors the year MCL was formed in 2007, so as we celebrate our 15th year in October it will be a privilege to be part of the team securing the future of this historic building for the people of Coventry to enjoy again.”