In January 1929 a public spirited land owner in Binley Road presented to the city a small piece of land with a sapling ash tree growing on it. The land and tree was presented by a Mr Henry Whiteman. The young ash tree was a seedling of an ancient tree that stood nearby called “Jabet’s Ash”. In addition the generous Mr Whiteman paid for the land to be enclosed and the Council paid for a plaque to be erected describing its history. Mr Whiteman’s donation was “to preserve the traditions of the spot, and to commemorate Alderman William Hewitt, Mayor of Coventry who resided in this neighbourhood, and who died during his Mayoralty on the 3rd June 1924”.
The historic Jabet’s Ash stood for centuries and marked the boundary between the city and county. Located at a corner of the hedge on Gosford Green, the old tree died and decayed and was in a dangerous condition before its removal by the City Council’s General Works Committee. In fact as early as 1868 “a Justice of the Peace, living at Stoke, noticing the signs of approaching decay, laid fresh soil about its roots, and did what was possible to preserve its life” – which helped it survive a further half century.
However it is believed that even the old tree was not the original Jabet’s Ash – the first dating back several hundred years before Stoke Church was built in the thirteenth century.
The history of Jabet’s Ash was recorded by Dr Blyth in his History of Stoke. From many sources he gathered together the story of it. “Notwithstanding its venerable appearance,” he wrote, “it probably occupies the site of a former tree, inheriting its name and serving its purpose.”
What’s in a name?
The reason the tree was called “Jabet’s Ash” is not known but there has been a lot of speculation over the years.
One theory is that the tree was named in Norman times after a Prior of Coventry called Joybert and the name Jabet is a corruption of that name.
Another theory is that “a certain John Jabet who held land in Jabet as well as the immediate vicinity of Coventry, and was great benefactor to Abbey, which lies about three miles to the east on the same road, in all probability it takes its name from some circumstances connected with him.” There are records of a John Jabet who lived in Bishop Street ward in 1449.
It has also been suggested that it derives its name from having been used as a gibbet, or having occupied the site of one.
In support of this opinion is a passage in an ancient Charter quoted by Dugdale, as having been given by Hugh Kevilok, Earl of Chester about AD 1184 under King Henry II. The Charter describes the boundary lines between the Earl’s and the Prior’s portions of the city, and is the forerunner of the divisions of St. Michael’s and Holy Trinity parishes. The passage in the Charter is worded as follows, “And thence by the Brook of Endemere to the Highway leading from the midst of Harnall near to Stoke, as far as the Gibbett, and thence descending by Bisseleie to the Brook called Gosford; and so along that Brook and the Ditch; and thence to the Walls of the Boundary.” Where did this gibbet stand if not at Jabet’s Ash?
The tree itself also figures in many historic documents from the time of Richard II. It seems to have been regarded as one of the limits of ancient civic processions, when the Mayor and his brethren went out to meet Royal personages who were coming into the city by that way.
There is a deed in the Muniment Room at St. Mary’s Hall which clearly proves that the tree was a boundary mark more than five hundred years ago. The deed states that “letters had been addressed by Richard to the steward of the King’s Manor of Cheilesmore and the Escheator of Warwick appointing them to inquire whether…. it would prejudicial to the King’s interest or others should he grant the town Coventry all goods, bridges, and profits within the following bounds: “From Jabotsasshe a mill called Nassyngton Mill, to the corner of the stone wall of the park of Chilesmore and thence by same wall and palings of the same park to Baronneswell, and thence to the house, of John Tate of at Dudemanneswell, and thence to the church and cemetery of St. Nicholas of Coventre, and thence to Bottecrosse, and thence to Harnale Quarele, and thence to Gosford Green and Jabet’s Ash aforementioned.”
The tree marked a boundary for many years until the expansion of the city in the 1920s and 30s rendered it obsolete.
Although most Coventrians will have heard of Jabet’s Ash, how many have heard of Jabet’s Pit? This refers to a hollow which was on the opposite side of the road to the Ash tree.
It was reported in the Coventry Standard on 8th January 1915 that “Parts the Green which are not required for regulated games are to be levelled, and the present hollow ground they propose to improve and make into a kind of children playground. Not many people know ‘that the hollow ground was once a pool, known as Jabet’s pit. It was more worthy of the name of slough than a pool though at some seasons of the year a good deal of water lay in it. There was no protection for the road, and one dark night a man walked into the Pit and was drowned. Then the authorities decided to drain it. Some objection was raised, as a matter course, on the ground that the cattle on the green needed the water; but the argument prevailed that Robinson’s Pit on the lower green and the other pit on Stoke Green, would be sufficient for all necessary purposes, and so the pool was drained and the site partly levelled.”
Dr. Blyth in his history of Stoke states that Jabet’s Pit “was mentioned as far back as the time of Queen Elizabeth. This pit was in being in the early part of the [19th] century, and tradition says that it was drained because a drunken man walked into it and was drowned. The depression of the land is still noticeable.”
Our thanks to David McGrory for the information that this article is based on.