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The Story of Coombe Abbey - click for Contents Page

Chapter VII - The present days (from 1961)

During the years since this story was first written, change has continued at, some would say, an alarming pace.  This chapter brings the story up to date, relating the main changes from 1961 (when this story was first written) to "today" (the latest saved date of this chapter).  As new events occur, this chapter will try to keep pace with them.

The major events over this period have been:

Towards the end of 1963 structural weaknesses were identified which were considered unsafe.  The lease of the Abbey to GEC was coming due for renewal, and GEC decided that it was not acceptable to negotiate a further lease with the building in such a condition.  Consequently when the trustees of the estate were unable to give a firm undertaking that the repairs would be carried out, the Company decided not to renew their lease.  (John Gray's estate had passed into the hands of the Walpole-Brown family by virtue of it being left to his daughter, Winifred Gray, who was married to Edward Walpole-Brown).  In March 1964 GEC withdrew from Coombe Abbey.  The trustees decided to put the estate up for sale. 

Coventry City Council had developed the ambition to create a public park at Coombe in the 1920s.  From 1934 to 1938,  the corporation were involved in lengthy talks with Rugby District Council and Warwickshire County Council to explore the possibilities of one day acquiring Coombe Abbey and its parkland for use as a public open space.  In 1938  William Lindley (a key member of the consortium who owned the Deer Park and Coombe Pool) produced a plan that would firstly, sterilise the 218 acres of woods, parkland and lake that the syndicate had bought in 1923 and secondly, give Coventry Corporation a twenty one year option to purchase those lands as and when they became available.   As a result William Lindley received £11,310 compensation, Sidney Penn £1,420, Albert Ward £1,100 and the joint owners of the Pool and woods £7,000.  In 1958 Coventry Corporation bought Coombe Pool and its adjoining woodland for the sum of £28,500, and those parts of the estate that were held by Sidney Penn and Albert Ward, under the terms of the 1938 agreement.  A first step to achieving their ambitions.

In April 1964, despite some competition, Coventry Corporation agreed to purchase Coombe Abbey and 150 acres of surrounding land for just £36,000.  The realisation of a forty year old dream was now on the verge of being fulfilled.


During the period 1964-66, in preparation for opening the grounds as a Regional Park, most paths were improved, the swimming pool and tennis court (constructed by the mulberry trees on the large lawn to the NW of the house by GEC apprentices in 1959, but not adequate for public use) was removed and the area returned to lawn, and a boat house was built by the top pool.  A car park was created behind the trees to the East at the northern end of the drive, the drive was widened and resurfaced to form the entrance, and the old driveway to the east was re-opened to form the exit.  A significant task was dredging the eastern end of the lake, which had become heavily silted and overgrown with reeds.  To the east of the house, a large and impressive children's play area was created.  Within and near the ground floor of the east wing, limited refreshment facilities, and an information point was set up and public toilet facilities built.  The wrought iron gates from the Griffin Gate were removed to Coventry, and the pillars were moved to present entrance

On 14-May-1966, Coombe Abbey Regional Park (comprising 250 acres) was opened to the public.  It was a beautiful day when 60,000 people were reported to have visited, causing traffic jams throughout the area. 

In 1970  The Coombe Abbey Regional Park achieved Countryside Park status and was re-titled "Coombe Country Park".  Also in 1970  Boating facilities were added on part of the main lake, an Interpretive Centre was created in an established woodland area, a bird park was built between the top pool boating lake and the decoy ponds, and several nature trails were opened.  In 1974, the Old Deer Park and The Woodlands (88 acres) were purchased by Coventry City Council.   The eastern part of the old Deer Park forms the site of the new visitor centre opened in 1993, plus a large stretch of open grassland used for special events.   The park now totaled 372 acres. 

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The Abbey buildings remained empty and disused for about 7 years from 1964.  In 1971 the abbey was leased to Historic Productions Ltd. who used the ground floor of the West wing and North wing for Mediaeval banquets until 1992.  In about 1980, the building adjacent to the "Real Tennis court" was converted to the Granary Public House.

Essential repair works were carried out, to ensure the buildings did not decay whilst a plan for their long term use was created.  In 1976, repairs were made to three west gables and first gable on south side (£25,160),  in 1983 repairs were made to the roof of the SW range; the centre south gable and window were rebuilt; and an extensive repair programme was drawn up (£1 million).  In 1985  phase 1 of the repair programme was carried out, including repairs to the west front pediment and windows, renewal of the main roof of the west range (£410,000) and dismantling of the Great Hall chimney.  In 1988  repairs were made to the roof of the Watergate building.

In 1989 Coombe Abbey was offered publicly for expressions of interest in developing the property.  This culminated in an agreement with the "No Ordinary" hotel group.

In 1992 the development to restore Coombe Abbey and convert it into a "No Ordinary" hotel began.  Building work also began on a new Visitor Centre facility with a themed dining venue, and a new children's adventure playground.  Extensive rebuilding and refurbishment of the abbey buildings was undertaken, including building a new East wing by adding two more stories above the existing basement and ground floor and extending the north side of the building in line with the Great Hall (old Refectory), and rebuilding the Great Hall chimney.  The "Real Tennis court" and the Granary Public House were converted to a conference centre.  The 1960s children's play area was partly used for the new east wing, but mostly restored as a garden.

In 1993  Coombe Abbey's Visitor Centre opened, followed by the opening of the Abbeygate - the new venue for Coombe Abbey's award winning Mediaeval banquets.

On  17th February 1995  "Coombe Abbey Hotel" - a "No Ordinary Hotel" - opened with 63 bedrooms, Cloisters Restaurant, Chapter House Bar, Private Dining Room, Conference and Banqueting facilities.

In July 1999  "Coombe Abbey Hotel" opened a further twenty bedrooms on the East Wing.

By October 2009  "Coombe Abbey Hotel" opened a further 40 bedrooms in a new "North Wing" and a new Conservatory Restaurant on the north side of the main East Wing.

In 2011 The Deer Park was restored to more like the open grassland created by Capability Brown, and much of it was opened to visitors.

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In addition to the major works outlined above, much maintenance and enhancement work continues, in particular to the pathways and woodlands.  Features to look out for are described in a recently published Coombe Abbey Woodlands leaflet.

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