Vol. 4 – Chapter 1: Original Mid Nineteenth Century Earlsdon: A Political Experiment

Areas Covered:

Earlsdon Lane Estate (Coventry Freehold Land Society) Earlsdon Street, Earlsdon Terrace, Providence Street, Cromwell Street (Berkley Road South), Moor Street, Clarendon Street, Warwick Street, Arden Street

Before the Earlsdon Lane Estate was built the area only had a couple of notable features. Elsdon Lane (what became Earlsdon Lane) was one of the two main routes through the surrounding fields to the city. The other was Whor Lane (later Beechwood Avenue) which linked to a few footpaths that led to either Spon End or the city. The simple grid pattern for the layout of the streets of Earlsdon was unremarkable and there were no special rules governing the type or style of housing as there had been at Chapelfields. Although expansion did not take place for another half a century, when it did happen the process was much the same. But Earlsdon shared with Chapelfields a common feature in that no plans were made by the developers (in the nineteenth or twentieth century) for community facilities such as shops, public houses, churches or meeting halls etc. Any that did occur were all the result of individual initiatives, private groups or council edict. Every separate development was simply planned with the provision of housing in mind.

It would be wrong to say that there was nothing distinctive about the way that Earlsdon came into being, or that the character of the community was not special, even if the houses and streets were fairly typical of Victorian and Edwardian Coventry. The very first residents of Earlsdon were a mixed bunch of weavers and watchmakers. Some were escaping from the slums of Coventry to a place in the countryside; others were making a political statement to kick the rural political elite out of power. All were members of the Coventry Freehold Land Society. This group was looking for areas to develop near to the town, but outside the city boundary. Earlsdon was just one of a number of development sites they had bought in the city area that served their requirements. They were Liberal Party supporters who wanted to end the control of the Tory party. They saw the Tories as ruling the country in the interests of the big landowners. There were more MPs for the less populous countryside than for the towns which angered the Liberal Party supporting inhabitants of Coventry. The only way to change this situation was to play the system and gain votes outside the boundary of the city in order to throw out the local Tory MPs.

In late 1851 a few wealthier members of the Coventry Freehold Land Society bought thirty acres of land, on behalf of their fellow members, for £4000 from William Pickering a local cow dealer, who had bought the land a few years earlier – possibly the earliest land speculator dealt with here? In March 1852 the process was completed. The members were balloted to share out the 250 plots divided up over the eight streets. Anyone buying or leasing a plot would then be entitled to a countryside vote. (If they also had premises in town, as many did, they also kept their town vote!). Although the motivation of the wealthy Liberal founders of the Coventry Freehold Land Society was clear it is difficult to establish to what extent those who bought the plots were really more concerned with escaping the overcrowded and insanitary living conditions in Coventry, rather than making a political point. Perhaps the low numbers of those from Earlsdon that registered to vote at General Elections in its early days, irrespective of Party, would suggest that it was not their main motivation.

After March 1852 the Earlsdon Lane Estate infrastructure was rapidly developed. A case could be made that leaving Earlsdon Street, Arden Street and Providence Street open-ended, suggested that thought was already being given to possible expansion at some time in the future. It is unlikely that they thought it would be delayed for almost half a century. The streets were built to a reasonable standard for the time, with their width being 36 feet. They were well drained and paved all at a cost of £3,705. Just two months after the land was purchased an agreement was signed to supply water to all streets from the Spon End Waterworks for a further £700. By September of 1852 the development was complete and ready for house building. If only more thought had been given to the sewage problem. Drains had been installed for storm water which was directed down a ditch that followed the line of the Jetty footpath to the Butts and out into the river Sherbourne. Sewage should not have been an issue as toilets were simple earth closets in the garden, but somehow the Jetty ditch turned into an open sewer at times and was the source of many complaints.

House building was relatively slow compared to Chapelfields with only about 40% of the plots built on in the first ten years and even the main street had just 20 properties by 1891. The problems created by its isolated location and the tailing off of the watchmaking industry would not have helped its development. However, the lack of housing did not necessarily mean that Earlsdon was an unsuccessful community. Indeed then, as today, some surrounding land was given over to allotments, so it is quite possible that people who lived in the town could have also used their relatively cheap housing plots in Earlsdon for growing food.

The character of this nineteenth century core of Earlsdon was to change greatly with the opening of Albany Road in late 1898. Administratively Earlsdon’s character had already changed significantly with its incorporation into the city of Coventry in 1890. Before this it was outside the city boundaries although still part of the larger parish of St Michael’s. From the mid-1870s public health in the area was the responsibility of Coventry Rural District Sanitary Authority. No sooner had the decision been taken to incorporate Earlsdon than plans were being made to construct a road that would end its isolation from Coventry. The difficulties of this task were to account for almost a decade of delays. During much of the 1890s Coventry was experiencing an economic slump but by the end of the decade was entering a boom period when the building speculators began to see the potential of a more easily accessed Earlsdon. By 1899 the number of houses in Earlsdon Street had doubled and shop fronts were being seen for the first time. This was also the cue for the Corporation to submit plans for widening the street by taking in the forecourts of houses on the western side.

NB. The following text describes the photographs in the book (which are not published here)

Earlsdon Street c1907 (ER)
Earlsdon Street c1912 (Waterman)
Just five years separates these two views but even that short time has seen parts of Earlsdon Street change from being mainly residential in character. Both views are taken from a similar position with the top one looking towards Albany Road with Providence Street to the right, and the bottom view towards Radcliffe Road with Providence Street to the left. The blind of Thompson’s butcher shop at number 41 can be seen on the extreme left of the bottom view. Little more than ten years earlier the street would have ended in a field just beside the tram. Note the three storey semis shown in both views which in 1890 would have been the only buildings on this side of the road beyond Moor Street. The one shop noticeable to the left of the top view is the local post office which moved from Cromwell Street to 13 Earlsdon Street in 1897 and then to here, at 58, in the last few years. Its blind is visible on the right of the view below.

Earlsdon Street c1914 (Anon)
Earlsdon Street c1924 (Athersych)
These two views illustrate the changing pace of commercial development in Earlsdon Street by comparison with the 1907 view on the previous page. The conversion of houses into shops can be clearly seen. Before 1896, when the first Co-op shop opened, the Royal Oak was the only retail business on the main street. Even by the time of the First World War there were still as many private houses as business on either side of the street. In this context it is interesting to note that in the above view, on the right, where Millsys Bar is found today on the corner of Earlsdon Street and Moor Street, can just be seen the classic mid-Victorian door of a private house belonging to Arthur Walker, a watch case manufacturer. It was the mid-1920s before it became a shop. Those beyond the Royal Oak were, in order, greengrocers, fishmonger, pork butcher, hairdresser and confectioner. Below on the right can be seen the Co-op buildings developed on the land it bought from the old Poplars estate in 1905 and 1907. The tall building a little further up was originally the Earlsdon Coffee Tavern but had, by 1910, become the Albany Social Club. The City Arms is on the far left.

Imperial Cinema and shops, Earlsdon Street c1920 (Anon)
Live & Let Live Stores, 46 Earlsdon Street c1935 (Anon)
The interesting streetscape above shows the short row of buildings between the City Arms and Moor Street to the right. The Imperial Picture Palace, on the left, opened in 1911 and went through many changes of identity over the years becoming the Continental that closed in 1963. This was not Earlsdon’s first attempt at having a cinema. In 1910 plans were submitted for conversion of the top floor of the Albany Club, but they were turned down on safety grounds. The other shops here are a dairy, a draper, Mayo’s grocer and Fletcher’s butcher. The Mayo was not related to the famous landlord of the Royal Oak. The Live and Let Live Stores sold household hardware and was further up the street on the opposite side of the road near the post office. It was part of the on-going commercialisation of Earlsdon Street, only being converted from a private house in 1930. As the name might indicate, Mr J Murray the owner had quite a way with marketing. He seemed to be in competition with the Co-op’s method of giving a dividend. His boast was that his profits would be shared on a fifty-fifty basis.

Providence Street c1907 (ER)
Providence Street is one of the original eight streets of Earlsdon laid out in the 1850s, but even twenty years before this photograph was taken the road was still underdeveloped. This view is looking towards Earlsdon Street with Cromwell Street (later known as Berkley Road South) to the right. It was taken from where the road originally ended in a cul-de-sac. It was only in 1899 that Providence Street became a through road with the creation of Osborne Road through to Styvechale Avenue.
Cromwell Street (Berkley Road South) c1912 (Waterman)

The photographer is positioned at the Providence Street end of the street showing some of the few three storied houses built in Earlsdon. This style is because some of the original settlers in this street were a small community of ribbon weavers. There was also a small weaving factory at the back of the houses to the left which when it closed served as the first church in Earlsdon for the Wesleyan Methodist community and then from 1882 it became the first Earlsdon school. It is quite possible that Earlsdon would have seen more houses built like this but, like the factory, the weavers did not survive the decline of their trade in the 1860s.

Arden Street c1912 (Mills)
Arden Street c1907 (E.R.)
Arden Street was also one of the first eight streets of Earlsdon. It defined the southernmost extent of the development and did not even join up with Earlsdon Street until the end of the nineteenth century. The view above looks westwards to what was just a cul-de-sac at this time and remained so until the mid-1930s with the construction of Hartington Crescent. As late as 1890 less than ten houses had been built along the left hand side of the street, as shown here, all of which would have backed onto open countryside. The view below is from the opposite direction with the photographer placed just beyond the boy shown in the above view. It reflects the changes made in the 1897 expansion. Warwick Street can be seen to the immediate left with Earlsdon Street crossing in the middle distance and Stanley Road beyond. Also on the immediate left of the view below just beyond Warwick Street and on the right of the view above, is a terrace of thirteen houses dating from Earlsdon’s earliest days. The earlier houses can often be recognised by the use of iron garden fences at the front, whereas the more recent ones used a brick base. They had been constructed by John Flinn a local watch manufacturer who also built Earlsdon House. The terrace was demolished in the 1970s and the car park that once occupied their space has now been replaced by Warwick Court flats.

Moor Street c1907 (E.R.)
Brighton Villa c1900 (Danks)
Moor Street originally was spelt ‘Moore’, after John Moore, who farmed the land immediately before these streets were built, the ‘e’ seemed to have been dropped by the end of the nineteenth century. His farmhouse still existed as late as the 1970s, on the right of this picture just beyond the Warwick Street junction, seen on the left. Part of the shop featured on the next page, is also shown. On the immediate right is the entrance to Brighton Villa shown below. This was the home of watch jeweller Jeremiah Martin Danks who lived here from 1880 until his death in 1886 at the age of 39. His wife Ann was left with two young children at the age of 30. Fortunately she was the only daughter of William Chadwick who was a local watch manufacturer employing 24 workers and the family went to live at his home, Bath House on the Holyhead Road. But the house remained in the family until Ann’s death in 1927. We will hear more of this family.

Moor Street c1907 (ER)
Canley Dairy, 57, Moor Street c1923 (Harvey Beech)
This view shows the top of Moor Street a little further on from the view on the previous page. Just visible at the top of the street, facing the photographer, is a house which was demolished to make way for the construction of Myrtle Grove in the 1930s. To the right of the building, by the tree was ‘Belvedere’ that became Earlsdon’s first vicarage in 1917. It has since been converted into two houses. Below is shown the building that was Earlsdon’s first purpose built shop, established in the 1860s, operating as a general grocer and baker with ovens to the rear together with storerooms and stables. The photograph was taken soon after the shop changed use in 1923, specialising in dairy products. Robert Yeomans who owned Ivy Farm, Canley and already operated a milk round in the area had bought the business. His van can be seen outside and quite possibly he is the moustachioed figure standing beside it. The business only lasted a few years before becoming a shoe shop that operated into the 1970s selling a wide range of footwear including ballet shoes.

Warwick Street c1907 (E.R.)
51 Warwick Street c1910 (Anon)
The photograph above is taken from the Arden Street end of Warwick Street looking towards Moor Street. The house shown below is the fifth one from the left, just beyond the double bay. As late as the 1890s its terrace of five houses was the only building on this side of the street. Fortunately for the drinkers who were resident another house on the opposite side of the street had been converted into a public house, the Earlsdon Cottage, in the middle distance of the view above. The long wall in the foreground, on the right, was the back wall to Earlsdon House one of the first, and for many years the largest house in Earlsdon, built in 1852 for John Flinn a watch manufacturer. Although his house fronted Earlsdon Street its large plot stretched all the way to Warwick Street. The hedged section in the immediate foreground was another large area of land made up of unused building plots. By the First World War this land was being utilised for industrial use but is now completely taken over by Warwick Court flats.

It’s almost impossible today to conjure up an idea of what the most basic mid nineteenth century houses in Earlsdon were like in their original form. Most have been through many phases of improvement as each generation is introduced to higher standards of living and make the necessary changes. The house at 51 Warwick Street, shown here, is about as basic as it gets in Earlsdon. At the time the photograph was taken the house was still a simple one up one down. Only in 1911 was permission given for conversion into a two up two down. (See plan on the next page) The original railings and pavement sets outside also capture the authentic Victorian feel. Later housing tended to have a brick wall with railings on top, as was typical from the very beginning in 1847 Chapelfields. Amazingly the building still survives, but no longer as part of a terrace. It is heavily disguised by later improvements, but given away by the architectural detailing just below the roofline.

Plan of 51 Warwick Street 1911 (CROCCD/3/BYE/6189)
The darker shaded lines on the architects drawing refers to the proposed extension at the rear of 51 Warwick Street. Usefully it does give a clue to the design of the original one up one down building that was typical of the most basic housing design used in parts of the original settlement. Most of the 1850s houses built as a terrace in Arden Street by John Flinn were like this. It is an indication of how basic this property was compared to the houses built in the early twentieth century estates in Earlsdon that its Land Tax assessment was the lowest of any of the houses in Earlsdon at £8 a year. On the newest estates the lowest was £12. The house owner was Katie Fleckner who ran the New Inn (Chestnut Tree) in Craven Street. However it was rented by the Powell family who had to fit the four of them into the original two rooms. It is either Winifred aged 10 or Helen 8 shown outside in the previous view. The Powell family were typical of the rest of the occupants of the houses in the street as just four were owner occupiers.

Clarendon Street c1907 (ER)
This view shows the southern end of Clarendon Street, near the Arden Street junction and looking towards Moor Street. The house to the near right was one of the first of the larger houses to be built in Earlsdon. The owner was John Hulme a master escapement maker for watches. In 1871 he employed six men and four boys in the workshop behind the house. Just beyond is the entrance to the Harrington Tubular Bells Foundry who moved here from the Butts in 1900 (see advert on page 2). Depending on their size they were sold for use as door bells or dinner gongs progressing up to the very large ones in mechanical church bells. The firm moved soon after the First World War and the site was used for making bicycles, followed by a series of other manufacturing companies. It was typical of a number of businesses that grew up at the time in Earlsdon that use was made of the skilled workers who could no longer find work in watchmaking. For the last fifty years the premises have been occupied by the DBS furniture store, but in the last year the site has been cleared for housing.