I am in the middle of a few weeks of employment aside from my “Godiva’s Footsteps” work – apologies for postings being a bit sparse lately. My “on foot services” are temporarily “on loan” to Coventry Council as I take part in the canvass to ensure that the electoral register is as current as possible. This work has seen me walking the streets of Binley & Willenhall and Foleshill with work in Canley to follow. Most of the work so far has been in the Willenhall area and having attended a talk on the history of that district a few weeks ago some aspects were coming back to mind as I carried out the canvass.
Road names will often give us a clue to the history of the location. At the talk mentioned above I learnt that St James Lane gets its name from a 12th century chapel which once stood in what is now modern day Willenhall. The chapel was run by the monks from the priory in the city centre (attached to St Mary’s Cathedral and destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII), Many pilgrims would visit St Mary’s Cathedral and the chapel in Willenhall would be a stopping point on the way.
A more modern feature of Willenhall was the Chace Hostel established to house workers to support the war effort in the 1940s (particularly aimed at providing accommodation for those coming from outside Coventry to work in the “shadow factories” on the city’s edge (in effect back up factories in case of bombing). This was one of several similar structures in the city including the complex which now houses the Wyken Community Centre. There are some similarities in attitudes towards the histories of both Willenhall and Wyken with many visitors and residents considering the areas to be quite mundane and lacking in history. I am now going to move on to look at some of the history of Wyken to show that this isn’t actually the case.
Having a day off from the canvass yesterday I took a walk with my son Rob (and my dog Spike) from my house in Hermitage Road to his flat off Henley Road before visiting a friend just off the Clifford Bridge Road and then looping back home. I would like to describe some of the history of the area covered in this little walk.
My road takes its name from the fact that it was built on part of the site of Hermitage Farm. Older readers may remember Hermitage Buildings – a small row of shops on Longfellow Road, Behind these shops up until some time around the mid 70s (to be checked) was a large barn and field of cows (i.e what remained of Hermitage Farm following the housing development of the 1930s). It is purported (again to be checked) that the farm was so named as it was situated on a site previously occupied by an actual hermitage (home to a hermit monk or monks).
Behind the terrace of houses directly opposite my house is Ravensdale School – my aunty was one of the first pupils there as her family (i.e including my dad and my grandparents) lived just round the corner in Mellowdew Road as some of the first residents of the newly built estate in the 30s. There was much damage to the houses during WW2 (stories to follow regarding the blitz in the area). There were soldiers billeted in tents on the school fields and the locals were able to supplement their incomes by providing baths for them.
Further down Hermitage Road at the junction with Cowley Road there was a greyhound racing track (on the site where Fylde House now stands). I know that there was racing there during my dad’s childhood in the 1930s but I am having difficulty getting much information about it – I’m hoping that a sustained operation of trawling the internet, talking to locals and visiting the archives will provide some detail and hopefully a few photos.
We walked along Ansty Road before taking the Sowe Valley path at the North Side (i.e other side of Ansty Road from the hospital) at Clifford Bridge. Clifford Bridge was once known as “Sowe Bridge” (it does bridge the River Sowe!) but got its current name from the Clifford family – one time Lords of the Manor at Caludon (the seat of the Caludon Manor being Caludon Castle). Caludon has a very impressive history with links to Shakespeare, royalty and some of England’s most prominent families across the centuries. It was a centre of culture during the renaissance period hosting theatrical and musical performances and extravagant feasts.
The path took us alongside the Sowe up into the nature reserve at Wyken Croft – site of ancient feudal farming methods.There is a mural in the adjoining St Mary Magdelene church (the oldest building within the boundaries of modern day Coventry) depicting a feudal agricultural scene with windmill. In more modern times the site has housed Craven Colliery which was closed in 1927 following the general strike (must be some stories worth telling from that time!). The colliery was owned by the Craven family (of Coombe Abbey). The Cravens were Lords of the Manor of Wyken at the time of the closure. The Manor House is still present on Henley Road (although it appeared empty yesterday). Historically the Manor of Wyken was a neighbour to the Manor of Caludon (which is part of modern Wyken) and stretched up to Aldermans Green taking in the Wyken Slough area which still bears the name. The lake there was caused by subsidence from the mine workings from the Wyken coalfields (there were three Wyken collieries – Wyken, Victoria and Craven). The Wyken Croft site became a landfill site before being re-sculpted into the present nature reserve (so although a keen forager of wild foods I would avoid picking anything from around this area!).
A little later on my walk (on my way home) I passed the Wyken Community Centre. This is one of those buildings from the WW2 era which has a sort of "Dr Who" feel about it - a historical story to give, atmospheric but definitely build with function in mind over style! This will be another site that I shall be researching and revisiting in the blog.
Hopefully this has shown that there is a wealth of history in areas which may seem quite mundane that can be found with a little conversation with older residents and a bit of delving. I shall be sharing more of the history of the area in subsequent posts.as the ramble goes on........