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Bell Green

(.....A subdistrict of Foleshill)


This was the district of my childhood and that of my mother's family before me.

Map :

Bell Green is now part of the built up City of Coventry, but in the days of our previous generations it was more like a small village about 3 miles north of Coventry. For an old (1887) map got to (type in Co-ordinates 435850 and 282164 and then choose from the old maps on the right)

Some notes from research by the late G.A.Cowley:

Named Belgreen in 1725, it is said to have got its name because the church bells were cast on the green. Hall Green, 800 yards away, had a water-mill on the River Sowe in 1367 and was near the 12th century church. It also had a windmill nearby in the 18th century.

In those times the Sowe was a good water-supply for cottages from Hall Green to Henley Green, where there was another mill. Another watercourse joined the Sowe near Henley Mill and provided a water supply to the partings of the Heath, Spring Road, the 18th century workhouse and Courthouse Green to the south of Bell Green.

Richard Hopkins had Foleshill Manor House built in 1775.

The Bell Inn is first mentioned in 1764, the Green Man in 1793 and the Rose and Crown in 1838.

At this time Windmill Lane was specifically created by the Enclosure Act.

The Wesleyans founded a chapel at Bell Green in 1813 and by 1824 there was a Free Methodist Chapel at Aldermans Green.

By 1851 most people were silk ribbon weavers but there were also miners, as an inquest was held on a miner at the Miners Arms in 1847. In 1842 Bell Green reverted to Warwickshire and did not return to Coventry until 1928-1932. Despite this, a regular tram service began in 1900 with Bell Green as its terminus. Because Bell Green was away from the cycle and motor industries of the city and south Foleshill it was marginalised and its people tended to work in weaving, mining, agriculture and on the canal.

After 1930 Lord Nuffield developed the Morris works and the planning of Sewall Highway in 1932 set off extensive housing development.

G.A.Cowley 25.8.2000

My thanks to the late Gordon Cowley for permission to use the above material.

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The Bell Green I knew

Bell Green centre in the 1950s

I was born in Bell Green just before the 2nd World war and although the area missed the worst of the bombing it did suffer from off-target bombs intended for the factories of Foleshill. Several bomb craters in the fields became ponds full of wildlife and fascinating for young children.

In those days Bell Green was still little more than a village on the outskirts of Coventry although joined to it by continuous urban development. The centre, then the terminus of the 21 bus route from the city centre, was a small shopping area with about a dozen shops, the largest being the Cooperative Society general grocery and the rest were small family run concerns with names such as Cottons (Off Licence); Hicks (Greengrocer); Chater (Chemist); Sam Young (Gents Hairdresser). The pubs were The Bell and the Rose and Crown. Religion was catered for by the Congregational Church and slightly further out the Wesleyan Chapel and St.Laurence's Church known as "Old Church".

There were a number of old cottages behind the shops adjoining the pubic footpath ("black pad") which led down to "The Skinners " footbridge. Despite its name there was no "green" other than a small triangular area which had the remnants of brick foundations of some previous building, but I do not know what this was.

Opposite my house was endless farmland. The River Sowe which ran in a deep cutting just opposite my home, was by now sometimes a smelly, oily brook having passed through the polluted grounds of the Foleshill Gas Works a mile or so upstream. For most of the time the waters were only a few inches deep but most winters it rose to become a very fast torrent of 4 or 5 feet in depth. On very rare occasions (before I was born) it rose the 10 feet or so necessary to flood over the top of the cutting.

Lower half of Hall Green Road in the 1930s

Seen in the photograph are fine examples of the impressive elm trees which in those days graced the open countryside of Warwickshire, but now sadly gone having been wiped out by the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease spread rapidly across the UK by a tiny beetle.

I knew the old Manor House referred to above as Manor Farm. Built about 1775 it was a wonderful rambling old house. It stood on a slight hill way back from the road in the middle of its gently undulating farmland reached by a lovely stone bridge over the River Sowe and a long access track. Being the home of my friend, Peter, I spent many happy days of my infant years playing in its rooms and adjoining farm buildings. At that age I was particularly impressed by the large 2-seater bucket toilet in the garden. The old house later was owned by Coventry Corporation and used as offices for its own staff. (How did a responsible Council come to demolish such an historical old house?)

Being before the days of lavishly applied herbicides the extensive rolling fields of Manor Farm were a nature lover's dream. The small fields were bordered by natural hedgerows of varying height regularly enhanced by mature trees of elm, ash, and oak, which provided cover and nesting places for wild birds. It was usual to see about 30 varieties of birds on a short walk. The River Sowe was joined by a small clear stream coming from Wyken Slough, a nearby pool. The water meadows and un-cultivated land along this stream's course were a real haven for many varieties of butterflies and birds. The Sowe meandered its way past "the Skinners" ( I do not know where such a name came from.. surely it was not from the local "skin and hide" merchant) where during its clear spells on warm summer days it provided excellent safe paddling and play area was well known to local children. The farmer, Mr. Taylor, turned an amiable "blind eye" as long as no damage was caused.

Further on across the fields to the north east were the "clodbanks", actually situated just off Deedmore Road. These were high mounds of grey clayey waste deposited many years earlier possibly from the nearby coal mines of Wyken and Walsgrave Collieries or alternatively from the construction of the nearby canal ( there were some old clay-pits nearby). In the years after the 2nd World War the land surrounding the mounds was an indescribably rough area of enormous holes and ridges as it had been used during the 2nd World War as a tank testing or training area.

An arm of the Oxford canal ended near here in a wide brick edged basin where the barges had taken on their loads of coal for transporting to the factories of Coventry and nearby towns. Overgrown with water plants in my youth it later became a marina for leisure boats. The coal mines had been closed for many years but some old miners' cottages and buildings were still around, as was the raised embankment of the old mineral railway which transported the coal away .

Neighbouring Alderman's Green (again where was the "Green" ?) was then a real mixture of all ages of houses strung out along a mile of road. An interesting place was a cobbled road (possibly Mill Lane) leading down past the Cooperative Dairy producing, or at least bottling, "purity milk". At the end of the road and on the bank of the river Sowe, was an old working corn mill with its dusty cobweb covered interior. Behind the mill on higher ground was the millrace with a couple of old leaky lock-gates letting out the overflow into the Sowe.

Some houses at Alderman's Green were clearly old miner's houses serving possibly both the old Wyken Colliery and Exhall. A short walk led down to the pool called Wyken Slough, now shown on maps just as Wyken Pool. This was popular for coarse fishing, and in winter for its ability to freeze over for ice skating. In the 1950's the City Council took over the land and opened the pool for leisure purposes with rowing boats and children's paddle boats.

Wood End is born

Then one day about 1950 my farmer friends moved out, and contractors moved onto the land putting in huge drainage pipes and laying out roads for what was to become a huge new residential area. One freezing January day with deep snow still lying around 2 friends and myself were playing on this site trying to make a bridge over the deep channel in which a 1 metre diameter drain pipe was being laid, when a site workman approached, obviously on his way home. He saw our new untested bridge and strode onto it for a short cut. It was too flimsy and to our horror he plunged to his chest in freezing muddy water. After a few choice words he struggled out and strode off home leaving us speechless but thankful WE hadn't got to go home to mother in that state.

Over the next few years hundreds of flats and houses were built over the whole farm, followed by shops and community buildings. Bell Green had become a suitable area to rehouse people from the slum clearance areas of central Coventry.

As the new estate grew some old Bell Green inhabitants, unhappy at now living in a heavily populated area, moved away but many stayed.
My family were one of the ones that moved. The Bell Green we knew was gone and would never be brought back. Wood End was there instead.

In the 1960s the old cottages near the centre of Bell Green were demolished to make way for a modern shopping centre, Riley Square. The lovely historical Manor Farm which had been used for a while as a Housing Office by the City Council was demolished .
Later the clodbanks were removed and the rough tank testing land levelled. Land was scarce and a new industrial estate sprung up there.

Further Back

Some words may be helpful for the benefit of researchers of the CAKEBREAD name from the USA who are descended from Robert Cakebread, who emigrated from this area to California as a young man with his new bride in 1857.

Hall Green
The map referred to at also shows the little hamlet of Hall Green as it was in 1887, 30 years after their ancestor lived there before he emigrated in 1857, but probably little changed in that period. Hall Green was originally just a handful of cottages, 3/4 mile from Bell Green, around a road junction amongst agricultural land. The small River Sowe provided power for a nearby flour mill. In the photograph above showing river floods Hall Green is where the dark buildings can be seen in the centre background. The houses in the foreground are of more recent construction. The same tall elm trees on the right would possibly have been there in his day.

Alderman's Green
It seems from Census records that as a young boy Robert grew up a few yards further along the road in Alderman's Green, which is described above as it was in the 1940's. (For the map use the same map reference of Foleshill but then click on the UP arrow 3 times and right once). In Robert's day it would have been similar to the Alderman's Green that I knew but with fewer houses. The employment then was mixed but included Coal Mining, (a short walk across the fields to a small colliery), agricultural labouring and also the cottage industry of weaving. Robert and his father were Plush weavers, plush being a velvet-like material for curtains and chair covers.

P.S. Several visitors to this page have thanked me for providing this small amount of information which is purely from memory, as I am no historian. I welcome any historical information which visitors can provide including old photographs, which might help others get a better picture of where their ancestors grew up.

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