Sherbourne Walking 2009

Making Space Residency. Coventry University 2009

I have been building a sense of the movement of the river Sherbourne through the underground culverts of the city.

There are many place names that have come through from Coventry’s early history and are still present on the contemporary city map, I am particularly interested in the sites that directly refer to the once natural route of the river. The bus station is at Pool Meadow, some of the old wells exist near Jordan Well, the river still flows out from under the city at Gosford Gate it emerges just outside the site of the old city wall, which is marked on the forecourt of the tyre and exhaust centre in paving of a similar colour to the original medieval wall. Armed with my enlarged map of the city centre I set off to follow the river, to build a sense of where it flows through the culverts by using old and new maps. Primarily I work with the lie of the land itself, walking with a sense of the river basin, the ‘fall’ of the land, and asking myself, ‘Where would the river flow through this city if it were still above ground?’

I begin at the site of the old Gosford Gate where the river still emerges from its journey under the city and begin to walk against the flow of the underground water. I find my way along remnants of the old wall, under the ring road, past the bingo hall, the bus station, the back of a building site behind the Coventry Cross pub where the river is briefly visible, I begin again outside the Kebab shop on the Bruges which bridges the river, crossing the road feeling the river under me, here I take a slight diversion round the multi-story car park instead of through it and into Corporation Street, at the end of the street I am attracted by the Elizabethan buildings that still remain in Spon Street and happily follow the diversion away from the river.

There has been a butcher shop in the same building on Spon Street for well over a hundred years, the current butcher has been in residence for over twenty, I ask him if he knows anything about the current course of the river near his shop, he sends me in the direction of the empty Woolworths, a car park and through the ground floor of New Look. I complete the cross-city journey at the edge of the Ikea car park, here the river emerges from under the ring road and is briefly visible before it dives under the city. Before the water was visible, I could feel it in the air and sense the drop in temperature, I watch the water through the railings of the culvert, as it follows its concrete container that forces it sideways at an angle.

I decide to undertake a walk through the city I had been devising with a group of people. I plan to mark the pathway of the hidden city river, with pure water from the source of the river. A container of spring water is taped to my back in preparation for the task. The group gathers and we walk down to the site of the old Gosford Gate where the river emerges from the city culverts. The tank has a tube that emits a constant slow flow of water over the paths and roadways marking the path of the underground river. As I got further into town I have to negotiate large buildings which force me to divert away from the river path, I skirt the walls and edges of the buildings, remaining as physically close to the true course of the river as possible. I pass beside bus queues and busy shoppers, stopping and renegotiating my direction when faced with a brick wall or shop window.

I had not taken in the vision of my whole before I began the walk but my choice of brown trousers and walking boots in combination with an unrecognisable contraption on my back emitting an unknown liquid onto the streets causes a bit of a stir! I must have looked somehow threatening! I was almost at the end of the walk across the city when several policemen arrive in cars with lights flashing jump from their cars and ‘apprehended’ me! It seems that a number of fearful residents, unsure of my intention have contacted the constabulary!

The police quickly understand that although I may unwittingly look as mortally threatening as a suicide bomber, that I am in fact an artist with a tank full of spring water on my back.

I complete the ritual walk with the group and a police escort. When we arrive at the river I allowed the remaining spring water in the tank to pour into the water below. We all stand a while and watch the body of water disappear under the city. I remove the empty tank at the request of the police, so that I don’t cause any further public consternation on the return journey!


Photos: Gian Paolo Cottino