60 Years Shared: Celebrating World Heritage Day

Posted on 18 April 2018

As the Belgrade Theatre celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2018, on World Heritage Day, we’re taking a look back at some of the fascinating architectural history we share with one of our most famous neighbouring buildings. Like the Belgrade, Coventry’s distinctive circular Indoor Market was first opened in 1958, as part of extensive post-war redevelopment of the city.

Both buildings were the product of the collaborative, purpose-made City Architects Department, during a time when Coventry was pioneering brand new city planning features, such as its fully pedestrianised shopping precinct – home to another building finished in 1958, the eye-catching rotunda café, currently run by Caffe Nero.

Market 60 years

Listed by English Heritage as a Grade II building, the market features rooftop parking and easy access from different areas of the City Centre, helping to ensure trade prospered in the city during the 60s and 70s.

The construction of the Belgrade was something of a pioneering project itself, the Theatre becoming the first full-scale civic theatre to be opened after the Second World War. Typical of the integrated designs of the era, the theatre was originally part of a mixed-use development including 21 flats and street-level shops along Corporation Street, with an exterior clad in Portland stone and glass.

Belgrade 60 years

The story behind the Theatre’s unusual name is familiar to many in the city: in 1953, the city of Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia donated a consignment of beech timber which was used in its interior construction. The exchange formed part of a wider project of partnerships and twinning with cities across Europe, reflecting the spirit of peace and reconciliation that has become integral to Coventry’s identity.


What’s perhaps less well known is that the stone relief frieze representing the city of Belgrade on the outside of the theatre was created by the same artist who produced the quirky figure sculptures for the Coventry Fish Market.

Born in Paris in 1917, James C. Brown (known to his friends as Jim), was a prolific member of the City Architects Department during the post-war period. Among his designs are the horse-sided benches situated in Little Park Street, which were originally created to be used in Belgrade Square during the 1960s, commissioned by the Belgrade Theatre Club and their Friends in memory of former director Brian Bailey (a sculpture commemorating Bailey still sits outside the theatre today).

Belgrade relief panel

His relief panel for the Theatre was developed in consultation with the Yugoslav Embassy, who supplied the 1684 Giacomo de Rossi engraving upon which the design is based. Brown initially made the relief in brick clay, which was then cast in cement fondue with Penmaenware granite chippings added for aggregate. The Public Monuments and Sculptures Association give the following description of the panel:

“The relief shows a fortress on a hill above a walled city, surrounded by the river Danube. The city arms and its name in Cyrillic script on a banner are at the top of the relief. The dark colour of the textured panel provides a visual interruption from the smoothness of the surrounding windows.”

sculptures 2

His sculptures for the fish market, meanwhile, were intended to look like Staffordshire China Figures, taking the form of mermaids, sailors and Neptunes. Standing at roughly 75cm tall, they were cast in a stone mix called Titanite, with arms cast separately and attached with dowels, before being brightly painted. The first few figures were installed when the Market opened in November 1958, with more added subsequently in January 1959. When the old fish market was demolished, ten of the figures were moved into the new round market, touched up, and fixed around the fish stalls, where they can still be seen today.

More information about Coventry’s architectural history can be found here.