Walks Thro Coventry – Part 4

Posted on: January 20th, 2012 by pj

The manufactures of the city are, indeed, most varied, the older industries of watch-making and ribbon weaving being now secondary to an extensive cycle and motor car industry.  Coventry productions now include engineering, etc., woollen goods, hosiery, coach trimmings, textile sundries, iron and brass founding, printing, electrical engineering, and various subsidiary trades; while among the later additions are the manufacture of steam valves, silk textile fabrics, artificial, ordnance, and aircraft.

The watch trade has been established here for at least two hundred years.  In 1727 a watch-maker was Mayor of Coventry.  The trade gradually grew in importance, until about fifty years ago it was considered to be one of the two “staple” trades of the city, and gave employment to about 2,000 persons.  About 1858, however, a depression set in, and keen competition with American and Switzerland having had to be met, the organised factory system and machine methods have largely displaced the former domestic workshops and individual handicraft.

The enormous growth of the cycle trade has been the great feature in the history of the city during the past fifty years.  The world practically owes the bicycle to Coventry.  In the early seventies a small band of intelligent mechanics, by their inventive genius, laid the foundation of what has now become a great and almost world-wide industry.  Coventry has the highest reputation for its cycles and motor cars, and no efforts are wanting to retain its pre-eminence.


The earliest intimation of the approximate population of Coventry is given by Dugdale, who states when the great Benedictine Monastery, for which the city was formerly famous, was at the zenith of its prosperity, the inhabitants numbered 15,000 – a populations which at the time was considered extraordinary.  Indeed, by the roll-tax of 1377, in the notices which it contains of the population of all the principal towns, Coventry appears third on the list in point of magnitude, next to London; York and Bristol being the only two taking precedence of it.

After the fall of the monastery the glory of the city appears to have departed, and the inhabitants dwindled down at one time to 3,000.  However, the foundations of a healthy and vigorous community were deeply laid, and the city regained – though gradually – tis position, not indeed as third or fourth in the kingdom, but as a large centre of population.  Upon the taking of the first national census in 1801, three centuries after its decline, the city contained 16,049 inhabitants.  The successive stages by which lost ground was recovered may be traced thus:  In 1586, where there was an enumeration of the inhabitants on account of the scarcity of provisions, the total number returned was 6,502.  Under the provisions, the total number returned was 6,502.  Under the apprehension of a siege during the Civil War in 1643 between the Parliament and the King, the people were numbered, with the result that they were found to be 9,500.  According to “Bradford Survey” taken about 1748-49, the population was 12,817, so that it had not even then by over 2,000 reached the highest point at which it previously stood.  The second national census showed a population of 17,242 – an increase of about 1,200 – and at the census of 1821 the number had increased to 21,242.

The population as enumerated at subsequent periods had been as follows:

1831: 27,298

1841: 31,042

1851: 36,812

1861: 40,396

1871: 37,670

1881: 42,111

1891: 52,720

1901: 69,878

The only decrease was between 1861 and 1871, when a falling off of nearly 3,000 was due to depression in the ribbon and watch trades.

In 1911 the enumerated population was 106,377—an increase of 36,399, or more than 52 per cent.  To the population of the County Borough (Urban District) has to be added that of the parishes of St. Michael and Holy Trinity without (the Rural District of Coventry) within the Coventry Poor Law Union and the Parliamentary Borough, of 582—the grand total for “Greater Coventry” being 106,959.’ It is estimated that by the present year (1916) the total population had further increased by upwards of 10 per cent. The population may now be taken as bordering on 130,000.

The area of the city in acres is 4,147; the assessable rateable value as at 31st March, 1916, is £483,324. The number of voters on the burgess roll for 1914-15 is over 23,000, and on the Parliamentary Register over 20,000.

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