Vol. 4 – Chapter 8: The streets west of Albany Road to Hearsall Lane: The Newcombe Estates Company Ltd; True Masters of Building Estate Development

The Newcombe Estates Company originated in the 1870s as partnership between the two brothers John and Arthur Newcombe of Market Harborough in Leicestershire. After dabbling in property development in their home town they moved onto Northampton, Birmingham, Harpenden and Coventry. In 1905 they had set up the Newcombe Estates Company Ltd which went from strength to strength and despite being involved in other projects around the country its work in Coventry dominated the business at the time. They were also developing similar terraced housing to that of Earlsdon in Stoke and Foleshill before the First World War. Between the Wars they continued developing estates in Chapelfields, Radford, Coundon and Whitmore Park, amongst other suburbs. In a Company prospectus from 1907 they state that at Coventry ‘the demand for building land has been quite phenomenal’. This was not too surprising given the growth of Coventry during this period due to the booming cycle factories and other industries. Population increased by more than a quarter from 1901 to 1911. The Corporation was not yet sufficiently empowered to build its own housing on the scale necessary for the growing population so it was down to developers like the Newcombe Estates Company. Their estate layouts were simple, but plot size and building parameters produced decent redbrick housing stock. With internal modifications over the years they have passed the test of time. Most of the Newcombe estates were drawn up by Thomas Griffiths, a young Welsh born architect who had recently set up his practice in Coventry. He not only prepared all the lay-outs for the estates but supervised the construction of the roads and designed a high proportion of the houses. He went on to play a prominent part in Coventry’s inter-war housing development until the 1940s. Both Newcombe brothers were prominent members of the nonconformist in Market Harborough. This seemed to come through in their business ethics as well as aspects of their housing developments. Although covenants on many other housing deeds from that time contain demands on the new owners not to sell fried food, intoxicating liquor, the Newcombes carried this through (see p71). The few chip shops or public houses outside the original 1850s streets of Earlsdon are on those rare enclaves of land that were not developed by the Newcombe Estates Company.

Most of the area of land enclosed by Albany Road, Earlsdon Avenue North, Hearsall Lane and the Nuneaton branch railway line was owned by the Sir Thomas White Charity Trustees at the beginning of the twentieth century. They had been responsible for large land holdings in Coventry since the death of their founder in the sixteenth century. The charity had already drawn up a plan of how the area should be laid out for housing, which the Newcombe brothers broadly followed. They bought up the land in various stages; the latter ones were referred to as Albany Estate 2 and 3. Their earlier purchases were simply called the Albany Estate. The area on which Newcombe Road was built was their first purchase in 1904. Next was 18 acres on which Westwood Road, Kensington Road and the Broomfield Road extension were built in 1906. Also in 1906 Albany Estate 2 was begun that included Bristol, Kingston, Centaur Roads and the start of Melbourne Road. Then finally in 1907 Albany Estate 3, the remaining land was purchased including the extension of Melbourne Road down to Spon End together with the roads off; Sovereign, Kirby, Farman, Latham, Shackleton, Collingwood, Hawkins and Ludlow roads. As in their other estates the roads would be set out as required, but the Newcombes rarely hung about and most of the infrastructure would be completed within a year and the plots ready for sale.

Broomfield Road, looking west c1907 (ER)
This view shows the road while it was still a cul-de-sac, and so still in its original 1901 layout. Within the year of this photograph it would be extended by the Newcombe Estates Company and become a through road to Earlsdon Lane.

There is no evidence that the brothers ever built a single house themselves in Earlsdon. The plots were sold to builders who would pay upfront, or in some circumstances they would be given a temporary advance for 75% of the value of the house erected. Whatever the method there was no doubt that the Newcombes were shrewd businessmen. For example the development of the 1906 purchase of Albany Estate 2 cost £300 an acre and a further £6,000 for the layout of five roads, which together with expenses, added up to approximately £12,000. The majority of the plots sold within a year with a final total sale price of £22,600 which after sales commissions and legal charges made a profit of £9,100.

The last of the Albany Estates, No. 4, was a bit of an anomaly being on the opposite side of Albany Road and not being developed until the 1920s. The Newcombes had put in a plan for the development of this small area of what was to become Winifred Avenue in 1914, (then called Harrington Road), but resubmitted it in 1920, presumably delayed because of the War. In their normal rapid manner it was fully built up by 1924. This proved to be the last of their Earlsdon enterprises, but certainly not the last that Coventry had seen of them.

Most of the visual evidence of the earliest years of streets in this area were in postcard form, but roads such as Sovereign, Kirby, Farman, Latham, Shackleton, Collingswood, Hawkins and Ludlow were not fully built up until the First World War and beyond and did not attract the attention of photographers from the declining postcard trade. The result is a scarcity of views covering the northern part of the Albany Estate compared to those streets built earlier.

Broomfield Road looking towards Albany Road c1913 (T-H Co)
Broomfield Road looking up from Albany Road c 1913 Mills)
Although this photograph was taken only a few years after the one on the previous page it shows the great changes that have been brought about by extending the road all the way through to Earlsdon Avenue. The original cul-de-sac ended before the junction of Melbourne Road just beyond the far set of shop blinds in the middle distance. The number of builders involved in this development is reflected in the variety of styles to the facades, but all the builders stuck rigidly to the set building line. The view below is from the bottom of the road. It is good to see that the extended range of shops continue to operate in this location today. There is still a chip shop, though not so grandly named as J A Davis’s ‘The Albany Fish & Chip Potato Restaurant. As this is on a plot of land from the original Broomfield Road and not the part developed by the Newcombe Estate Company he clearly has not got the usual covenant stopping him from trading as a chip shop. To judge from the inscription on the right of the postcard above it appears as if the newsagent George Maggs, whose shop is also shown below, has produced the postcard it has in fact been taken by Archibald Mills of Stanley Road who also produced the one below. He sold his plates to a Coventry publisher (T-H Co) who produced them in bulk for other shops, but to an inferior standard.

Kensington Road, looking up from Westwood Road c1913 (T-H Co)
Kensington Road, looking down towards Albany Road c1913 (T-H Co)
This road was one of earliest developments by the Newcombe Brothers on the Albany Estate. The view above is looking up the street just beyond the Westwood Road junction to the left. The variety of housing styles is demonstrated by the plain frontages of the houses on the left compared to the double bays of those on the right. A similar variety of styles can be seen in the view below from near the top of the street. The sun blind of the corner shop at Beaudesert Road (then known as Henley Road), can be seen in the middle distance to the left. All the houses were built between 1907 and 1910 by a wide variety of builders. The earliest terraced housing built in the street (see above left) was assessed at an annual gross value for Land Tax of £14, £2 more than most houses built in the surrounding streets. A relatively high rate of owner occupation of 50% compared to the more typical figure of less than 10%.confirmed a different clientele compared to some of the surrounding streets.

Kingston Road, c1913 (T-H Co)
Westwood Road c 1913 (T-H Co)
The Newcombe Estates Company did not waste time. They had sold 20 of the building plots in Kingston Road to one builder who had applied for planning permission in 1909, a year before the sewers had been laid. The builder was a Francis Turner of 25 Moor Street, Earlsdon who was to erect a further 39 properties in Kingston Road. The same builders’ names seem to crop up time and time again for instance Ernest Twigg who lived at Broadway. Both Turner and Twigg were in their twenties and single, still living with their parents. Turner did not complete his work in Kingston Road until 1912 and it was probably the novelty of the recently completed road that drew the eye of the postcard photographer. The view above was taken in 1913 by Earlsdon’s own, Archibald Mills of 15 Stanley Road, however, the card shown here as with as the others of the same style is one produced by Thompson-Hughes of High Street, Coventry who re-used Mills’ plates in 1915.