Site Specific Project- The River Sherbourne

For my first idea I have decided to look into the river that flows through Coventry. I began my research by first searching in Google, ‘What is the river that flows through Coventry?’, the main result provided by Wikipedia stated that ‘The River Sherbourne is a river that flows under the centre of the city of Coventry, in the West Midlands, of England. The source of the river is in the fields of Hawkes End in the Parish of Allesley.’ Once I knew the name of the river I was then able to research the river in more depth, looking at a range of sources.

Facts about Coventry’s River Sherbourne

  • Coventry developed around the waterway and the river may have played a part in naming the city. The river was initially called “Cune” (with “tre” meaning “town”).
  • Its new name is said to originate from “Scir Burna” meaning “clear stream”.
  • The river began to be covered during the redevelopment of Coventry following the Blitz bombing.
  • The subterranean river today is home to bridges that date back hundreds of years.

River Sherbourne – Palmer Lane & beyond

  • Beginning at Corley, then flowing for around ten miles past Allesley and Radford, through the city centre, then through Whitley, before finally merging into the River Sowe near Baginton, the Sowe ultimately flowing into the River Avon near Stoneleigh.


  • It used to be much more substantial than it is today, even prone to occasional flooding, perhaps the most remembered being around Spon Street in 1900/01.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 15.46.30

  • Unfortunately, our town centre now only allows us one brief glimpse of the Sherbourne, between long stretches of culverting, hidden away from view in concrete pipes below ground.
  • This short stretch at the side of Palmer Lane, which itself is now no more than an alleyway entered from the Burges or Trinity Street


Coventry’s ‘lost’ river ‘could be worth £1.5bn if restored

  • The River Sherbourne ran through the city centre until the 1960s, when it was channelled into a concrete culvert*. 
  • The Environment Agency said the watercourse was now of “poor” quality.
  • “People like spending time in green spaces and next to rivers and the buildings around rivers enjoy higher property values.”

 *A culvert is a conduit used to enclose a flowing body of water. It may be used to allow water to pass underneath a road, railway, or embankment. (Source:

River Sherbourne, below the streets of Coventry

  • I was reading a 1950’s book on the redevelopment of Coventry after the blitz, and read “after extensive bombing much of the old city was demolished and rebuilt. A central ringroad was constructed and the river Sherbourne culverted…”
  • So, asked around and found out where the river comes out, and myself and Raddog waded through the river and into the mouth of the culvert. Much bigger and longer than I ever expected. We went underground by Gulson Road, came out right in the heart of the city by Cross Cheaping, and then back under all the way to the skydome! For those that are not familiar with cov that is at least a half a hour walk top side!
  • Much to see down the tunnels. Bridges from before the culvert are still in place, they have just been concreted around. Lots of cool stalactites, pipes and waterfalls. Other smaller tunnels run off the main one which are almost as long again!

From my initial research I have learnt a lot about the river, a river which I did not know existed. I am not from Coventry and even though I have lived here a year, I was unaware that there is a river running through and under the city. I think it would be interesting to see who knows about the river, can it be seen as a ‘hidden’ river or do some people know about it? If it really is a ‘hidden’ river, my project could look at the idea of rediscovering it and documenting its journey and where it flows through Coventry. I am interested in following the river, looking at both its journey and path through the city. I now plan to go out and begin to document the river as well as continuing my research including looking at photographers’ work that I can take influence from.


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