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Georgian Splendour Of Kirby House Saved

Kirby House is one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in Coventry city centre, but behind its face lurks a different story.

Like many of its neighbours the grand building in Little Park Street has been through a lot.

Kirby House

The front of the house dates back to around 1735, but it is probable that the façade was tacked on to an earlier building.

Some of the interior features, such as the wooden panelling and the staircase with a twisted balustrade have been classed as Jacobean by experts.

It was built at a time that the Little Park Street area was the most fashionable part of the city, and wealthy people built themselves houses there.

Who built it is something of a mystery. Some think that Francis Smith, the Warwick architect who designed Stoneleigh Abbey, is responsible.

But there is also a legend that a brother constructed it in competition with his two brothers, who were also building houses in the area.

The tale goes that the most handsome building would be paid for by the two losers.

Tradition has it that the other two buildings in the contest were 7Little Park Street and 11 Priory Row – both of which are still standing.

The building in Little Park Street is now the Varsity pub, and – as pubs tend to be at the weekend – it will also be open during the Heritage Open Days weekend.

It was extensively restored when Banks’ brewery opened it, but some of the original features can still be seen, including a window, above the bar, oak beams, and fireplaces.

The other building in the alleged competition is currently the house for the Provost of Coventry.

Kirby House’s name comes from Thomas Hulston Kirby, who was a solicitor and clerk to the county magistrates, who used it as offices in the 1870s.

But it wasn’t until careful restoration work began in 1980 that any of this splendour began to emerge.

In 1957 its value as an excellent reminder of the Georgian era was recognised by the Government, and the Ministry of Works refused permission to demolish it.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings described in as a museum of carpentry techniques spanning two centuries.

Indeed, it was suggested that when the council bought it for £23,000 in 1963 that it could be used as the Lord Mayor’s parlour.

There were suspicions that the council wanted to get rid of the building to allow big redevelopment in the area, but another demolition application was refused by a Government inspector in 1972.

By the time restoration work started the building had decayed. Only the front part of the house could be saved, and it took a careful effort to bring it back to life.

Kirby House now stands proud and floodlit, one of the nicest buildings in the city centre, and is occupied by Varley Hibbs solicitors. It will be open for viewing on both days from 11am to 5pm.
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CWN / Heritage / Heritage Open Days / 25 Aug 00

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This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM