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A gardening admiral, lost pubs and a tramway

Although coal mining may not be the first industry that one would associate with Coventry it is one of the longest running. There are however no longer any colleries left in or around Coventry. The last at Keresley closed in 1991 to be replaced by the distribution hub for the logistics company Prologis.

Growing up in Coventry friends of my parents and parents of my friends worked in the pit at Keresley and some had worked at Binley Colliery which had closed in 1963 – just as I was coming in to the world! Some of my schoolmates went on to work at Keresley during the last few years of its operation.

The Claybrookes Marsh nature reserve at the site of Binley colliery is named after two miners who died in an accident at the pit. It makes for a pleasant interesting walk – but do remember it is called “marsh” for a good reason”!

Although the Binley and Keresley pits are still alive in the memories of older Coventrians, the last of the Wyken pits, the Craven Colliery was closed in 1927 in the wake of the 1926 general strike.

In earlier times Wyken covered a large area to the North East of Coventry beyond what is now recognised as the postal district and electoral ward of that name. Wyken included the areas of Henley Green, Wood End, Bell Green and Aldermans Green – hence the term “Wyken collieries” for mines which fell just outside of the current boundaries of the district.

The entrance to the Craven Colliery sat a couple of hundred yards east from Henley Farm and Manor House on what is now known as Henley Road. The colliery buildings were mostly situated between Henley Road and the River Sowe within view of St Mary Magdeline Church, on Wyken Croft – Coventry's oldest surviving building which is still in use, with parts dating back to the early 12th century.

Wyken remained a small village until the creation of Craven Colliery in the 18th century. At the time Wyken Manor was owned by the Craven family of Coombe Abbey who retained it until it was bought by Coventry Corporation during WW1.

My most local pub – now known as the “New Pippin” but originally named the “Wyken Pippin” was named afer a variety of apple introduced to the area by Admiral Thomas Craven around 1720 when he planted an apple tree (which he had brought from Holland) in the garden of the manor house. Its descendants spread around the country and can still be found in Coventry at King's Orchard near Gosford Green and in the garden of the Weavers House at Spon End.

At either end of Woodway Lane (adjacent to Henley Road) were pubs which have both been converted into residential peoperties in recent years – the Craven Arms and the Jolly Colliers – the names of each having associations with the neighbourhood's past.

Just across the road from the former entrance to the Craven Colliery is an embankment which once carried a tramway to transport coal away from the pit. This was part of a network of tramways around a now filled in spur of canal which looped from the Oxford Canal at the Jolly Colliers end of Sowe Common round beyond the Boat Inn at Barnacle eventually rejoining the canal at the point which is now known as Wyken Marina – the greatly truncated remnant of the spur. The network linked the sites of the three Wyken Collieries.

The site of the Victoria Colliery at Hawkesbury went on to become one of Coventry's two canalside power stations fuelled by local coal. Like the site of the Craven it would go on to become a twentieth century landfill site.

The third of the “Wyken” pits, Alexandra Colliery was close to the Moat House site on Deedmore Road in modern day Wood End.

Continuing along the Oxford Canal from Wyken Marina towards Coventry we reach Hawkesbury junction where the Oxford and Coventry canals meet. It is five and a half miles from here towards the canal basin near the city centre, The stretch heading the other way at Hawkesbury works northwards through Bedworth, Nuneaton and Atherstone and passed wharfs serving some of the North Warwickshire coal fields. It continues to meet up with the Birmingham navigations and eventually ends at the junction of the Trent & Mersey canal near Lichfield.

Coal from the Craven Colliery would move down along the Oxford canal to meet with the Thames and on to London's industrial heartlands. In the other direction the coal would head towards Coventry's Canal Basin, gasworks, power stations and factories including stops at Websters Brickworks which acted as an agent for the colliery.

The Coventry Canal Company was formed by local colliery owners who commisioned James Brindley as their first engineer. The canal was a central piece in fulfilling his vision of a national network of canals joining the navigable waterways of the Thames, Mersey, Trent and Severn. The first cargo into Coventry Canal Basin was a consignment of coal in August 1769.

To learn more please join me on my guided walk around Coventry Canal Basin, “Canals, Coal, Cars and Cloth” and stay tuned to my YouTube channel to hear more about Coventry's collieries and the canal network.

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