Saturday, 8 May 2010

History of Westwood Heath

According to The Place Names of Warwickshire, the first reference to Westwood occurs in 1250 in the Stoneleigh Rolls.

According to the census records (1841-1911), the road currently known as Westwood Heath Road was originally known as Canley Hill (1851), then Cox's Hill (1871, 1881). The name Westwood makes its first appearance in the census in 1891, though part of the road was still referred to as Cox's Hill. In the 1911 census, part of Cromwell Lane, between Tile Hill Station and Arnold Farm was also referred to as Westwood Heath.

The whole area of Westwood Heath and including Fletchamstead, Canley, and Tile Hill was originally part of the Stoneleigh Estate. Westwood, Fletchamstead, Canley, and Tile Hill became part of Coventry in 1927, under the Coventry Corporation (Boundary Extension) Act 1927. The land was purchased from the Leigh family by Coventry Corporation. The sale of the Stoneleigh Estate was caused by reasons similar to the sale of many large country estates in the period following WWI.

There is a comprehensive and authoritative account of the history of Stoneleigh here:
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol6/pp229-240


Westwood and the Knights Templar

The history of Stoneleigh (in the link just above) includes this principal reference to Westwood:
"In 1279 the Master of the Temple [Knights Templars] held Fletchamstead as a hamlet of Stoneleigh... In 1293 an arrangement was made by which the Templars gave up their rights of pasturage in the manor of Stoneleigh in return for a grant of 200 acres of waste land in Westwood. When the Order of the Temple was suppressed the Abbot of Stoneleigh seized the chapel lands, but later made them over to the Knights Hospitallers. The estate was then made a member of their Preceptory of Temple Balsall ... At the Dissolution the estates of Temple Balsall were given to Queen Katherine (Parr), including the manor of Fletchamsted, which was granted in February 1545 to John Beaumont, who at once assigned it to William Humberstone. Four years later Humberstone made a settlement of the house, chapel, and lands on himself and Dorothy Spryng, his intended wife. They sold the manor and chapel in 1564 to Sir Thomas and Dame Alice Leigh, whose son Sir Thomas built a fair house there and made a park. The property then descended with the main manor of Stoneleigh."
The old Fletchamstead Hall was in the present Torrington Avenue, near the far end of Wolfe Road. There are also several modern place names with Templar references in the vicinity - Templar Avenue (off Torrington Avenue) and Templars School.

The 200 acres at Westwood Heath granted to the Knights Templars was a considerable proportion of Westwood. By comparison, the recently planned housing development at Westwood Heath is approximately 40 acres. Westwood Heath Farm occupied 540 acres (extending over Canley).

This is a transcript of the original reference...



There is also a record of Jaques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, assenting to a right of way from Berkswell to Stoneleigh, in the "waste of Westwoode". This was presumably the road that was to become Westwood Heath Road.


Mr C F Neal's Account of Westwood

The following article was written by Mr C F Neale, who was headmaster at Westwood School between 1881 and 1911. It was published in the Coventry Herald, on 27th May 1927, when Westwood was about to be purchased from Stoneleigh by Coventry Corporation.
"Coming events cast their shadows before," and if things turn out according to schedule, the greater part of Westwood will be merged in the City of Coventry on 1st April, 1928. Such being the case, it may be an appropriate time for a few reflections. 
Westwood is an ancient name, mentioned in the Ledger Book of the Monks of Stoneleigh, 1392. This is an extract: "And thence from the said vennel (lane) near the tenement which is called the Hollies, the bound is the King's highway itself leading to the Hale, till we come to a certain ditch between the Hale and Bokyndene. And thence the ditch itself going about the Closes of Boknydene towards Berkswell. And from thence the bound of the manor is a certain way dividing Westwode and Berkswell. And from that way is another way hard by the long ditch which divides Berkswell and Westwode." 
Before the Reformation, there were two outlying communities of Cistercian monks living here, dwelling at Boknydene and Flechamstede. An ancient map on a large scale. of Coventry and district may be seen hanging in the British Museum with the two names in large print. The ruthless Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries and nothing but their names survive. Westwood, so well wooded to-day. formed a part of that forest of Arden between the Roman roads of the Fosse Way and Icknield Street.  
The Moat in the Canley district is a survival of that period, but its origin is lost. The old house there was the birthplace of one Henry Parkes, who, emigrating with his parents to Australia during the " bad old days," rose to be Sir Ilenry Parkes, G.C.M.G., many times Premier of New South Wales, and popularly known as the G.O.M. of Australia. 
Much less than a century ago there was no church, school, or railway in Westwood. Many dwellers, having built their own habitations, worked on the farms, and supplemented their earnings by pasturing donkeys, pigs, and geese "on the heath."
To come to 1887 or so, Westwood had then 600 people, all, with few exceptions, engaged in agricultural pursuits, and small enough for the people to know each other by sight and reputation. The well-known farmers were then: Messrs. Thomas Hands, William Campbell, Edward Swinnerton, Arthur Silk, Thomas Hollier, Anthony McMillan, Thomas Lea, Thomas Mackay, James Harris, George Hammerton, George Lea, William Sammons, and James Jenkinson, all of whom, in varying ways, were sympathetic in the well-being of village life. With the exception of Mr. Hammerton, who has left the district, all have passed away. It will be seen, however, in many instances the names happily survive to the present day.  
Tile Hill, to the north of the railway, consisted of about a dozen families, loyal supporters of their parish, identifying themselves with all that was going on. En passant, it may be said that the word "Westwood" was not too well-known outside its boundaries. To the watchmakers of Spon Street it was Kirby Corner; to those who went up and down the line it was Tile Hill; to civil dignitaries it was Stoneleigh; to the postal mandarins it was Westwood Heath; to the children in Chapelfields and Earlsdon it was " the place where the waterfall field is" and "where the bluebell woods are." And, to add to a new-comer's confusion, the dwellers in Broad Lane, Whoberley, Burnt Post, Hollies, Canley. and Cryfield generally used the names of their own particular corner in conversation, so the plaintive question of the new-comer would be, looking in vain for a centre, " Where is Westwood?" 
A feature of that period was the fixed tenure of village life. The same names appeared for a generation in the persons of the farmers, the villagers in "free" collages, churchwardens, schoolmaster, postman, policeman, stationmaster, sexton, and innkeeper. Following the lead of its noble landlord, the village was Liberal to the core, and its colour, " blue " of the deepest dye; but the number of those entitled to vote barely exceeded 100. and they had to travel eight miles, counting both ways, to exercise the franchise.  
And so on to this present year of grace. Westwood is in the melting pot, changing visibly almost each month. It may be compared to an octopus, somewhat lifeless in the centre, with lively tentacles reaching out on all sides. The population exceeds 2,500, and the voters number 1,044. The centre of the village remains as in former years, while all types of houses are built on the borders. One frontage may be a modern motor works, another a row of small dwellings, others a succession of villas in various designs, or a Liliputian garden city. Then comes the inevitable shopping centre, and the appearance of the suburbs of a large town, its sight, supplanting those of the farm roller and the sportsman's gun. 
About nine-tenths of the people will be adopted by Coventry. We shall form a part of "no mean city." One to which many of us are bound by ties of birth, occupation, sport and youthful memories. 


David McGrory's History of Westwood Heath

The following history of Westwood Heath is taken from the book The Illustrated History of Coventry's Suburbs by David McGrory.

"Simply meaning 'the west wood on the heath', the district of Westwood Heath is still semi-rural. In the 12th century Henry II gave land here to the monks of Stoneleigh Abbey. It is said that when the Cistercians first came to the area in the 1150s they established a grange farm, which seemed to exist mainly to exploit the surrounding woodland. Opposite the site of what is generally thought to be the original Bockidene Grange in the present woodland called the Pools they dug their fish ponds, traces of which can still be seen. Remnants of the large woodland that once covered the area include Whitefield Coppice, Broadwells Wood, the Pools and the Black Waste Wood, once the Black West Wood.


The grange moat was over 30ft wide and kept the fish ponds full of water. There were once two buildings of uncertain age inside the moat, but the large size of the site and the lack of archaeological evidence of habitation has led some to suggest that it was a moated orchard or rabbit warren. There was once a hamlet here, for in 1325 the abbot of Stoneleigh forced 25 of his tenants to abandon their homes. Nearby Hurst and Cryfield were also affected. Hurst, once described as a pretty village, consisted of only one house in the late 15th century.

It is thought that the monks stopped using the site by the end of the 14th century and leased it. Experts believe that Bockendon Grange Farm, surrounded by a smaller moat, may have been the original grange farm. Although the present building dates back to the 18th century there are possible traces of mediaeval work. Behind Bockendon Grange Farm is another small moat that appears to have been created over ridge-and-furrow near the original settlement site. Further down the lane is the site of what is thought to be the lost village of Hurst.

Over the centuries the woodland that made up the area was cut down, creating open heath. This was enclosed in the late 18th and early 19th century to form farmland that still exists. The village of Westwood Heath began at Kirby Corner around a small group of cottages in the 19th century. Beyond them, in what is now Corner Road, stood a small smithy, then a track led to a saw mill. Beyond the saw mill stood the church of St John the Baptist, opened in 1844. A church booklet explains that for half a century  the seating arrangements in the church remained the same:
The front seats were occupied by farmers and their families. Then came the middle seats for the craftsmen of the village; thirdly the agricultural labourers in the rear. This segregation was accepted ... Occasionally stray visitors came early to the morning service and unwittingly entered a front seat. To their consternation they were hauled out by the sexton and were conducted to a lower seat. 
The foundation stone was laid by Chandos, Baron Leigh, and the first incumbent was the Revd Edmund Roy who lived in the High Street, Kenilworth. The Revd Roy rode to Westwood on a white pony and had a room in a house near the church. He appears to have been a great believer in the efficacy of wine and always kept a large stock in his room, ostensibly for the use of invalids. Revd Roy was a kindly man who believed whole-heartedly in education and set up a library in the village for adults and children that was still in use before World War One. He resigned the living because of ill health in 1871 and was followed by Revd Russell, who in 1877 was succeeded by the bizarrely named Revd John Octavius Coussmaker, known by the villagers as Mr Coachmaker.

The Revd Coussmaker was noted for his good nature and easy-going manner, and his lack of punctuality. On two occasions the congregation stood for an hour waiting for him to arrive. On the first occasion his excuse was that he had been removing a dead man from a ditch at the vicarage. On the second occasion he claimed to have been attacked by the vicarage bees and temporarily blinded.

Mary Dormer Harris's uncle was churchwarden at the church in the late 19th century. She wrote:
... had he not been in his accustomed place at the service, people would have expected the heavens to fall. Oh, oh! how the harmonium droned in those distant days! The congregation consisted of staid persons, who had mostly lived in the parish all of their lives, who did not marry or give in marriage, or run after enjoyment, but just stopped by their own firesides, in homely fashion, and were, I suppose content
Esther Dash spoke to the Coventry Evening Telegraph (in 1998) of life in the village before World War One. She recalled:
Father was a farm worker and forester and mother did housework for the headmaster and made butter at the farm. Our lovely three bedroomed cottage had a large lawn 0 to the front and a vegetable patch with apple, pear, damson and plum trees ... Each year the owner, Lord Leigh, would arrive on horseback to make his inspection, and award prizes for the best kept cottage and garden. 
The old post office was a few doors away (and bears the crest of the Leighs). For 46 years it was run by Emma Smith, who finally retired at the age of 79. As a girl Esther remembered that the only other shop at Westwood was next to the smithy. Here she would buy sweets from Bumper Jones; while the smithy was always a favourite with children, who loved to watch the sparks fly. Esther recalled, 'George Duggins senior spent one half of the week at the little smithy in Westwood, and the rest of the week at the other in Duggins Smithy, a few miles away in Tile Hill.' She also remembered that the school (now the Greek Orthodox Church) was built in 1870. It had three teachers and the head's house was next to it. There was a flower garden for the girls and a vegetable plot for the boys. The big event of the year was Empire Day when Lord Leigh visited. The school was decorated and Lord Leigh was entertained by maypole dancing in the schoolyard, for which he rewarded the children by giving them the afternoon off.


See also

Stuart Barratt's account of life at Westwood Heath School in the 1950s which is on this page: