Old Gas Works
Turning to the right into Gas Street, we find there the main entrance to the Old Gas Works. The first works for supplying Coventry with gas were erected by a number of private gentlemen in 1821, but in 1856 an Act of Parliament was obtained under which a public company was formed, with 800 shares of £25 each. Great improvements and additions were from time to time made at the works, which were kept in a very efficient condition, and the financial result to the shareholders was satisfactory. In 1884, however, owing to advances being made by the Corporation, an arrangement was made by which it was agreed that the whole undertaking should be transferred to the local authorities. The amount of the purchase money was £168,000. As before remarked, new works have been constructed at Foleshill, and the old buildings are now used mainly for storage purposes.
Going to the end of the street, we cross Hill Street, bearing a little to the left, and pass through Bangor Street to the Holyhead Road, running out of which is Dover Street, containing St. John’s Schools, with accommodation for primary education for 538.
Turning down the road, passing on the left a meeting house and school belonging to the Society of Friends, and a Chapel of the Plymouth Brethren, we enter Spon Street, facing Queen Victoria Road, having to our immediate left hand the main entrance to St. John’s Church. Moving to the right, we traverse Spon Street, a name supposed to be derived from the ‘’span” between two fords of the Sherbourne, one being originally at the bottom of Smithford Street, where, as we shall presently see, a bridge is built.
Houses of more or less antiquity are in plenty along this street, while on the left is the great watch and engineering factory of Messrs. Rotherham & Sons, a firm known in all parts of the world. A few steps onward bring us to the offices and show rooms of Messrs. Rudge-Whitworth, Ltd, whose factory occupies a large part of Crow Lane and Trafalgar Street close by. To cope with their enormously increasing business, this firm have erected an immense steel girder building at the rear of their offices, and extending from Spon Street to the river Sherbourne. Proceeding still along Spon Street, we pass on the left a covered way into Meadow Street. More old houses appear, and on our right is Barras Lane, with the Jews’ Synagogue a short distance up. Also on our right, standing back from the line of houses, is St. Saviour’s Mission Church, connected with St. John’s Church. Sherbourne Street, to the left, is reached, and opposite is a brick building, at one time the meeting place of the Mormons, but subsequently used as a Mission Room. In close proximity are the Spon Street Council Schools. These are an admirable cluster of buildings, and include departments for boys, girls, and infants, to the number of 1,205.
A narrow lane at the far end of these schools leads to the Spon End works of the City Water Department, whence for many years the greater part of Coventry’s water supply came. According to an ancient document, the inhabitants, in 1334, obtained from Edward III a license to erect in Well Street a conduit twenty feet long and ten feet broad. As the population increased, wells were from time to time sunk in various parts of the town, and, previous to the establishment of the Spon End works, there were in existence more than thirty public pumps, most of which have since been removed. The works we are now viewing were constructed from plans prepared by Mr. Hawkesley, C.E., and consist of filtering beds and a pumping station, the original outlay being about £20,000. Owing to the continued increase of population, additions have been made at various times to the capacity of the works, and, as previously stated, the Corporation felt the necessity of establishing an additional pumping- station at Whitley. The combined supply is good, both in quality and quantity, but as a safeguard, the Corporation, a few years ago, contracted for a further supply from the Birmingham reservoirs at Shustoke, a wise precaution, as this auxiliary supply is now generously drawn upon.
Returning to the street, we find a very old stone building, sometimes called the Leper House or Hospital, now divided into tenements. The formation of the place can be best seen by looking at the side facing the gardens. Dugdale says this “Chappel or Hospital of Sponne” was founded by Hugh Keveliok, Earl of Chester, in the time of Richard III, the Earl having a certain knight of his household who was a leper, and endowing it for the maintenance of such persons as were afflicted in like manner in the City of Coventry. A priest (with brethren and sisters) was located here, together with the lepers, “praying to God for their benefactors.” The hospital afterwards belonged to the Crown, but in the reign of Edward IV it passed to the canons of Studley, Warwickshire, on condition of their praying for the King and others. Some antiquaries think this was not the place for lepers, but that a building in Chapel Fields was devoted to their use.
Crossing the bridge over the Sherbourne, we can take a look at the ornamental grounds of the Water Works, and then pass into Spon End, viewing its old houses. The viaduct in front is connected with the Coventry and Nuneaton Railway. There are twenty-two arches, which were originally built of stone, but in 1857 many of them fell with a tremendous crash, happily without causing loss of life, and they were rebuilt of blue brick. Close to the viaduct, on the left, standing back a little from the line of the street, is St. Thomas’s Mission Church.
On a house at the corner of Melbourne Road, to the left, there is a quaint proclamation against vagrancy. Beyond is Chapel Fields, a large outlying district on the Old Allesley Road, formerly inhabited largely by watchmakers, with schools in Lord Street connected with Queen’s Road Baptist Church. Hearsall Common, a considerable piece of open land, used as a recreation ground, adjoins the district on the south and south-west side.
Reversing our walk a little, and bearing to the right, we enter the Butts, which in former times was set apart for the practice of archery; there were also two others, Summerland Butts and Barker’s Butts. The pleasant-looking building there on the north side is Sherbourne House West, the Y.W.C.A. Hostel and Institute, opened June 3rd, 1915. Passing Hope Street on the left, we come to Albany Road, a fine thoroughfare on the right leading to Earlsdon, a populous and growing suburb situated pleasantly on high ground, where watchmaking was once extensively carried on ; the cycle and motor trades are now also represented. To the right is the entrance to the grounds of the Coventry Cricket Ground Co, where “most do congregate’’ the lovers of athletic sports. The grounds are fourteen acres in extent. Opposite is St. Thomas’s Church, Vicarage, and Schools, standing on a piece of land purchased of the freemen. The church is of native stone, and of simple design.
Continuing along the Butts, we find Thomas Street on our left, and a little further on to the right, in Upper York Street, are the grounds of the Coventry Public Cattle Sales Company. Here also are the great mechanical engineering and machine tool works of Messrs. Alfred Herbert, Limited. York Street turns off to our left. A well-known hostelry, at the sign of the “Hen and Chickens,” brings us to the eastern end of the Butts, Hertford Place turning off to the left. We are now entering Queen’s Road, which extends from this point to the Warwick Road end of Stoneleigh Terrace. Queens Road Baptist Church stands to the right, and, with its pinnacled tower, presents a somewhat imposing appearance. It belongs to the Baptist congregation which for a long period worshipped in Cow Lane Chapel, and the origin of which dates back over 200 years. This edifice, in which there are sittings for about 1,000 persons, was formally opened on the 1st May, 1884. The style of architecture is perpendicular Gothic. The interior is well arranged, and the whole effect is one of neatness and comfort. Classrooms were afterwards added, the total cost approaching £ 12,000. In 1912 considerable additions were built at the rear, comprising a handsome hall for general meetings, concerts and the like, together with a smaller lecture hall and other apartments.
In the centre of Queen’s Grove, just past the chapel, we may see an oak tree planted in commemoration of the Sunday School Centenary in 1880. Here also is a memorial in honour of the late Mr. James Starley, to whose genius the origin, development, and perfection of the modern bicycle and tricycle are greatly due. The St. John’s Cycle Works, formerly carried on by his sons, were in Queen Victoria Road, on our left, but are now, with suitable additions, used as the headquarters and drill hall of the local Territorial Battalion. Grosvenor Road, on our right, is the most direct road to Spencer Park, presented to the city by the late Mr. David Spencer, of Coventry, and, as before stated, publicly opened in 1883. The park comprises eleven acres, and cost about £7,000. The park is divided by a thoroughfare which forms part of Spencer Avenue, and the portion south thereof has recently been laid out at considerable expense in tennis courts and bowling greens, and a handsome pavilion erected.