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  • Writer's picturePhil

Getting Bolshie!

The Barras Hotel, Swancroft Road - now replaced with housing

The Barras Hotel pub which used to overlook Barras Green from Swancroft Road was known unofficially by locals as "The Bolshie". As a young kid I would often walk the canal with my dad and he would usually say that "we'll get on the path at the back of the Bolshie" meaning that we would join the towpath just down the road from the Barras pub on Swancroft Road near to the junction of Swan Lane and Red Lane.

My much missed companion Spike near the towpath at the "back of the Bolshie"

Since that time I have always enjoyed walking along the Coventry Canal and learning about its history. One of my guided walks "Canals, Coal, Cars and Cloth" covers the history of the Canal Basin and the industries relevant to the immediate area around there. To get more details and book any of my walks see the walks section of my Godiva's Footsteps website.

For years I have wondered how the "Bolshie" name came about and had guessed that there would probably be some connection with the Communist Party or at least the local labour and trade union movement in Coventry, I had come across the fact that Vladimir Lenin had mentioned the Ordnance Works in Red Lane in one of his works.

When opened in 1906 the factory was the largest in Europe and Lenin had commented on its mass production methods. The factory would eventually be linked to Coventry's Industrial Loop Line.

Gun exiting the Ordnance Works onto the level crossing on Stony Stanton Road

The railway ran through the east of the city avoiding passenger traffic whilst serving sites including Courtaulds factories, Websters Brick Works, Ordnance Works, Barras Heath Wholesale Market and the Humber (Stoke) factory at its southern end.

The A444 road follows the route of the Industrial Loop Line and is aptly named "Jimmy Hill Way" linking Coventry City's CBS Arena home with access to the site of the club's former home at Highfield Road.

When seeing a picture of the Barras Hotel on a Facebook post on Gray Forster's informative and well illustrated group "The Coventry we used to know" I took the opportunity to ask if anybody could solve the "Bolshie" mystery. I was very pleased and grateful to receive a reply from Bruce Nailor including an article passed on from his cousin Julie Ann with a short biography of Jack Cohen.

Jack was a full time organiser for the Communist Party in Coventry during the Second World War. He is said to have "held court daily" at the Barras. The article adds that his regular presence reinforced the name which apparently first came about during a local tenants movement in the 1920s. There had been a rent strike in the Stoke Heath area by tenants of hastily (and badly) built housing originally intended for workers coming into the area to work at the Ordnance Works.

As we move into the New Year I intend be complementing my walks, talks and research services with a YouTube channel and virtual guided walks on the HeyGo platform. I'll be doing a bit more research into the life and times of Jack Cohen and also the 1920s tenants movement. This will feature in a series of YouTube videos also looking at the Ordnance Works, Loop Line and Canal network - more news on this to come shortly!

Happy New Year to all.

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