(.....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
http://www.old-maps.co.uk (type in Co-ordinates 435850 and
282164 and then choose from the old maps on the right)
Some notes from research by the late
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
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
My thanks to the late Gordon Cowley
for permission to use the above material.
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
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
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
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.
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.
The map referred to at
http://www.old-maps.co.uk 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.
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.