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However much the areas around Coventry can be changed with barely a word of comment, the same could never be said about the city centre itself. There is barely a building, road or open space contained within the ring road that does not evoke cries of support if there is even a hint that it might be affected by redevelopment. This is perhaps understandable considering how much change has been inflicted on this area in the last sixty years or so. Post-war changes continue to raise comment not least of which are those most recent ones to Broadgate, which if no longer quite the commercial heart of Coventry, remains its spiritual heart in the view of many Coventrians. These post-war changes alone are sufficiently vast to require a separate book to do justice to their full range. Therefore, the coverage of the city centre here will concentrate on the pre-war period. A few facts need to be borne in mind when evaluating what features have been lost from the centre (and where blame, if any, needs to be allocated). Coventry entered the Industrial Revolution very late and expanded faster than almost any other city through the early part of the twentieth century. Large parts of the medieval city had been demolished to create new roads before the Second World War and a plan for the wholesale redevelopment of the city centre had already been produced before the Blitz.
Smithford Street c1906 (Unknown)
It would be impossible to start any book illustrating Old Coventry without first showing Broadgate, or the ‘top of the town’ as it was always referred to by Coventry residents. The two postcards chosen on this page somehow typify the memory fixed in the minds of people who remember prewar Coventry- The first has the cameraman with his back to Hertford Street looking into Broadgate with Smithford Street on the left and High Street to the right. An Edwardian Daimler is at the kerb outside the Kings Head Hotel entrance possibly awaiting a fare to the Railway Station, being pointed in that direction. Directly in front, Cheshire’s Windmill Brewery sign is on the ‘Royal Vaults’ at the entrance into Butcher Row. In the lower picture the other entrance into the Kings Head in Smithford Street can be seen, with an electric tram on its way into Broadgate from either Chaplefields or Earlsdon. The corner of the Kings Head behind the policeman would eventually become Dunn & Co, Hatters.
Hertford Street and Empire Theatre c1916 (A&G Taylor)
This interesting view is looking into Broadgate from Hertford Street, with the post office to the right and Johnson & Mason’s premises just beyond on the same side. This building together with the “Coventry Arms” around the corner in High Street would be demolished in 1929 to enable a new National Provincial Bank to be built when High Street was widened. The Empire Theatre shown to the left was opened in 1907, the foundation stone being laid on 30th June the previous year by Miss Ellen Terry. Later to become a cinema, it remained open even though damaged in the Blitz, until Hertford Street was redeveloped in the 1960’s.
Shown soon after it was opened, the new National Provincial Bank on the corner of Hertford Street and High Street, had replaced an earlier Bank of the same name. This together with the ‘Coventry Arms’ in High Street and Johnson & Mason in Hertford Street had been demolished in 1929 to enable High Street to be widened. The full beauty of this building has now been lost as it cannot be viewed in its entirety due to the bridge across Hertford Street.
Shown with the Coventry Savings Bank and the post office to the left, in that order, the ‘Queens Hotel’ was one of the major hotels in Coventry at this period. The entrance to the stable yard at the rear, can be seen to the right of the main entrance. Although the front was badly bombed in the Second World War it remained open, until Hertford Street was redeveloped in 1967.
The Kenilworth Castle is typical of many properties in Hertford Street in the early part of the century. This would be a postcard produced for the proprietor, J.T. Woodward, who is proudly standing at the door. The Geisha Cafe can be seen to the right, this being a favourite meeting place for shoppers to have a cream cake and a cup of tea. The Kenilworth Castle closed in 1939, before the War started. The building survived the bombing but was demolished in 1965.
The Tank at Coventry 1918 (Jackson)
In February 1918 to support War Savings Week tank No. 119 spent two days in Coventry, and is seen travelling down Hertford Street towards Greyfriars Green where it stayed overnight. This type of tank was made by William Foster Engineers, Lincoln and was fitted with Daimler engines and running gear, made in Coventry. The view shows the Railway Hotel (Peeping Tom) with the entrance into Bull Yard to the left, with the half-timbered ‘Grapes Inn’ on the right, at the entrance into Warwick Lane. This was not the tank that after the War was mounted on a plinth in Greyfriars Green, which was tank No. 143.
Three Tuns Commercial Hotel c1916 (Unknown)
Although this postcard is postmarked 1916, it could well have been produced earlier, as it would be hard to find so many young men not at the War at this time. The occasion would seem to be an outing from the hotel to Kenilworth or Stratford. The entrance into Bull Yard is seen to the right. The Hotel survived the two Wars but not the planners, being demolished in 1965 when Hertford Street and Bull Yard was redeveloped.
Lifeboat Saturday, Smithford Street 1910 (Waterman) Lifeboat Saturday, The Barracks 1910 (Waterman)
A regular annual event in many towns was the parading of a lifeboat through the streets to raise money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, as reliant then as now on voluntary donations. It says something for the romance of the sea that this, the most land-locked of towns, could have so successfully celebrated this event. The second picture shows the means used to display the lifeboat through the streets of Coventry on Saturday 4th June 1910, at the starting point for the procession in the Barracks Square, off Bull Yard. Both the crew and the boat were from Southend-on-Sea having been wined and dined earlier by the Mayor. Various organisations and individuals in fancy dress joined in adding to the carnival atmosphere. As the boat toured the streets of the city centre the crew held out bags on long poles for the crowd to put in their donations. This is shown clearly in the first picture as the boat is hauled up Smithford Street with a couple of trams in the background. The leading crewman looks every inch the salty sea dog!
Barrack’s Square 1913 (Unknown)
As well as being the venue for the gathering of people and floats taking part in Pageants and other marches, Barrack’s Square was used for many other functions. This picture shows the May Day Horse Parade being judged. It can be seen that soldiers are in the crowd. The billets seen in the background must therefore still be occupied. It would seem that every type of cart and hauliers wagon in use in the city are well represented.
Although the Reform Club premises still exist in Warwick Row today, without the Ivy and the railings on the front, the building could be quite easily missed. Whilst the cottages next to the Congregational Chapel also exist, they are now shops, the Co-op Bank being next door to the club. On the right hand-side the buildings were demolished in the 1950’s, Intershop was latterly on this site.
Warwick Row c1923 (Photochrome)
This view of Warwick Row is taken from the opposite side of the Congregational Chapel from that of the Reform Club shown on the previous page. The picture is looking towards Hertford Street with all three spires clearly visible. The entrance into Warwick Lane can be seen to the right of Curtis & Beamish, with the entrance into Union Street leading to Christ Church just behind the trees. Just this side of the horse and cart is where Greyfriars Green has now been cut in two by Greyfriars Road.
Queens Road Chapel c1924 (HHT)
The cameraman taking this picture would be standing in Queens Road with the entrance into Queen Victoria Road to the left, where two men can be seen walking. Behind the James Starley Memorial, erected in Queen’s Grove in 1884, is the entrance into Warwick Row. The Baptist Chapel does not look quite so grand today as the height of the tower has been greatly reduced. Queens Road is now a dead end as Ringway Queens cuts across just beyond the Chapel.
Rover Ltd c1912 (W.Y.)
Queen Victoria Road c1911 (Harvey Barton)
In the top view, workers are seen leaving the Meteor Works of the Rover Company, walking in Garfield Road, (later to become Rover Road) towards Queen Victoria Road. At this time cars and motorcycles were being built although these works were originally built to produce cycles. The name Rover was originally used for the Safety Bicycle designed by J.K. Starley. A Rover car can be seen parked by the building to the left, but it would appear that very few workers even own bicycles. In the lower picture the Drill Hall can be seen on the immediate left with further down the entrance into Croft Road. Only a small portion of Queen Victoria Road exists today, this being the section behind the cameraman up to Ringway Queens which has now made the road a dead end. The Drill Hall which was the headquarters of the 7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment Territorial Force, became a place for dancing to Big Bands after the last War. It was demolished only a few years ago, now being a car park. The new Co-op store is now the other side of Croft Road.
This group of Scouts seen leaving the Rudge Whitworth Works are walking down Trafalgar Street with Meadow Street to the left behind the cameraman. It would appear that as some are too young to be workers that probably they are workers and their sons away for a week at camp during the holidays. At this time the workers were making their name building motorcycles, the name ‘Rudge’ still being a name to conjure with in vintage racing circles. The works were recently demolished without any future use of the site being discussed, and is now ripe for over development1
After the ending of the Great War on 11th November 1918, the Government decided that on Saturday 19th July the following year a Peace Day would be celebrated. In Coventry these celebrations started with the combined Sunday Schools massing in Pool Meadow at 9.45am to sing hymns followed by a march around the City. At 3pm a Pageant gathered at the Barracks Square before also marching round the City. In the evening at 10pm a simultaneous Grand Firework Display was held at Spencer Park, Radford Recreation Ground and Stoke Green. In this view taken from Hertford Square looking towards Rudge Road, the local residents can be seen gathering to hold their own celebrations. The Rudge Whitworth building, later GEC can be seen in the background.
Peace Riots Broadgate 1919 (HHT)
Coventry Railwaymens’ Strike 1919 (Unknown)
Unfortunately after the peace celebrations ended, riots broke out in the city centre as it was thought that some of the larger shops were German owned. Dunn’s next to the Kings Head Hotel and several other shops in Broadgate and Cross Cheaping had windows broken. The riots came to an end after three nights when the crowd was repeatedly charged by the police. As crowds were then prevented from assembling in Broadgate after 9pm, further violence did not occur. Later, in September the Railwaymen had a strike and although this was of short duration, as a consequence, food rationing, ended after the war, was re-imposed. This was one of several strikes due to the hardship caused by nearly 6000 unemployed in the city. The top view taken during the peace riots shows shops boarded up in Broadgate, Salmon & Glucksteine to the right being on the corner of High Street. The lower view is looking up Warwick Road from the junction of St Patrick’s Road, with Lansdowne Place and the entrance to the Railway Goods Depot to the right.
Both of these postcards show the Coventry Sunday Schools King George V Coronation Day procession. They were taken at the same time and are both included as they show Spon Street from outside the ‘Shakspeare Inn’ in each direction. In the top view to the right of the Shakspeare without the E is court 7, then before the works entrance to Rotherhams, at no. 19 is M. Nicks Provision Dealer. Just out of the picture to the right is the ‘Old Windmill’. The ‘Shakspeare’ has since been refaced and the buildings to the right have been demolished. The bottom picture shows to the left of the ‘Shakspeare’, Alexander Edward’s Watch & Clock repairers, followed by the ‘Board Vaults’ then after court 6 the ‘Recruiting Sergeant’. This latter pub closed in 1928, has been much altered and is now known as Tudor House’. On the corner of Queen Victoria Road the tall building is the ‘Plough Hotel’ which was bombed in the last War, Alexander Edwards the jewellers now being in a rebuilt shop on this site.
Although this view is still recognisable today, with Bond’s Hospital to the right and the Tower of St John’s Church showing over the roof, nothing now remains of the left hand side of the street. The sign is over the “Newdigate Arms’ with Bond Street being to the left of the children in the foreground. Further down on the left was the “White Swan Hotel” on the spot now occupied by Bond’s Court. The street then curved round to the left into Fleet Street at the point where Corporation Street would be built in later years.
This could almost be the same coach and horses seen outside the Three Tuns Hotel’ (Page 7), but on this occasion it looks a wet day with puddles in the street. The occupants all have their raincoats on, and obviously hope the day will brighten. St John’s Church can be seen to the right. The trees in the middle of Fleet Street are of interest. The Grocers and Wine & Spirit Merchants seen to the left would in later years become Allwoods Atkins & Turton.
Fleet Street c1905 (Unknown)
This view is from the bottom of Smithford Street, looking into Fleet Street with the tram approaching having just passed St John’s Church on the right. The ‘City Arms Hotel’ can be seen on the right, the other side of West Orchard, with Gibney’s Wonderful Shoe Hospital on this side. These premises were later demolished, the pre-war Co-op store being built on this site. The ‘Old Baths Hotel’ is just out of the picture to the left. This area was cleared in 1959, the C&A Store and the bottom of the precinct now being here.
Situated at 35 Smithford Street, the ‘Old Baths Hotel’, which is known to have existed at least 75 years before this picture was taken, finally closed when Smithford Street was redeveloped. Mr. H. Hewitt is seen here proudly standing in front of his premises; the sign above advertising his noted home brewed ales, at 3d, 4d, 5d & 6d per Quart. These premises were used by carriers conveying passengers to and from Allesley and Meriden. Good stabling was also offered, the entrance to the yard at the rear of the premises being seen to the left. Another view can be seen on page 11 of Volume 1
Well Street Sunday School, Easter 1913 (Waterman)
Despite the inscription on the card this picture was taken in Chapel Street, its junction with Well Street is just behind the photographer. The houses at the end of the street are in Lamb Street which bears off to the left. Well Street Congregational chapel was built in 1827 and gradually expanded over the years so that it fronted both Well and Chapel Streets. The Sunday School was one of these extensions, built in 1850. It regularly took part in the mass meeting of Sunday Schools in Pool Meadow each Easter; the 1913 meeting is commemorated in this picture. By the time of the photograph this area was one of the poorest and most overcrowded in Coventry where large families filled the narrow courts behind the street frontages.
Well Street c1910 (Unknown)
This view is looking into Well Street with The Surges behind the cameraman. The lady on the left is standing in the doorway of the ‘Rose Inn’ with the ‘Old Waggon & Horses’ next door. As the picture depicts a Pub outing, the participants could be regulars from these two establishments. When the coaches move off on their journey they will pass The Wine Lodge’ on the right hand corner of Well Street and The Surges. Further down Well Street on the right is the entrance into Chapel Street, where the top view was taken. The poster on the wall is for Singer’s Sewing Machine Shop at 33 Fleet Street.
The Burges c1913 (TH Co)
Although the top postcard indicates The Burges, we are in Cross Cheaping, The Burges not beginning until Comleys Furniture Shop seen on the left in the distance. In the row of shops between the entrance into West Orchard seen to the left and Comley’s is the premises of Matterson Huxley & Watson shown below. Although the shop front is in itself a wonderful display of cutlery and plated ware, behind the shop was one of the most industrial areas of Coventry. In the area bounded by Cross Cheaping, The Burges, Well Street and West Orchard were grouped the Vulcan Foundry, the Lion Foundry and Iron Works, several Ribbon Works including Victoria Mills together with the Meteor and Albion Bicycle and Tricycle Works. Starting about 1874 Matterson Huxley & Watson began buying these works as they became available. By the time of this advertising postcard, Matterson’s had become one of the biggest suppliers and manufacturers of ironware in the Midlands. Even though badly damaged by bombing the works continued until the area was redeveloped in the early 1950’s. The West Orchard development is now on this site. Matterson’s although not now in manufacture still continue business in their other premises in Hales Street.
It would appear that the boys on the left of this picture are on their way to the Swanswell Pool, as one of them has a fishing net in his hand. They are just passing the entrance into New Buildings on the left, with the entrance into St Agnes Lane just behind the lamppost on the right. It is interesting to think that at that time, behind the wall on the left, was the Cattle Market, whereas today this is the busy corner of Trinity Street and Fairfax Street. The Opera House can just be seen behind the open top Tram no. 43 approaching, which is advertising Hansons Pianos. The New Hippodrome, now Gala Clubs Bingo Hall, was built on the area to the right in 1937. The Mayor of Coventry Alderman A.H. Barnacle carried out the Opening Ceremony on Monday November 1st. William (Bill) Pethers was the leader of the Hippodrome Orchestra at that time. Previously Charles Shadwell who went on to BBC Radio fame had been the leader of the Old Hippodrome Orchestra. On the lower postcard he is seen leading the Orchestra on the stage of the Old Hippodrome, the postcard being signed, ‘Sincerely yours Charles M Shadwell.’
White Street c1907 (Jackson)
This would appear to be another pub outing, the regulars lined up in their Sunday best, ready for the start, being outside the Sir Thomas White Hotel. The publican at the time F.W. Foster is obviously very proud that he can offer Phillips & Marriott prize medal Ales and Stout. The coaches are standing in White Street, with Norton Street to the rear. Swanswell Pool is to the right.
Empire Day, Wheatley Street School 1912 (Waterman)
At the time of this picture Wheatley Street School was less than twenty years old. It was opened in 1893 as a boys and girls infant school. Empire Day on May 24th was an important annual event, a civic dignitary with regalia around his neck, is addressing the crowd. The gathering is in the school playground with Ford Street behind the cameraman. The school had a chequered career, the boys being transferred to John Gulson in 1936 and the girls to Lyng Hall in 1954. At that time it became Priory Secondary Modern School but by the early 1970’s had become Sidney Stringer School and Community College. It was demolished in the mid 1980’s.
Ford Street c1907 (ER)
This rather faded view of one of Coventry’s Victorian residential streets shows a pleasant, not to say elegant, face to an area that has now completely disappeared. The view taken from the White Street end of Ford Street, shows Priory Street crossing in the middle distance. Two buildings on the right are worthy of note, the Art School just in the picture with Trinity Schools behind the photographer. Although it is difficult to see the tram lines due to the poor road condition, the poles with long arms carrying the overhead wires to power the trams are clearly shown. This area was a victim of the ring road development, being just north of the present Pool Meadow bus station.
With Coventry being a booming City at the time, at the heart of the cycle and motorcycle industry, this postcard is included to show a typical factor of that period. Thomas. L. Prentice had his premises at 145 Lower Ford Street and is shown proudly standing in the doorway, with a Triumph Motorcycle and a selection of cycles on offer. In 1919 these premises became part of Sherbourne Plating when Thomas moved to 140 Far Gosford Street.
Coventry Sunday Schools Coronation Day 1911 (Waterman) Triumph Co Ltd. cl912 (WY)
The coronation of George V on Thursday June 22nd 1911 was celebrated in Coventry by a Godiva Procession. As part of the proceedings Coventry’s Sunday Schools put on their traditional parade through the streets as they normally did at Easter. And also, as Easter, they displayed their massed ranks in Pool Meadow (in this instance 24,000 of them1) before the parade. This was the natural arena for the gathering of any procession in Coventry. One side, to the East, was formed by the Public Baths and Spencer & Co, slay and harness manufacturers in Priory Street, as shown in the picture. In the lower picture, still in Priory Street but looking in the opposite direction, we can now just see the brick fence posts of The Public Baths down on the right. The notice on the premises this side indicating Turkish Baths. On the opposite side of the street the main premises of the Triumph Cycle Co Ltd were situated. Very few of the workers seen leaving the premises would appear to have bicycles, possibly due to the average wage at that time being £1.15.0 (£1.75) per week, whereas the Triumph sales catalogue for that year indicates bicycles from £6.17.6 (£6.88) and motorcycles from £48.15.0 (£48.75).
This further view of Priory Street is included to show the entrance into New Street on the right. To give an indication of the position of this street, the railings on the left are around St Michael’s Church, which in 1918 became The Cathedral. Opposite New Street is the entrance into St. Michael’s Avenue. Further down Priory Street on the left can be seen the Triumph Cycle Co. Ltd.
This view is looking from New Street towards Priory Street with the entrance into St Michael’s Avenue on the opposite side. The gable jutting out over the pavement on the right at the end is seen in the upper picture. The spire of Holy Trinity Church can be seen over the roof. In 1955, New Street, which had mainly survived the bombing and still contained sixty-five buildings, mainly timber framed, was cleared to make way for the Polytechnic, now Coventry University.
Cox Street c1906 (ER)
Taken from the corner of Godiva Street, looking towards Jordan Well, the “Old Star” can be seen on the left, the proprietor at the time being Mrs Ellen Dutson. On the right a water pump can be seen on the pavement at the corner of New Street and just beyond the general dealer is the “Robin Hood Inn.” A little further up at the corner of Freeth Street, it can be seen that Waters Oyster Bar are offering blue point oysters at one shilling per score (5p for twenty).
Much Park Street c1912 (Waterman)
This picture postcard shows a view looking down Much Park Street towards Jordan Well with the entrance gate of Whitefriars on the right. Next to the gate it can be seen that I. Greaves the proprietor is offering good lodging for working men only. Just past the lamp post on the left is “The Greyhound” with the large building beyond being Phillips & Marriott’s Midland Brewery. On the other side of Jordan Well, The Empire Meat Company can be seen. With the exception of “The Greyhound” and Whitefriars Gate all of the remainder has gone. The new Crown and Country Court building has recently been built on the left.
Gosford Street c1924 (Dania)
Although this postcard indicates Gosford Street, the photographer was standing in Jordan Well. The small street on the left is Freeth Street with the policeman standing at the intersection of Cox Street and Whitefriars Street; Gosford Street then begins. The building on the left with the crossed timbers is McCutchion’s fish merchants, with on the other side of Freeth Street, Frank Snape pork butchers. The “Sir Colin Campbell”, just seen on the far right hand corner of Whitefriars Street, with a few buildings beyond, are all that now remains of this scene. Typical of many premises in Gosford Street, Collins, Broker and Furniture dealer seen in the lower picture, eventually fell to pre-war re-development. At the time of this picture postcard it was next door to the Hotchkiss Factory (Page 19 Volume 1), but when this factory was enlarged in the early 1930’s it disappeared. At that time the original Hotchkiss works had become Morris Motors Engines Branch. Under the archway, a chest of drawers and other items of pine furniture, which are todays’ antiques, are being offered new.
Although the cottages seen in this view, known as Craven Terrace, still exist today they are hardly recognisable without the railings which give them here a rural appearance. At the time they stood in isolation at the Binley Road end of Gulson Road which a few years earlier was known as Brick Kiln Lane. Now, they are sandwiched between other terraced houses, the other side of the road has been built up, and the footpath which ran from the small building on the left to London Road has now become St Margaret Road. Swinton Insurance now stands on the corner of these two roads.
This road was one of several built on the south side of Gulson Road not long after the top picture was taken. It was called Charterhouse Road as it was constructed on the footpath which ran from Gulson Road, near the site of Emma’s Well, to the Charterhouse, off London Road. The view is looking towards Gulson Road, with David Road on the right. Taken from the intersection with Northfield Road, the picture shows on the left, the premises of John Waters, who was not only a haulier but supplied Power Petrol at that time.
Fortunately the Martyrs Memorial, unveiled in a blaze of glory by the Lord Mayor on Thursday 15th September 1910, still survives not far from where it was originally erected. The monument commemorates the burning at the stake of eleven Coventry men and women between 1510 and 1555. The Mayor, Alderman Lee, did not seem to feel that it was necessary for him to know too much about his subject matter. In his speech he stated “What was the reason for their martyrdom? Were they political or religious, scientific or philosophical martyrs? I must confess I do not know….” In fact they were religious martyrs who were not prepared to reject their particular interpretation of the Christian faith at a time when England’s rulers vacillated between forms of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. This view taken at the moment of the unveiling is looking up Park Road. The second view of Park Road looking up towards the point where the memorial was to be built gives an uninterrupted view of the Chocolate Factory, later to become Swift Motor and Cycle Work in Quinton Road. Park Road was one of a number set out in this area in the early part of this century to provide accommodation for the growing middle classes of the city.