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  • Writer's picturePhil

Coventry's Hideous Histories

Updated: Dec 31, 2019

Coventry's civic society celebrates its fiftieth annivesary in the coming year. The Coventry Society is a campaigning group with aims of helping to shape the city's future in a positive way but also actively promotes local history and culture. Membership is an absolute bargain given the scope of events covered by the small fee across the year. The link below gives a description of upcoming events and membership details.

I am looking forward to a talk to be hosted by the society about the excavations which led to significant Roman and Anglo-Saxon finds at Baginton (these finds mentioned in my recent blog post, "What did the Romans ever do for us?") Another not to miss January event from the society is Blue Badge guide Roger Bailey's talk on Ancient Egyptian influences on the design of post-war Coventry

The society was formed around a campaign to save Kirby House from demolition in 1970. It now seems hard to believe that this attractive Georgian listed building (home to the Citizen's Advice Bureau) could have been under threat relatively recently.

This Friday will see Jo Phillips of Tourist2Local conducting a guided tour of the city centre area looking at our "Hideous History". The event starts at 7pm outside Kirby House. Despite the building's elegant appearance it has been the scene of two very similar gruesome murders. Jo describes the building as "our own Amytiville house of horrors". The instigators of both murders were brought to justice and hanged.

The hideous history walk will go on to describe further murders and executions which have taken place within a few hundred yards of the start point (including burnings at the stake at times of religious intolerance, a huge turnout to witness the hanging of the last women to be executed in Coventry, and the summary shooting of soldiers for going absent from the city's barracks). Apart from looking at Coventry's murderous histroy, Jo will also be looking at living conditions which saw high rates of infant deaths and the need to exhume hundreds of partly decomposed bodies from a city centre burial ground. You may book the tour from the link below.

Whilst researching our city's history I have been taken aback by the number of places of execution dotted around not just the city centre but wider area. It is also the case that many relatively minor offences such as robbery (particularly of livestock) and forgery ended with the death sentence being carried out. Coventry executions in the late 18th century include those for robbery, forgery, arson, returning from transportation and even bestiality!

Whitley Common and Gibbett Hill are well known sites but there are many more less known. For example, last year whilst doing research into the industrial and sporting history of the Binley Road area for a talk that I was giving, I came across several stories of execution sites along the route of the road from one end to the other. Some execution scenes along the relatively short stretch of road are:

1. The junction of Brinklow Road and Clifford Bridge Road was the site of the original "Craven Arms" (so named after Coombe's Craven family) - later moved to its present site (where it is now known as a "Toby Carvery") a hundred yards or so away at the Clifford Bridge Rd / Binley Road junction. The Brinklow Road / Clifford Bridge Road junction was the site of the medieval "Maiden's Cross" (a stone cross) and during the late eighteenth century the Craven Arms was the meeting place of the 'Coombe and Binley Association for the Persecution of Felons' which offered rewards for the apprehension of criminals . The Inn was built in 1772 on the site of Binley Gallows where Sir Henry Mumford and Sir Robert Mallory were executed for treason in 1495.

2. A site close to (current) crossroads by Binley fire station / the Millpool pub.

3. Jabbett's Ash at the junction of Marlborough Road and Binley Road is the city's ancient boundary marker. It is believed that the name of the tree is actually derived from its use as a Gibbet - ash trees were often used for this purpose in ancient times.

A short walk up Marlborough road from Jabbet's Ash is Clara Street. In 1939 an IRA operation saw five civilians killed and around a hundred injured in Broadgate where a bomb was left in a bicycle basket. The operation was prepared in Clara St and two of those involved were hanged in 1940 for their part (the last IRA supporters to face execution). Shortly before that explosion the electricity substaition on the Gulson Rd / Binley Rd junction was also targeted.

4. Another short walk from Jabbet's Ash to Gosford Green takes us to another place of execution. Amongst those to meet their end at Gosford Green were Earl Rivers and Lord John Woodville beheaded in 1469 following the Battle of Chepstow.

I'll be returning to fill in some details on this post but it should give an idea as to the extent to which Coventry was executing criminals in previous years. A stroll along Binley Road today leaves little impression of a grizly history that I have only touched on here!

In my next post I'll be looking at some authors with Coventry connections.........

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