The Estate Builders

In 80 Years they developed 100,000 building plots in Coventry – Who were they?

CovSoc Historian David Fry answers the question!

If you live in a Coventry house that was built between 1900 and 1980 there is a good chance it was on an estate developed by the Newcombe Brothers from Market Harborough, Leicestershire.

Brothers John and Arthur had been active in developments in their home town in the late nineteenth century and in 1905 they formed a company, The Newcombe Estates Company Limited. This marked a significant increase in their property developments. They had already purchased more than five acres in the Earlsdon area that was to soon feature, unsurprisingly, Newcombe Road. They would go on to develop most of the streets to the north of the whole length of Earlsdon Avenue towards the Butts.

(Fig 1 Kensington Road, Earlsdon, Coventry)

In none of their developments would they get their hands dirty. Like most of housing schemes in Coventry developers would buy up the land, get their architects to plan out the roads, sewage, gas and water and the building plots. Planning permission would then be applied for which would also give guidance for building lines and general appearance from the roadside. These plots would then be sold off individually, or more often in groups, to speculative builders. Although sticking to the general guidance obtained in the planning permission variations in styles used by different builders can be seen in the otherwise similar terraced streets like in Kensington Road. In the early twentieth century many would then be bought for rent. In the Earlsdon area at least half would be lived in by tenants.

The Newcombe brothers were staunch Baptists and their non-conformist beliefs were reflected in a number of conditions included in building deeds. One of these was that no building on their early developments should sell alcohol. Indeed the only pub in the area between Earlsdon and the Butts is the Albany which was a small island of land in the middle of Newcombe land that had been bought by Coventry Corporation when they constructed Albany Road in 1898.

A full list of the estates developed by the Newcombe Company has not been researched but the 100,000 plots figure was in a company publication in the 1980s. It must be admitted that this figure is a little dubious given that the 2011 census indicates there were little more than 120,000 households in Coventry. The Newcombe Company was prolific but not that much so!

Some of their estates that are known from before the First World War, apart from the Earlsdon area, are:

  • Much of the Lower Stoke area east of Paynes Lane
  • The Great Heath Estate in Foleshill covering the area bordered by Durbar Avenue, Beresford Avenue, Foleshill Road and Queen Mary Road.
  • Between 1910 and 1920 they were developing thirteen estates in Coventry totalling 150 acres (equivalent to 2,000-2500 houses)
(Fig 2 Builders advertising postcard for houses built on the Wyken House Estate, Wyken Coventry)

Between the wars, after a quieter period in the 1920s, nine sites were bought in Coventry in the 1930s covering 418 acres (equivalent to 5000 houses)

  • This included the Wyken House Estate and part of the Whitmore Park Estate
  • Much of the Coundon and Radford developments at this time can be laid at the door of the Newcombe Company.
(Fig 3 Cranford Avenue, Coundon, Coventry).

After the Second World War activity eased in the Coventry area but the Company were still responsible for either fully or partially developing

  • the Ernesford Grange Estate
  • the Clifford Bridge Road estate

The company has been involved in many projects since but there has been little development locally. One notable exception is that of the ten storey office block, Friars House which they built in 1989 and later sold in 2001. For many years its blue green glass frontage stood out at the entrance to Greyfriar’s Green, on the opposite side of the ring road from the station.

(Fig 4 Greyfriars House, Greyfriar’s Green, Coventry).

David Fry, historian and CovSoc member

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