Vol. 4 – Chapter 10: Spencer Road and Spencer Park: More Warwick Road than Earlsdon?

For the first twenty years of its existence this group of roads and its parkland would not have been considered part of Earlsdon. It was rather more an overspill from the high status ribbon development that the Cheylesmore Estate had developed, starting at the Quadrant in the 1860s and moving up Warwick Road to Stivichall Hill. Earlsdon was some distance away both geographically and socially. As Earlsdon grew to meet it, and given the barrier created by the railway, it is now considered an integral part of Earlsdon. In 1880 the land lay beyond the municipal boundary but plans were being made for pleasure gardens on part of Styvechale Common at what is known today as Top Green, by the entrance to Spencer Road. There had been rumblings in the city for some while about the need for a complementary recreation ground. Thanks to the generosity of David Spencer, a local ribbon manufacturer who lived in the Quadrant, more than £4000 was found to pay for the ‘People’s Park’ behind the proposed site of the new grammar school. Some complicated land swaps and other arrangements were made between the Grammar School Trustees, Robert Dalton (a fellow Quadrant occupant) and The Freeman’s Trustees who were the owners of the land. One of the more interesting aspects of the agreement was the provision of a new road that would bisect the recreation ground and offer access to the Freemans’ Trustees land that could then be opened up for development. The contemporary plan shows the proposed layout of the roads, but it was to be more than twenty years before this land was built upon. The park was opened in 1883 and the Grammar School two years later.

A meeting was recorded taking place a year before all these schemes between the Coventry rural planning authority and Robert Dalton at the railway bridge on Warwick Road, to consider the development of his land nearby. Dalton was a prominent silk ribbon manufacturer employing 400 hands. He owned property all over Coventry, but in this instance the meeting was to look at plans for the area south of the railway line and west of Warwick and Kenilworth Roads. Already decisions had been made for the allocation of land for the grammar school and park, now he wanted to lay out a new street for housing along part of the access road adjoining the ‘People’s Park’. This street was originally known as Kings Road but was renamed after David Spencer died in 1888, in appreciation of the many large bequests that he had made to various good works in the city. After getting approval for the development of Kings Road, three years later Dalton’s plans for Davenport Road were also passed. Finally, another two years on, in 1887, Dalton Road was laid out. Development of the roads was slow with Spencer Road more or less complete by 1890 but only a couple of houses had been built in Davenport Road and none in Dalton Road. All were fully developed by 1900.

In developing his land it is a shame that the road layout that Dalton used did not reflect the historic importance of the old Six Fields footpath. This was possibly the route taken by the pre turnpike road from Kenilworth into Coventry that remained as a well trodden footpath in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Subsequent development has diminished its status in the same way as Earlsdon Jetty has suffered. Its lasting monument is the railway bridge by the retail park that is a tribute to its past importance. It can still be followed today from where Styvechale Gate once stood in Earlsdon Avenue, along the back of the gardens of Belvedere Road, to the side of Dalton Road and then along the boundary of Spencer Park and across the railway footbridge and on into Grosvenor Road.

Plan showing the proposed new Pleasure Gardens at Top Green and the new Recreation Ground/’Peoples Park (Spencer Park) 1880 Coventry Herald
The map usefully illustrates the lay of the land in the Spencer Park area before the development of the Park and the areas around it. The ‘new road’ is what was to be called Kings Road and then later Spencer Road. Although it gave access to the Earlsdon Irrigation Field (better known as the sewage farm) it was not prepared for housing until quarter of a century later. It is clear though that the Freemen’s Trustees who owned most of the land westwards had their sights on laying it out for a building estate even then. The twentieth implementation of this plan was not dissimilar though the alignment of a number of roads did change. The fields owned by RA Dalton that were to later form Davenport and Dalton roads are also clear. The line of the Six Fields footpath can be traced from the goods station bridge all the way to Styvechale Gate where Earlsdon Lane enters Styvechale Common.

The Grange, Davenport Road c1908 (Anon)
Wounded Soldiers at ‘The Grange’, Davenport Road 1914 (Appleby)
This impressive residence was probably Coventry’s largest private house so near to the city centre. Built in the late 1890s, its grounds extended for more than half the length of Davenport Road, the southern portion of which had been especially angled to respect its entrance. The frontage also extended along part of the Kenilworth Road. At the time this photograph was taken the house was owned by William Herbert, older brother of the more famous engineering manufacturer Alfred Herbert. But he was himself a significant player in the Coventry industrial scene being a co-founder of the Premier Cycle Company and Chairman of Alfred Herbert Ltd. He died in 1911 and his son, also William, inherited the house but only lived there for a couple more years until Walter Phillips moved in. Phillips was, if anything, a more important figure in Coventry industry than Herbert. He designed a bicycle that was one of the first to be manufactured by Rudge in the 1870s. He later went on to manage Humber into one of the most successful of Coventry businesses. Meantime he dabbled in property speculation in Earlsdon. In 1914 Mrs Walter Phillips converted a wing of the Grange into a nursing home for injured soldiers from the Front among the residents the military authorities had sent the eight soldiers seen here. They came from a variety of regiments and Sergeant Hawkins of the Bedfordshire Regiment was mentioned in dispatches and is, appropriately, sitting in the centre, therapeutically stroking a kitten. The house had a surprisingly short life being demolished in the 1930s. As well as such houses having become uneconomic to maintain the land had become increasingly valuable and although initially the house was subdivided, later Pinewood Grove was built in its grounds.

Spencer Park c1913 (Mills)
Spencer Park c 1925 (Teesee)
The view above shows the section of Spencer Park that is enclosed by Spencer Road, Dalton Road and Broadway. Behind the tennis players can be seen the houses in Dalton Road. When the Corporation investigated the creation of tennis courts and bowling greens in Spencer Park they had planned to locate them on the railway side of Spencer Road, but then the decision was made to put them on the opposite side of the road and a year later in 1912 they were opened. In the foreground is one of the two bowling greens with the tennis courts beyond. But at the time there was no clubhouse or changing facilities. This situation was soon remedied and the pavilion shown below was opened in 1915 at a cost of £950. Fortunately for those involved in these peaceful pursuits, the noisy tramway, planned in 1920, that was to pass along Spencer Road, Dalton Road and Belvedere Road, was directed along Queens Road instead.

The Danks: A case study of an Earlsdon family

‘Faugan’, 5 Belvedere Road c1918 (Danks)
The Danks family occupied three homes in Earlsdon between 1875 and 1948, above is their second home, Faugan on the corner of Belvedere Road and Broadway. Today it is a nursing home. Their first house had been Brighton Villa in Moor Street (see p.13). The marriage of Jeremiah Martin Danks (commonly known as Martin Danks) and Ann Elizabeth Chadwick in 1875 brought new blood to the Chadwicks, one of Coventry prominent watchmaking families. They had two children Martin and Gertrude.

William Chadwick had moved from Clerkenwell in London during the 1850s to open a branch of his father’s London business in Bond Street, manufacturing jewels for watches. This was the middle of the watchmaking boom in the city. He was based at 24 Fleet Street for the next twenty years or so before moving to Bath House in Holyhead Road. He became involved in public life and served on the City Council and the Board of Guardians. He had one child, Ann Elizabeth who would not have been considered suitable to take on the business because of her gender. Martin was also from London but had no family connection with the watch trade and worked as a bank clerk. Although from a well connected family his father had been put in a lunatic asylum when he was a child and so had been passed around various relatives. It is not known how they met. By the time of the marriage William was in sole charge of the watch jewellery business. By the 1880s Danks was now being described as a watch jeweller and was clearly involved in the business. His early death in 1886 at the age of 39 led Chadwick to take his daughter into the business after all.

By 1901 her 22 year old son Martin, was also employed in the business and by the end of the decade had set up on his own at 124 Spon Street, the old watchmaking factory of Read and Son. He was to continue in business there until the Second World War. From his earliest days he shrewdly diversified the business into specialised areas of engineering that needed precision engineered jewels as well as continuing to serve the declining watchmaking industry. Although still owning Brighton Villa, Ann and her daughter had been living with her father at Bath House, but his death in 1907 precipitated the move a few years later back to Earlsdon. Martin had already left the family home and was living in 26 Westminster Road after getting married in 1902. This left Martin’s sister Gertrude who in preparation for her marriage the following year bought 26, St Andrew’s Road from Thomas Bird, the builder in 1917 – the third Earlsdon home of the Danks family. Family money paid for this and she lived there with her husband, Percy Clements until the late 1940s. As her mother had died in 1927 the family association with Earlsdon ended after sixty years.

Faugan, 5 Belvedere Road moving in 1909 (Danks)
This photograph was taken by Martin Danks of his mother’s new house as she moved in during December 1909 (Ann Danks can be seen in the doorway). A year earlier she had negotiated to buy a couple of plots of land from the Newcombe Estates Company at the corner of Belvedere Road and Broadway for £560. Although she submitted plans and they were approved in 1908, various complications meant that the land sale did not go through until mid-year. After receiving a number of quotes Mrs Danks accepted one for just under £3000 from John Worwood, a builder in Much Park Street. Despite a number of issues with the contentious Mrs Danks the work was completed by the end of the year. The building had been designed by a local architect, Walter Hattrell who was quite heavily involved in the design of many houses in the Earlsdon area. He was a neighbour of Mrs Danks being one of the first residents of Belvedere Road. The state of the road at this time can be judged by the photograph, though the Newcombe Estates Company had put in the trees that were growing well a decade later as can be seen by the photo on the previous page.

Coventry Branch of the Midlands Photographic Society c1880
We are fortunate to have this early survival of local photography that shows Jeremiah Martin Danks and a number of other prominent Earlsdon residents who took an interest in this hobby. It was an interest that fortunately also engaged his grandson, hence the survival of the glass plates from which the above photos were taken. Danks is second from the left.