Hillfields

Coventry’s first nineteenth century planned suburban development began in Hillfields in 1828 and consequently by the turn of the century had little left of the old rural area except Primrose Hill House, a building of indeterminate age. That does not mean to say that there was no heritage worth preserving – quite the contrary. This became Coventry’s premier ribbon weaving area with many houses operating their own weaving looms. But more particularly there was the Vernon Street triangle, Hillfields own rather special contribution to the Industrial Revolution, where the factory system was combined with the workers domestic residence. It is not perhaps the sort of working operation we would want to see today but its imaginative preservation along with much else, now missing, could have avoided the alienation that the tower block substitutes bring. Modernisation schemes like that found in Winchester Street and Colchester Street provide much better solutions to housing problems than wholesale redevelopment and the consequent destruction of community spirit.

Primrose Hill Street  Hillfields Coventry photograph1907 1. Primrose Hill Street c1907 (E.R.)

Victoria Street Hillfields Coventry Photograph 1907

2. Victoria Street c1906 (Slapoffski)

These two views are back to back shots from the same spot and though taken about the same time they are by different publishers using quite different methods of reproduction. The second is a coloured print made from a photograph and the first is a faded sepia finish sold as an original photographic postcard. The former is normally preferable to the latter, but in this instance the printed version has survived better. The previous book had a view from the other end of Victoria Street. This one is from the town end looking east, showing the Royal Exchange pub, officially in Castle Street. The pub is now a shop. Further along on the right is the rather gothic looking facade of a building since demolished and replaced by the ultra-plain shop of Phillips the hardware firm. The view down Primrose Hill Street, into town, follows the line of the tramway with Joseph Sutton butchers to the right and Vine Street to the left. The rather faded chimney rising far above the terrace on the left is that of Wheatley Street Flour Mill. Nearly all the buildings have been demolished over the years with the exception of a few of the houses fifty or so yards down on the right.

3.Victoria Street c1916 (Coupon Photo Co)

This was how the premises of J. Rollason Fruiterer of 35-37 Victoria Street, looked on Christmas Eve 1916. The chickens, ducks and geese, all have labels on, ready for collection. Boxes and wicker baskets of vegetables together with holly in the road and over the shop blinds complete the scene. The health inspector would not be very happy with this display or Mr. Rollason smoking, but undoubtedly the food would have tasted far better than today.

4. King William Street c1930 (Teesee)

This view taken from the Berry Street end of King William Street is looking towards Victoria Street. The shop on the right is Blackmore’s wireless depot with Whitehall, fruiterer, next door. Beyond the standard car the entrance into Clarence Street can be seen. In the far distance the Palladium Picture Theatre can be seen next to the ‘Ivy Cottage Inn’. On the left just before Waterloo Street can be seen some of the top shops, a reminder that this area had been an important ribbon weaving centre. On the other side of Waterloo Street the ‘New Inn’ can be seen.

5.Vernon Street c1930 (Teesee)

The right hand side of thispicture shows the Vernon Street portion of the Vernon Street triangle, formed by buildings contained within Vernon Street, Berry Street and Brook Street. This triangle of sixty-seven cottage homes were erected in the 1850’s for Eli Green, a wealthy ribbon manufacturer. A central steam engine provided the power for the shafting to operate the looms in the top shops, the shafting passing from cottage to cottage down the whole length of the buildings. This enabled independent weavers to operate only paying rent on their cottage and the power that they used. This group of buildings, as important to Coventry’s industrial history as those built by the Cash brothers at Radford at about the same time, were demolished in the early 1950’s.

6. Berry Street c1930 (Teesee)

This view is looking down Vernon Street towards St Peter’s Church, seen in the distance, has Ward’s the grocers and Alfred Isherwood pork butchers on the left. The shop on the right half way down with the blind down is Oldham’s grocers. In the lower view seen from Berry Street looking into King William Street, Hammonds butchers can be seen on the right on the corner of King Edward Road. This picture must have been taken just after the one of King William Street shown on the previous page as the Standard car has moved off and is seen passing Blackmore’s wireless shop on the right. It is interesting that at the time of the picture an Eli Green was living at no.23 Berry Street. Who was he?

7. Paynes Lane c1934 (Unknown)

The cameraman who took this picture was standing in Paynes Lane, with the tram travelling towards him, turning from Berry Street. The entrance into Primrose Hill Park, can be seen behind the car to the right. The Lodge House to Primrose Hill House can still be seen although the house itself was demolished in 1913. The Lodge has now also been demolished. The route of the tram from Paynes Lane was via Binley Road to the terminus at Uxbridge Avenue, Stoke.

The Binley Oak 1913  Hillfields Coventry Photograph 8. The Binley Oak, Paynes Lane c1913 (Unknown)

There are few reminders left of the early activities of Coventry City FC in this area though all the grounds that they have used so far are nearby. Indeed their present headquarters at Highfield Road is only a couple of streets away from this pub which has inscribed on its front ‘LATE HEADQUARTERS OF THE COVENTRY CITY F.C.’ Despite the truth of this statement it is unlikely that this inscription actually existed in reality, but is an advertising sleight of hand requested by the landlord, W J Penn, whose name appears on the front of the postcard. The building itself has a gloriously decorated facade that is still impressive despite the comparatively recent painting over of its original ceramic covering.

9. Swan Lane, c1919 (Unknown)

This dairyman with his horse and delivery cart are seen leaving the Co-op Dairy premises in Swan Lane. Frederick Bird School can just be seen in the distance behind the rear of the cart. Except for the houses on the other side of the lane, with the roof of the Naval Gunshop of the Ordnance Works showing over the roof of the end house, the appearance is still of a lane. A number of mature trees and the remnants of a field hedge give further proof. Britain’s industrial future had passed this way more than a hundred years before, when the Coventry Canal was built. It is still to be found beyond these houses to the right, Newnham Road backing onto the canal.

10. Frederick Bird School. c1907 (ER)

This picture shows Frederick Bird School in all its glory just two years after it was opened as a mixed infants school. In 1913 separate boys and girls sections were opened, then in 1921 secondary and junior sections were opened. After many changes it eventually became a junior school. As it was considered unsuitable to meet modern educational standards the school was demolished in the mid 1980’s, a new one being built in its place. What a pity, a part of the original building could not have been retained for some purpose, to give present students a connection with the past.