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  • Writer's picturePhil

The Black Prince, Horse Racing and the Sky Blues - What's in a name?

Some of my recent posts have dealt with connections between Caludon Castle and William Shakespeare. Early scenes from the history "Richard II" portray Thomas Mowbray riding out from Caludon to Gosford Green to fight Henry Bolinbroke in a duel which was aborted by the King. There are proposals for a new walk between Gosford Green and the Charterhouse along the disused railway embankment. The footpath will be known as Richard II Way due to that king's links with both of the sites.

It would be impossible to ignore the recent events around race issues and and the subsequent debates around historical statues and street names. This has triggered me to giving some thought into how some of our local institutions and streets got their names. I was also interested to read a facebook post about how King Richard II's father Prince Edward became known as "The Black Prince". There are roads in Cheylesmore named after the Prince, his mother and his grandmother. I'll get back to all this further down......

Thoughts of the disused railway embankment lead me off on a bit of a tangent (we shall return to Richard II shortly!) and to thoughts of the Sky Blues having been announced as this season's League One Chammpions. League One is English football's third tier and the last time that Coventry City won the title at this level was the 1963-4 season (which coincided with my birth in the November of that campaign!).

Even now if ever I pass King Richard St when walking along Walsgrave Road next to Gosford Green there is something within me that tells me that the old Highfield Road football ground should still be there! The ground is named after the road which gave access to the pitch when it was first used by the club (the North Side length of the pich ran alongside Thackhall St). I still always imagine the large "Coventry City Football Club" signage which was visible from the bottom of the street named after Richard II every time I pass.

The football club was formed nearby at the Binley Oak pub on the corner of Paynes Lane and Brittania Street in 1883. It was formed by workers from the Singers cycle manufacturing company and originally known as Singers FC.

The 1963-4 title winning team was managed my Jimmy Hill who is now remembered by the naming of the carriageway which formerly was the setting for part of Coventry's industrial loop railway line. Part of the line lies alongside Gosford Green and formerly continued over a bridge across the Binley Road to section which will become the "Richard II Way" footpath.

The railway linked together many of the city's factories, colleries, power plants, canal and external national railway links.

Other local names celebrating our (now not so!) local football club are Sky Blue Way running behind FarGosford St to provide a one way system into town. Following the FA Cup win in 1987 "The Golden Cup" pub - a popular match day watering spot was renamed "The Cup" and the reasonably attractive sign quickly replaced with what seemed a rather tacky representation of the FA Cup - but what did we care, we'd just won the thing after 104 years of trying! The pub went on to be known as "The Beer Engine" and its closure has been a loss to the local music scene.

Jimmy Hill was central to the abolition of the minimum wage for professional footballers when he worked for the Professional Football Association. Typical "pen pictures" in match day proggrammes prior to the 1960s would be short biographie of opposing players starting with such phrases as "Pumber by trade...", "Jack of all trades"and to some extent footballers were considered approachable ordinary but respected members of the community and workmates.

It seems that there is now a degree of backtracking on the idea of a maximum wage with authorities introducing salary caps linked to the income of clubs. It is likely that we shall see a slimming down of the number of fully professional footballers and the loss of many clubs as the impact of lockdown and empty ground hits home.

Prior to Jimmy Hill's arrival Coventry City were known as "The Bantams" and played in a darker blue and white kit. The new kit, nickname and song (which has now stuck for fifty odd years!) were all part of the "Sky Blue Revolution" which led to two promotions and a prolonged presence in the very top tier of English football. The award winning match day proggramme was named "The Sky Blue" and thousands of fans would be ferried to away matches via the "Sky Blue Express" - free pop and crisps thrown in for the kids.

Just at the point of promotion to play amongst England's elite Jimmy Hill cleared off for the launch of BBC's "Match of the Day" programme for which he is best recognised. He returned to the Sky Blues as "Chief Executive" in the mid 1970s and went on to push for a few more "revolutionary" changes

We'll now move on to Jimmy's relationship with one of the company's that used the railway line which is now replaced by the road carrying his name (bear with me here - this is why I'm intending to call my upcoming proposed publication "A Coventry Ramble...."!)

In 1908 the Humber Company moved from the building that many Coventrians will think of as the Lloyds Bank building to their new site on Folly Lane. That area was soon dominated by the factory and Folly Lane was renamed "Humber Road". My grandma worked at that factory from the age of fourteen contributing to the Frist World War effort as the City's factories turned from the production of cars and motorcycles to munitions and all of the supplies needed to keep the nation's armed services mobilised. During her time at the factory she witnissed the building of the Humber Pub and engaged in many sporting activities through the works social club including women's football (which was huge even as a spectator sport during the Great War), tug 'o' war, hockey and long communal bicycle rides to the South Coast.

Over the decades as motor companies merged and takeovers occured the Humber went on to take on various identiies including Rootes, Chrysler and Peugeot. The factory would be the last to use the old industrial loop railway line. It was the first and last leg of movement of components and cars between the Coventry plants and the Linwood Factory in Scotland.

For a period the factory operated under the "Talbot" name. Close links were established with the city's football club and it would be a regular occurence for Sky Blues players to vist the workers at the Stoke and Ryton plants. Jimmy Hill wished to formalise the relationship with the country's first instance of football shirt sponsorship. The football authorities at the time pointed out that this didn't obey the rules of the time. Jimmy's response was to propose renaming the club "Coventry Talbot" which met with understandable opposition throughout the city and amongst football fans in general. The idea was dropped and the authorities sidestepped with the introduction of a shirt featuring a big "T" design with no explicit links to Talbot.

Around the time of the Talbot "affair" Jimmy Hill introduced another "revolutionary" move in turning the Highfield Road ground into the country's first ever all-seater football stadium. Although many may have seen this as forward thinking atmosphere and attendances plunged (admitedly amongst a national trend of lower crowds). Part of the reason is that the seats were in places bolted on top of the old terracing meaning very cramped, uncomfortable conditions (especially for a six footer like me!

Despite my reservations about some of the decisions which were made under Jimmy Hill's second tenure at the club I can still appreciate the great work he did to bring the Sky Blues into a lasting period of competing with the country's best so will not be advocating the toppling of his statue which stands outside (the commercially named!) Ricoh Arena and hopefully will overlook the club's return there before too long.

Jimmy Hill's playing career saw him playing at centre forward for Fulham Football Club. Fulham's home on the banks of the Thames is named "Craven Cottage" which leads us to another local connection. The ground gets its name from one of the lodgings of the wealthy Craven family which once stood on the site and has been described as more like a mansion than a cottage. The main residence of the Cravens was Coombe Abbey but during the height of their wealth they possessed impressive estates around England.

As well as being the site of the famous aborted duel, many executions, some of Coventry's "Great Fairs" and late 1970's skirmishes between football "fans".Gosford Green was also the home of the Craven Colliery Cricket Club during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The colliery was actually some way away situated on land lying between Wyken Croft, Henley Lane, Woodway Lane and the River Sowe. It was one of the Wyken colleries. Modern day Wyken only includes a relatively small area of what once took that name. Clues are still there in names like "Wyken Slough" - the largest are of water in the city which like Stoke Floods was caused by mining subsidence. Near to Wyken Slough is the site of the old Hawkesbury Power Station which grew out of and eventually overtook the site of another Wyken colliery the Alexandra. This site was another one of those served by the old industrial loop railway line. The Coventry canal was commisioned by local colliery owners to move theri product to the factories of the city and to national markets - the canal was the last part of the jigsaw in engineer James Brindley's vision of a national network connecting all of England's main navigable waterways.

Between the Alexandra Colliery / Hawkesbury Power Station and the canal stood another one of Coventry's lost pubs the "Elephant and Castle" which took its name from the City crest and would have been an indication to those travelling on the Oxford Canal that they would shortly be reaching the junction with the Coventry Canal.

The castle depiction in Coventry's crest relates to the castle which once stood in the city centre. The legacy of this ancient castle still survives in the street names of "Bayley Lane", "Hay Lane" (a "hay" being an animal enclosure) and "Broadgate". An entry on theexcellent Historic Coventry website relating to our bombed cathedral tells us that:

"St. Michael's was first mentioned in 1138 during the reign of King Stephen, and was referred to in one record as "the church of St. Michael's in the Bailey", which gives us some idea of its origin within the grounds of Coventry Castle."

One of the earlier religious buildings which stood on the site of our bombed cathedral was actually named "St Michael's in the Bayley".

Another city colliery, Binley, has had an influence on local street names. There are roads named after the Welsh towns of Abergavenny, Pontypool and Penarth – a throwback to times when there were an influx of miners from areas such as the Welsh valleys and the English North East into Coventry to work at the local collieries. A feature of those roads named after the Welsh towns is that they do not contain houses with the number 13. This may seem like taking extreme measures to avoid misfortune but a look at nearby street names reflects the fact that disaster was a constant threat for the mining communities. Other roads the area include James Galloway Close and George Robertson Close – Binley Pit workers. The nature reserve on part of the pit site is named “Claybrookes Marsh” – this is in memory of Jack Clay and James Brookes, Binley miners killed after a roof collapsed at the colliery in 1947. Another victim, William Thomas is commemorated through the naming of a boardwalk at the site. Another Craven sporting connection to the Binley Road is the city's early 19th century racecourse. The course ran a circuit roughly around the modern streets of Marlborough Road, Binley Road, Brays Lane and the "Ball Hill" portion of Walsgrave Road. The Cravens were racing enthusiasts and sponsored the races including a version of "The Craven Stakes" which still survives and is run at Newmarket every year as a trial to the Epsom Derby.

Returning back to Richard II and his family- it shouldn't be a surprise that Richard chose Coventry as the venue for the proposed duel and was prepared to bring thousands of his men and courtiers to the city nor that he laid the foundation stone at the Charterhouse. Richard was the son of Edward, "The Black Prince" after whom Coventry takes its city motto "Camera Principus" - "Chamber of the Prince". The Prince's properties included the Cheylesmore Manor House (what remains of this building are incorporated into the Registry Office) and extensive estate.

Edward was eldest son to King Edward III and Queen Philippa and as such heir to the throne. He is recognised for succesful military campaigns alongside his father but also had a reputation as a brutal opponent amongst the French.

Edward's grandmother was Queen Isabella famously shunned my her husband Edward II and purported to have had him brutally murdered (anoother story for another post!). In any case we still celebrate the Coventry connections of these royals with Cheylesmore street names commemorating The Black Prince, Queen Isabella and Queen Philippa.

I have recently seen an article suggesting that the Black Prince's mother, Philippa was "the first black queen of England" and that racial characteristics had been lost in later depictions of her. There are suggestions that Edward was referred to as "the Black Prince" from his childhood days as a reference to the colour of his skin rather than from his purported preference for sporting black armour. As is often the case when researching on the internet plenty of contradictory versions of history are readily available including suggestions that this name wasn't even used to describe him until Tudor times (although the weight of evidence is against this).

King Edward III outlived his eldest son so the throne eventually was passed down to the Black Prince's son - Richard II. Richard went on to banish both combatants at Gosford Green which would eventually lead to his downfall as Henry Bolinbroke later returned to oust him to become Henry IV and for a period to hold parliament in Coventry making our city the English capital within the protective safety of the city walls.

Hopefully this blog will act as a prompt for readers to consider the names of their own streets, blocks and local features. As my ramble goes on I shall be continuing the “what’s in a name” theme in future posts.....

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