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  • Writer's picturePhil

Bare Knuckles, Music and Murder

Over the last few days I have attended events that have caused me to reflect on the history of some of our local pubs, the pastimes hosted in them and disputes within them.

On Friday I led a guided walk around Coventry Canal Basin and mentioned some of the pubs which have been lost to that immediate area. The Basin backs on to Drapers Field.

The name “Drapers Field” (historically sometimes recorded as "Drapers Fields") predates the building of the canal and is derived from the historical link to processes used in the textile industry. Although drapers were often wealthy and influential merchants in medieval Coventry, the term was originally also associated with the production and preparation of textiles.

There were “tenting” facilities nearby – used by fullers in the preparation of cloth. Even before the canal there was a water supply here. The present day sculptors studios are situated in part of the warehouse structure which was added to the older buildings in the early 1900s and is deemed less suitable for other occupations as water sometimes seeps up from an underground stream.

Coventry was an important medieval town hosting English parliaments within the protection of the surrounding wall. The cloth industry saw the town rise as a trading hub with links to luxury markets across the country and beyond into Europe.

Weaving is recognised as one of Coventry's main industries over the centuries. The Coventry Cotton Spinning and Weaving company had a large factory just a couple of hundreds of yards from the Canal Basin with its own spur of the canal (now filled in) serving its wharf. The industry was hard hit by cheaper continental competition (particularly in the wake of the Cobden free trade treaty of 1860 which badly affected the weaving and watchmaking sectors in the city.

The downturn in the weaving industry saw the closure of the Coventry Spinning and Weaving Company and eventual fire damage to the premises. The building was later converted into Daimler's "Motor Mills" - the site of the birth of the British automobile industry.

It appears that the hit to the weaving industry could have had knock on consequences for a neighbouring hostelry. The Cotton Spinners Arms on Drapers Fields shut up shop in 1862 with the landlord putting all of the fixtures and fittings up for sale before leaving.

Other pubs lost to the area include the Nags Head Inn which was situated at the Canal Basin. The name "Nags Head" was used to indicate that horses could be hired from the venue - very appropriate to those wishing to transport goods from the basin via canal or cart.

The Nags Head Inn was mentioned in reports of the investigation of the murder of John Newbold, a local man, in 1779. Soldiers of the 6th regiment who were suspected of the murder were reported as drinking there at the time.

Another murder investigation led to the trial of a thirteen year old nursemaid following the death of an infant at the Canal Tavern, This was situated at 5 Leicester Row opposite the Canal Basin's stable block. Details of the case can be seen at:

Another important industry to the local economy was watchmaking. On Sunday I attended an event at Coventry's Central Library with author Adam Wood reading from his recently published book "The Watchmaker's Revenge" which I would recommend to anybody interested in our local history. It details the true story of a watchmaker imprisoned for a case of multiple attempted murders on one day in 1880. Another lost pub, "The Half Moon Tavern" features as the scene of the start of a shooting spree.

For more details of Adam's book and work see:[0]=68...

After the library event I paid a visit to the Old Windmill in Spon Street where my sister, Di and friend and folk musician, Nigel Ward (who has recently released a CD of his Coventry themed based songs)

were taking part in a session with other artists. You can hear some of Nigel's songs here:

Adam Wood's book gives mention to the tradition of bare knuckled boxing in Coventry and the Windmill is one pub associated with that sport.

Another local pub now known as "The Gosford Arms" but traditionally "The Pitts Head" is also an important venue regarding prize fighting. Renowned fighter "Fatty" Adrian was landlord of that Gosford Street pub which was very local to one of the homes of the family at the centre of "The Watchmaker's Revenge" (Harnall Row - one of the "courts" off Gosford Street). Fatty acquired his nickname from another of his talents. One of the events at Coventry's Great Fairs (some of which were held at Gosford Green) required each of the contestants to attempt to climb to the top of a pole greased with goose fat. The first to achieve this feat would win a pig - which "Fatty" managed on several occasions.

The Pitts Head was one of several venues in the area where I would go to watch local bands as a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s. Friends played in a band that rehearsed there and got a mention in Pete Chambers' recent column in the Coventry Observer. Pete who runs Coventry Music Museum (well worth a visit!) managed the band "Terminal Tears". He mentions the band in the article about the history of the Cabin recording studio on London Road which has now been commemorated with a blue plaque. The article can be viewed here:

Another blue plaque can be seen just over the road from the Gosford Arms (Pitts Head as I still tend to call it). The Hand and Heart was another pub which I used to regularly frequent to see local bands of all kinds (rock, punk, ska, blues and some difficult to describe!). The building which now houses Dominos Pizza was also a regular stopping point after Sky Blues matches at Highfield Road.

Football had an influence on another Gosford Street pub. The Golden Cup was renamed to "The Cup" in following the FA Cup success in 1987 and the signage of a golden cup being replaced with that of the FA Cup. The pub went on to become "The Beer Engine" - yet another of Coventry's lost music venues.

Another link to the music museum and the Pitts Head is that the museum's Ball Hill / Marlborough Rd location sees it situated roughly on the site of one of Coventry's racetracks. I wrote about this in my recent blog entry:

The Pitts Head was used to stable racehorses competing at the track.

I am planning to expand my range of Coventry based guided walks to cover themes mentioned in this blog in more detail in the new year. Keep an eye on this site for details.....

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