Bringing history to life – Coventry City Council

Coventry’s hidden national treasure is offering families a day out which brings alive 700 years of history with immersive virtual reality storytelling.

St Mary’s Guildhall, located in the heart of the city’s historic Cathedral Quarter in Bayley Lane, has reopened seven days a week as a major visitor attraction after an extensive £6 million programme of restoration and refurbishment.

Work has included the repair and restoration of the Coventry Tapestry and a new programme of activities which has been made possible thanks to support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

New cutting-edge augmented reality software will take visitors on a digital tour around the beautiful building enabling them to experience 700 years of partying, power and propaganda virtually.

Specially-curated living history experience days will also be running every Tuesday throughout the school holidays in the newly uncovered Medieval Kitchen – one of the best preserved in the UK and now fully accessible for the first time in just under 100 years.

They will be packed full of family-friendly Jacobean Food and Feasting activities – giving an insight into the daily life of the Guildhall’s working kitchen. Everything from gingerbread, pickles and salads and butter making to cleaning pewters, crystallising flowers and bolting flour for bread will be included as part of the experience. 

On 11, 18 and 25 August, children can also try traditional craft activities in the Draper’s Room including. making a Victorian peg doll, spinning top or having a go at weaving with ribbons.

Widely recognised as one of the finest medieval guildhalls in the country, St Mary’s dates back to 1352 and miraculously survived the blitz of 1940 which devastated much of the city centre.  

It also boasts the stunning Coventry tapestry – which is over 500 years old and is thought to be the oldest tapestry still in its original place in Britain.

No Ordinary Hospitality Management (NOHM), the team behind Coombe Abbey Hotel, is managing the venue using their specialist knowledge and expertise of managing heritage visitor attractions to help visitors to enjoy the city’s historic ‘hidden gem’.

Abi Moore, NOHM’s new heritage and venue manager of St Mary’s Guildhall, said: “We are very excited to be launching this visitor attraction in the heart of the community and Coventry’s magnificent historic Cathedral quarter from the start of the summer holidays.

“It means families from the city and further afield will be among the first able to enjoy and experience a fascinating day out exploring the breath-taking architecture of this medieval Guildhall with its original restored kitchen open to visitors for the first time in nearly a century.

“Children can dress up in period costumes and be wowed by the story of the tapestry and beautiful artwork as it literally unfolds before their eyes using new and innovative technology. Plus, they can get hands-on with a range of fun activities and follow the special children’s trail to find angels and animals around the building.

Every Tuesday until the school year returns in September, the sights, sounds and smells of a medieval kitchen will be brought to life by costumed living history with a range of interactive activities for families to join in from preparing a feast to baking bread.

“To complete the experience food and drinks will be served in the Tales of Tea Café – a high-quality light lunch and afternoon tea experience within the atmospheric vaulted Guildhall Undercroft that is set to launch in August.”

This large-scale programme of restoration work has been made possible with the support through the Cultural Capital Investment Fund resourced by Coventry City Council, Arts Council England, and the Government’s Getting Building Fund through Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players.

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