Plaques for The Firs

On Friday 14th January a host of people joined our Lord Mayor to commemorate a number of lives associated with the Firs on Kenilworth Road.

The Firs is a Georgian house on Kenilworth Road which in the early part of the 20th Century was the home of Ernest Instone, the General Manager of Daimler in Coventry. The building later became Coventry Prep School, founded by First World War hero, Revd. Swallow and led by a number of inspirational Head Teachers.

Appropriately the Lord Mayor, Cllr John McNIcholas, arrived at the event in a Daimler car provided by the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust. A group of musicians from King Henry VIII brass band provided a musical welcome and there were a number of speeches before two plaques were unveiled.

Tony Merrygold from the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust told us about Ernest Instone, who dedicated his entire life to the Daimler Company. Ernest lived at the Firs from 1907 – 1920. As well as a classic engineer he also raced his Daimler cars at Brooklands and in hill climbs around the country. He was also a city councillor and Justice of the Peace.

Tony Richards, a former pupil of the school, told us about the first two head teachers at the Prep School. The school was founded by the Reverend Kenelm Swallow who was awarded the Military Cross during the First World War, having returned five times to No Man’s Land to bring back injured soldiers. Rev. Swallow decided to dedicate his life to education and founded the Prep School in 1920, which for some time was known as Swallow’s. He remained as Head Master until his retirement in 1952, but continued to teach until the early 1970s. He died in 1979.

John Sykes was the Head from 1952 to 1966. Quinton Deeley recalled his time at the school under John Phipps who joined the school as assistant master in 1957 becoming headmaster in 1966, the position that he held until his retirement in 1992. In 1992 the school was sold to the Coventry Schools Foundation which has owned it and continued to operate it as a preparatory school since that time.

CovSoc Chair Peter Walters told us more about the history of the building, one of the few remaining Georgian buildings in the city, and the Society’s campaign to save the city’s heritage and history. Blue plaques are one of the tools for raising the profile of our historic buildings and linking people to heritage.

Lord Mayor, Cllr John McNicholas unveiling one of the plaques.

The plaques were unveiled by Cllr John McNicholas, Lord Mayor of the city who told us of his own background working at Jaguar / Daimler.

Following the unveiling Rev Sacha Slavic, the School Chaplin, blessed the plaques.

The Coventry Society has applied to have the building listed and we were pleased that the City’s Conservation Officer, Charlotte Stranks, was available to join us for the unveiling of the plaques.

In addition to the two blue plaques, the Coventry Schools Foundation also unveiled a plaque celebrating the centenary of the establishment of the Prep School in 1920.

In July 2021 the Prep school closed and its future was unclear. However, the Coventry School Trustees have had a change of heart and are now planning to re-vamp the buildings and bring them back into educational use.

There are more photos of the unveiling on our Flickr site.

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