Vol. 4 – Chapter 2: South and South East Earlsdon: Late Nineteenth Century Expansion

Areas Covered:

Joseph White Building Estate; Palmerston Road, Stanley Road, Radcliffe Road, Rochester Road, Shaftesbury Road, St Andrew’s Road, Styvechale Estate (Earlsdon Syndicate); Styvechale Avenue, Warwick Avenue (north side), Osborne Road, Avondale RoadHood Gregory Estate; Warwick Avenue (south side),

Even with the opening of Albany Road in 1898 there was little to encourage immediate building development near the original core of Earlsdon. The Butts end of Albany Road would be of more value to the speculators with easier access to the city. There would also be little incentive in going to the expense of laying out the necessary infrastructure while plots still remained to be developed within the original eight streets of Earlsdon. This logic certainly held true for basic working class terraced housing, but for the middle classes there were potential benefits from buying in Earlsdon. The cheaper prices further away from the city could be a virtue if marketed in larger plots for more sizable properties.

This was probably in the mind of Joseph White when he purchased 29 acres of land to the south of the original settlement as early as 1891. £2500 was lot of money even for the biggest watch manufacturer in Earlsdon, but it appears he got a bargain. Speculation in land around Earlsdon had been going on for years before the incorporation of 1890, but it was not without its dangers. Another watch manufacturer from Coventry, Edward Settle, had first owned the 29 acres in the 1870s. On his death in 1886 a group of speculators paid £3000 for it in a local auction taking a loss of £500 when White purchased it five years later. But he was not able to cash in on his bargain for a further seven years. Even then he had to first find the extra money to open up the land for development, which meant laying out almost a mile of streets and the associated infrastructure. In 1897 the local press described the estate as ’forming a gentle slope upwards from the top of Earlsdon Street to its furthest boundaries and is one of the loftiest elevations in the city from which may be obtained a succession of beautiful views’ The plots were advertised for sale to private individuals or speculative builders. To encourage the latter the land was offered for sale freehold but instead of paying for it up front it could be bought on a system that worked like a very long term mortgage so all the builder had to do before sale was provide the material for the house. The estate boasted of its pretentions by making a comparison between itself and the recent development in Davenport Road, with a promise of no land being used for business premises. But there would be variations in the standards of housing expected depending on where the roads were located, so the further away from the road frontage the higher the quality of the dwelling. For instance, the value of any housing built would have a compulsory minimum that ranged from £600 per house in Rochester Road to £350 in Shaftesbury Road and £220 in Stanley Road. The majority of streets were in the upper ranges. Already by mid-1897 it was claimed that most plots in Radcliffe, Stanley and Palmerston roads had been sold.

Eighteen months after the start of the Joseph White Estate, the twenty acre Styvechale Estate owned by the Earlsdon Syndicate was being laid out. This covered the area to the south east of the original settlement between Earlsdon Lane (Earlsdon Avenue South) and Whor Lane (Beechwood Avenue). The Earlsdon Syndicate’s land was bought in 1897 off another property speculator James Whittindale. He was a Coventry auctioneer who had paid £4,500 for 32 acres of land in 1891. He had already sold almost 10 acres of it (between the Kenilworth road and what would be Warwick Avenue) to Major Francis Hood Gregory of Styvechale Hall in 1893. He had also sold a further three plots from the original 1891 purchase. Interestingly for the motor historians, one of these was a plot of land off Provident Street that was bought by Allard Motors Ltd. The second one fronted Earlsdon Lane that had been bought by Thomas Inger Stevens, son of the famous silk ribbon manufacturer, to extend the grounds his own large house, Holly Bank, at the end of Earlsdon Terrace. The third plot was bought by E J Parnell, next to Holly Bank on which was built Boston Lodge. Stevens was the chairman of the Earlsdon Syndicate (that also included Parnell) who bought the remaining 19 acres from Whittingdale’s estate for £6,900. This excellent return from Whittingdale’s original investment demonstrated land speculation had become now become a potentially very lucrative exercise in the Earlsdon area. But it was also true of other parts of the city where demand for housing had resulted in more than four times as many houses being built annually than at the start of the 1890s, when industry was depressed. For the developer, as Joseph White appreciated, owning the land was not the end of the investment required, it first needed preparation before any house could be built. The Earlsdon Syndicate had to pay almost as much again (£6,233) for the laying out of their four roads; a process that started in early 1899 and was estimated to take six months. They clearly intended to move even more up-market than the Joseph White Estate. The two 40 feet wide, lime flanked, Warwick and Styvechale Avenues, had a minimum set house price of not less than £800 for detached houses and £1260 for a pair of semis, with a building line at least 20 feet back from the road. The Osborne Road and Avondale Road development would only be able to claim a superior class of artisan dwellings with a building line just 11 feet from the road.

Along with the development of the housing estates came improved services and more street furniture. In 1897 all street names were to be of a design that used white lettering on a blue background. The late 1890s also saw the spread of ‘telephone poles’. A post box was set up in Warwick Avenue in 1911 followed in 1913 by more in Styvechale Avenue, Osborne Road and Belvedere Road. Public toilets were built by the library in Albany Road in 1912. Problems of flooding in Albany Road and Chapelfields were tackled in 1913 with a £12,000 drainage scheme, but there were still floods in the same places in 1915!. Mains electricity was laid along Earlsdon Avenue in 1921. In the same year a drinking fountain, bought by the Corporation for use in Earlsdon, was considered ‘no longer needed there’ and erected at Styvechale Common instead. More recently, in 1941, the clock on the five ways roundabout was installed as a gift from Alexander Pridmore, a prominent local councillor and manufacturer who had lost his only son in the First World War.

NB. The following text describes the photos in the books (which are not published here).

The Coventry Graphic
27 January 1912
The Belcher family were all engaged in the motor trade. They lived in one of the very large semi-detached houses, built on Earlsdon Syndicate land, between Styvechale and Warwick Avenues and facing Earlsdon Lane. No doubt Harry Belcher junior would be well known for his motoring antics in Earlsdon to judge by his conduct in the city centre.

Earlsdon Street, c1939 (Richards)
Radcliffe Road c1913 (TH Co)
The above view shows the Earlsdon Street extension that was laid out in 1897; before that Earlsdon Street ended where the terrace of houses on the left begins. The building just beyond is now subdivided into a computer shop, an estate agent and offices, but hiding behind this façade is Earlsdon House, one of the first of the buildings from 1852 (by the distant tree in the view below). For almost half a century it was the last and grandest building in Earlsdon Street. This view represents the entrance into the new upmarket Joseph White Estate, appropriately so as he lived in Earlsdon House. By comparison with most other houses in Earlsdon at the time, even the terraced housing on the left lived up to the billing. The view below shows how quickly the Earlsdon Street extension, had filled up with housing. The new road was also called Earlsdon Street as far as Arden Street but the top end was named Radcliffe Road up to Palmerston Road, seen below on the right. It is noticeable how the tram lines and tracks that had only opened eight years earlier, in the bottom view, had disappeared from the top view when the service was discontinued in April 1937 The X on the bottom postcard was to indicate the house of the writer ‘St Ives’ 22 Radcliffe Road.

Shaftesbury Road c1913 (Waterman)
The construction of Shaftesbury Road and Rochester Road, by the Joseph White Building Estate, in 1897 marked the first access by road onto Whor Lane (Beechwood Avenue) from Earlsdon, which did not require going via the Kenilworth Road or Hearsall Common Lane. This in itself must have been of great convenience to the residents of the area, aside from opening up many more opportunities for building. Development in the street went in fits and starts and despite the north-east side filling up well by the time of this photograph the last houses were still being built in the 1920s. In 1900 the first two semi-detached houses on the right and a further six at the far end of the street had been built. Appropriately the two on the right were occupied by Henry Dean, a house painter and Vincent Pearson a young, 26 years old, builder and contractor. This house is of quite a distinct architectural style compared to the rest of the street and was perhaps attributable to Pearson. The higher standard of housing is reflected in the high level owner occupancy rate of 75%.

Building Strike, Coventry Graphic, 15 May 1914
Of the photographs that survive of Earlsdon or Chapelfields, unsurprisingly, almost all are of the completed streets. Few were taken in the course of construction. Here are a few of those rare views that were published by the local weekly news magazine to illustrate the effects of the widespread building strike in Coventry at the time. It is a reflection of the disproportionately high level of building activity in Earlsdon, at this time compared to the rest of the city, that Earlsdon streets are represented in three of the four views.

Palmerstone Road c1907 (ER)
Palmerstone Road c1939 (Richards)
This is a road of contrasts with originally just ten, mainly detached, houses backing onto Whor Lane (Beechwood Avenue) that took up the whole south-western side. By comparison, on the opposite side of the road, 34 houses were squeezed in. In the view above the row of 16 houses, beyond the one with an attic window, were originally planned in 1897 by Thomas Goalby to be a set of semi-detached houses. He was a local builder who lived at 77 Moor Street and clearly changed his mind, but the characterful fronts make a interesting variation from the more frequently seen plain fronted Earlsdon terraced house. Near the end of the cul-de-sac can be seen the backs of houses built in Styvechale Avenue. Hidden behind the end terraced house is the original ‘Earlsdon Farm’ house that still exists today. The view below from a few decades later shows the rest of the street at the Radcliffe Road end. The 1907 photographer would not have wasted his time with this view as the original St Barbara’s on the right was not built until 1913 and the houses on the left, up to the tree were not built until the 1920s

Stanley Road c1913 (Waterman from WRO Ref: PH350/670)
Funeral of Colour Sergeant H J Goodwin, Stanley Road 1913 (Jackson & Sons)
The first set of fifteen terraced houses were planned in 1897 for the far end of the cul-de-sac on the south-west side of Stanley Road, opposite those shown in the view below. The above view is taken from the Radcliffe Road end where the first ten houses on the right were put up in 1901. Having a long established Barracks behind Smithford Street, Coventry’s population was used to military activities long before the outbreak of the First World War. Horace Goodwin had not died in combat but of pneumonia at the age of 42. He was a part time soldier in the equivalent of the Territorial Army. His day job was as a factory machinist and he lived with his wife at 55 Stanley Road, rather than in the barracks. His funeral on 12 January 1913 was conducted with full military honours, carried in procession on a gun carriage to the London Road cemetery. Three volleys were fired at his graveside and the last post was sounded. Archibald Mills who photographed many of the Earlsdon streets before the First World War lived at 15 Stanley Road, in the eighth house above on the left

Osborne Road c1907 (E.R.)
Avondale Road c1914 (Mills)
The photograph above of Osborne Road is taken from its Styvechale Avenue end and also takes in the distant view of Providence Street (See p.11). The architecture is quite different, missing the simple porticos of the mid nineteenth century terraced housing of Providence Street. It incorporates the bay fronts more frequently found from the end of the nineteenth century. The frontage of the Rex Motor Cycle works can be seen to the left in the middle distance. This was built before the road was constructed by the previous owner, Allard Motors. Today the factory has been demolished together with the old houses on its immediate left in the view above. Aylesdene Court, a retirement flats complex has replaced them. On the opposite side of the road Avondale Road had been laid out and the two sets of terraced houses were then built between 1903 and 1906. The builder was G E Jenkins who had been Coventry’s Chief Assistant Engineer and Surveyor during the 1890s. At this time leading members of this department often crossed the boundary between public and private enterprise in Coventry. It might raise ethical questions today. The residents were not always well looked after by the City Engineers and raised a petition about the poor state of the road in 1921.

Styvechale Ave c1907 (ER)
Styvechale Ave c1908 (Harvey Barton)
The sparsely developed Styvechale Avenue stands in stark contrast to the active development of the roads in the Joseph White Estate. This is a little misleading as St Andrew’s Road and Rochester Road which have not featured in this book were similarly short of housing, as was the entire side of Shaftesbury Road. The Earlsdon Syndicate’s estate, of which Styvechale Avenue was part, was laid out two years later than White’s. Their development of Osborne Road and Avondale Road seemed successful. Both estates had problems with certain roads mainly those designated for high status housing. House prices in Styvechale Avenue were set at a minimum of £800 for anyone building there, which compares unfavourably with only £220 for Stanley Road. The houses you see here were the only ones that had been built in the road by 1906. They were all semi-detached and built by GE Jenkins, a favourite of Thomas Stevens. More interesting they were still all owned by Stevens at the time of his death in 1908. The explosion of building in the road (almost thirty more houses by the First World War), suggests that maybe some of Stevens restrictive covenants were removed by his executors. The view above shows Osborne Road to the immediate left and the semi-detached houses below are on the northern corner of Beechwood Avenue.

Warwick Avenue c1913 (Mills)
Warwick Avenue c1909 (Harvey Barton)
Warwick Avenue was in a similar situation to Styvechale Avenue, although ten houses had been built rather than just six this was still very slow development, though it was an advance on what had been achieved on the east side of the Avenue where no houses had been built. Perhaps this related to the approach of the Hood Gregory’s of Styvechale Hall who owed the land on this side of the street. It was to take the burst of activity following Steven’s death in 1908 to get development moving in Warwick Avenue, as can be seen by the above view taken from the Beechwood Avenue end. Even so, by 1913 only an additional four houses had been built on the west side and four on the east side. Most building took place in the 1920s making a total of 44 houses. A reflection of the status of the owners was that all the houses built before the First World War found space for at least one servant in their mainly eight roomed homes. G E Jenkins was again active in building the houses below that are to be found at the Earlsdon Avenue end on the north side. It is interesting to compare the right hand block of semis with the frontage today as it has lost its distinctive crenulated finish to the flanking walls because the roof is no longer hipped.