Walking Backwards No 4. Over Hearsall Common to Canley

Today we have the fourth episode of Peter Walter’s series of lockdown walks “being a compendium of idle facts, hidden places and meaningless historiana gathered on walks within easy striding distance of the writer’s abode – and beyond”.

Hearsall Common has a fundamental, yet unheralded, place in the annals of aviation.

It was here, one day in 1916, that little Frank Whittle, then aged eight, was playing with his friends when a small plane landed and the pilot jumped out to fix an oil leak. As the plane rumbled over the grass and took off again, young Frank got a bit close and the updraft blew his cap off.

That, Whittle, said later, was the moment that he knew he must fly. And so a jet pioneer was born.

These days, there’s nothing momentous about the Common, most of it a flat, featureless expanse that even dogs must find a bit dull. In the past it was dominated by gorse bushes, but now the spiky plant, with its bright yellow flowers, is largely confined to ditches dug to keep traffic off.

Old postcard of Hearsall Common

Long gone are traces of Coventry’s first golf course, established here in the 1890s, and long gone too are the crowd of gipsy families who every summer as far back as the 1870s would arrive and pitch their painted caravans for a few weeks. They came from Spain, locals liked to say.

The horse-drawn, of course, has given way to more feverish forms of transport. At the Canley end of the Common stands a house built by the Standard motor Company for a manager at its vast adjoining factories, put up quick in 1916 to serve the armaments industry. There are still motors in the garden, albeit most of them in bits, but wild rabbits too and lots of honeysuckle.

Further on, the West Coast railway line hammers on towards Birmingham beneath a spider’s web of white-painted foot bridges that replaced the old level crossing. And in their shadow is Canley Halt, its ticket office smartly, if somewhat incongruously, decorated with a four-foot kangaroo, in relief.

No local fauna this, but a clue lies on the other side of the A45, at the end of a path that flanks the woodland behind Canley Fire Station.

A timber-framed cottage, once on the old road from Styvechale to Canley, was the humble birthplace, then on Lord Leigh’s estate, of Henry Parkes, who travelled poor to Australia in 1839 on an assisted passage and ended up as Premier of New South Wales and Father of the Australian Federation.

The historic home of Sir Henry Parkes in Canley

One wonders how many Australians come these days, to sneak a peek at the cottage and get a selfie with the kangaroo.

Hawkesbury ‘Canal Village’ Moves Ahead

Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council has granted outline planning permission for phase two of the £115million 72-acre ‘Canal Village’ in Hawkesbury.

Phase two of the development will include 176 homes, landscaped open space and park provision across 39-acres.

There will also be a new bridge over the Coventry Canal, which will connect the Coventry to Bedworth. The development will also includes additional cycle and pedestrian routes and extensive infrastructure works.

Solihull based development company Terra has been granted an allocation for 380 residential units, infrastructure and community facilities in the Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Plan after buying the land.

Phase one of the development was approved last year with construction now underway. Construction of 204 houses in phase one is being delivered by Terra’s sister company Living Space and Vistry Group.

There will be 153 open market properties and 51 affordable homes built in the first phase, comprising of one-bedroom maisonettes, two-bedroom apartments and bungalows, and two, three and four-bedroom family houses.

The first community facilities are now nearing completion, including a 2000 square foot building complete with its own car park, a BMX track and allotments.

Terra’s managing director James O’Shea said: “This ‘canal village’ is creating a vibrant new community, which is only a five-mile canalside walk or cycle ride into Coventry city centre. The scheme will have a transformative effect on the local area and provide significant community benefits, as well as a total of 380 quality new homes for north Warwickshire.”

Walking Backwards No 3. Up Kenilworth Road to Gibbet Hill

Today we have the third episode of Peter Walter’s series of lockdown walks “being a compendium of idle facts, hidden places and meaningless historiana gathered on walks within easy striding distance of the writer’s abode – and beyond”.

Walking south through Styvechale Common

In the days when the A45 was all shiny and new, they used to call the junction where the Kenilworth road crosses it ‘the Orange Grove’ because at night the street lights that surrounded the tiny island in the middle always cast a deep yellow glow.

No room for tiny traffic islands now, of course, on this race track of a road that sometimes seems barely restrained by traffic lights. Yet pluck up the courage to cross its heaving lines of traffic and there is a surprise just the other side.

This is million-pound-house country and for many years the owners of Coventry’s most expensive residences were able to plant pillars and gates at the grassy edge of the Kenilworth road and call this woodland strip of Styvechale Common their own, while officialdom turned a blind eye.

Not any longer. There’s now a well-beaten path, recently created by volunteers with city council backing, that winds through the woodland right up to Gibbet Hill on both sides of the road. Many of the gates are still there and one or two are even locked, but this is ancient common land and it feels good to walk it.

New footpath through the Common

On a sunlit April afternoon, the scent of wild garlic is rising and bluebells are waving in the dappled light beneath the trees. For the distance comes the sound of a woodpecker hammering its way into a tree.
Traffic noise aside, there’s something beguilingly timeless about this woodland walk. But Gibbet Hill harbours darker memories of a very different April day.

On a wet morning in April 1765, three men faced the gallows here for the murder of a farmer in a robbery gone wrong. On the scaffold, they cursed the man who’s put them there, the ruthless and self-proclaimed thief-taker John Hewitt. They’d have died in peace, they said, if they could have blown his brains out.

Hewitt had the last laugh. After death their bodies were slathered with tar and for forty years hung in chains from a gibbet erected somewhere on what was then open heathland, close to the old medieval road to Kenilworth.

The site of it has disappeared beneath more than 250 years of growth in what is now Wainbody Wood, a 70-acre mixed woodland that is among Coventry’s lesser known natural assets.

One Coventry Plan

The City Council is consulting the public on its upcoming review of the One Coventry Plan. This is a corporate plan for the future operation of the council and its main partners.

One Coventry Plan Priorities

The One Coventry Plan sets out a vision and priorities for the city, based on commitments to the people of Coventry and the things that you have told us are most important. 

The Plan sets out the key priorities for the city, measures of success and the role that the City Council, residents and partners will have in delivery.

The new plan will build on what has already been achieved, focusing on making further improvements and making even more of a significant impact across our priorities.

The vision: One Coventry – working together to improve our city and the lives of those who live, work and study here.

They will create:

  • a city with a strong and resilient economy, where inclusive growth is promoted and delivered, businesses are enabled to innovate and grow and new local jobs are created.  
  • a city where our residents get the best possible start in life, experience good health and age well, in a city that embraces diversity, protects the most vulnerable and values its residents and communities.
  • a city, that leads the way and invests in the green industrial revolution. Ensuring the well-being of our residents by embedding environmentally friendly behaviours and exploring opportunities to lessen the pressures caused by climate change.

They will do this by being:

  • a council with a strong and sustainable financial position, with resources and assets that are aligned with our priorities. 
  • a council that plays a key role as a civic leader, working in genuine partnership with local residents, communities and partners. 

You can read more about the One Coventry Plan here and complete a questionnaire here. There are also opportunities to attend workshops where Council officers will be available to share more information and answer any questions on the priorities. If you’d like to attend a workshop, register your interest

Walking Backwards No 2. Down Daventry Road to the Charterhouse.

Today we continue Peter Walter’s series of lockdown walks “being a compendium of idle facts, hidden places and meaningless historiana gathered on walks within easy striding distance of the writer’s abode – and beyond”.

Daventry Road itself is one of the few in Cheylesmore that does not bear a name drawn from Coventry’s distant past. From long-forgotten Benedictine Priors to incinerated Lollard martyrs, the Middle Ages are everywhere in the tidy suburban streets, thanks to a crazed medievalist in the city’s street-naming office in the 1930s, when the estates were being laid out.

Near its end, where it dips to meet the London Road, Frankpledge Road leads off left past the church called Christ Church, built in the 1950s to replace the Victorian garrison church that flanked the thirteenth century spire of Greyfriars – until it was flattened in the April 1941 air raids.

The exterior of Christ Church is little more than post-war utilitarian, but a clue to what lies inside can be seen in its unusually shaped high windows. The church has an interior (from memory) that blazes with purples and blues and possesses a style that is almost high Scandinavian in its effect.

The inside of Grade 2* Listed Christ Church

Beyond lies Quarryfield Lane (all that frantic stone-working again) and the side entrance to the London Road Cemetery. Back in the 1850s, when the cemetery was still a novelty and largely unoccupied, a fine purple beech tree was growing in a nursery on the site of a planned development of expensive new houses in town, to be known as The Quadrant.

The ancient Purple Beech

The tree was already nearly a hundred years old and nearly 30 feet tall, but it was dug out of the ground and carried on carts through the streets (breaking windows with its trailing branches) to the cemetery, where a hole had been prepared for it. It stands there still, a giant just beginning to show its April 2020 foliage and now stretching itself above the grave of a man named Richard Knibbs, close to the railway line.

From here, find the best way you can down to ground level and take a quiet stroll (seriously) across the London Road to Charterhouse.

The Charterhouse during restoration – the scafolding has now been removed.

King Richard II declared it open. King Henry VIII had it shut down. And now the home of the Carthusians, one of only three to survive in England, has vanished beneath a festoon of scaffolding as it prepares for the next chapter in its 600-year history. But halfway down the drive you can still lean on the bridge and stare deep into the murk of the river that once fed the monks’ fish pools.

Long ago I knew a stream in Dorset called the Piddle that had a stronger flow than the mighty Sherbourne at this point. But that’s another story.