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Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Memories of Westwood Heath in the 1950s and 60s

Memories of living along Westwood Heath Road during the 1950s and 60s by Sue Podmore (nee Whick)

Ameneties

Westwood School speech day 1959 (photo from Stuart Barratt). Sue is the girl with fair hair sitting in the front row nearest to the camera.
Westwood School speech day 1959
(photo from Stuart Barratt).
Sue is the girl with fair hair and curls
sitting in the front row nearest to the camera.
When growing up I used to describe where I lived as 'In Westwood Heath, the last but one of the eight cottages and eight houses just past the church on Westwood Heath Road'.  It usually needed this explanation as during the 1950s and 60s it was quite a remote place compared to the large  housing developments in Canley and Tile Hill, and Westwood Heath Road did not lead to anywhere in particular unless you knew the back roads to Kenilworth. However, we were lucky to have a regular bus service every hour each day between Coventry City Centre and the terminus at Red Lane, Burton Green. The No 12 bus would leave Pool Meadow at a quarter to the hour and leave Burton Green back into Coventry at a quarter past the hour. The 9.15am from Burton Green on a Friday morning was full of chattering ladies going into Coventry to do their weekly food shopping. The alternative shops were at Prior Deram in Canley and Dockers opposite the Peeping Tom pub on Cromwell Lane. Also, Mr Chick who ran the newsagents' in Tile Hill Village brought his small van along Westwood Heath Road every afternoon about 2pm and supplied us with newspapers, magazines, sweets, cigarettes and a small selection of tinned groceries and pet food. Every few weeks the lorry from Chattaways, the hardware store in Balsall Common stopped by, which was fascinating as it had roller shutter sides that revealed household cleaning items and small tools.  Also, a milkman delivered each day except Sunday, Mr Powers brought his large van of fruit and vegetables on a Saturday, Mr Trepass the butcher called bringing his weekly special cuts of meat to each door in a metal bowl, the Co-op baker called twice weekly carrying a large wicker basket from his van to our back doors offering various loaves and cakes (but often the choice was limited as we were the last call on his round) and Miss George who ran a general store in Burnsall Road near Canley Station used to deliver a weekly order on a Tuesday evening. When I was young I had a small metal trolley that I used to 'help' her take the boxes of groceries from her car to about four of the houses and cottages – I am sure she could have done it more quickly without me.


The Cottages

Westwood Cottages
Modern photo
The picturesque front view of the terrace of the four cottages just past St John's church has changed little since my childhood in the 1950s, with the exception of an extension to the first cottage on the left, initially I remember in the early 1980s, to allow the owners to offer bed and breakfast facilities and further changes have been made since then. This particular cottage, where Ada Savage and her two brothers lived until the 1970s used to have an enormous cordon-trained pear tree on their end wall, reaching right up to the eaves of the roof. 

Before the modernisation of the cottages in the 1970s the rear and inside of the cottages were very different to their present layout. Inside, the front door opened directly onto the front living room with its open fire with boxed-in stairs running up the middle of the ground floor dividing it in two, with a kitchen/dining room and pantry to the rear. Upstairs there was a tiny landing and two bedrooms. The cottages were built with a blue brick yard about 8 feet wide which ran the length of the terrace and parallel to this ran the wash-houses, toilets and pig-sties, one for each cottage. There was also a communal bakehouse in the run of washhouses, with a wood or coal-fired range for cooking. However, once electricity had been installed, the cottages each had an electric cooker in their kitchen within the cottage.There was no running water in the cottages themselves but the wash-houses contained a large sink and electricity for plugging in a copper for heating water. All water was taken from a single hand pump in the yard but when the four houses were built next to them in the mid 1930s and a fresh water tap installed across the road, the cottage residents were able to use that.  The toilets to the rear of the wash-houses were not linked to the main sewer so consisted of buckets under two wooden seats with a hole in - one seat being lower for children to sit on. Toilet buckets were emptied weekly by the council on a Friday night at about 9pm. The men arrived in a large tanker with a suction hose to which they took the buckets and returned them to each property again once emptied. None of the residents kept pigs by 1950s but the styes were often used for storing firewood. Running along the back of these wash-houses was a general thoroughfare for the cottages that led out into Featherbed Lane and subsequently Westwood Heath Road. Beyond this were the cottages' very large allotment gardens. 

At this time the residents of the cottages were: No 79 Ada, Bernard and Harold Savage; No 81 Mr and Mrs Drane; No 83 Mr and Mrs Simpson and daughter Dianne and Mrs Gallimore; No 85 Mr and Mrs Davenport and daughter Joan.


The Houses

The houses, which were built approx 1936, had a touch of  Art Deco style about them with a curved end to the downstairs metal front window. As the curved glass became broken over the years the frames were replaced with three more modern tall, thin panes on the end to accommodate the curve. There was a lawned garden at the front of the house with a hedge fronting the road and a ditch running between that and the road. For some reason these hedges used to be home to extraordinarily huge brown hairy spiders that used to throw their webs across the gateway of the shared drive between number 91 where I lived, and number 89, and were particularly noticeable on frosty mornings! The back gardens were about 70ft long which was enough to accommodate a small yard, shed, vegetable patch, flower beds and a lawn.

The entrance at the front of our house opened into a lobby with the stairs running straight up and the door to the front room on the right. We used to keep our everyday coats in the lobby and, as it was the coolest spot in the house and we had no refridgerator, the meat safe (a small homemade wooden cupboard with a fine mesh panel in the door) was placed here in which we kept our meat, and milk which was delivered in bottles each morning. The loft hatch was tiny and situated above the small landing off which were the three bedrooms. Mum and dad had the largest bedroom which spanned the whole width of the house at the front overlooking the road and had an open fireplace faced with a lovely powder blue tile across the corner of the central wall. The larger back bedroom was mine, the windows overlooking the gardens and fields towards Hurst Farm on Bockendon Road. It also had a fireplace but of black cast iron and an open fire was lit when I was unwell and confined to bed with mumps and measles. The third bedroom was a box room where grandma slept when she came to stay. This room overlooked the fields too but was above the big rainwater tank that was situated on top of the coalhouse and outside toilet. As all of the family laundry and personal washing water came from this tank it was essential to maintain it so dad used to climb out of this bedroom window every year and clean the tank in the summer when there wasn't much water lying in it. I used to be very excited at this activity and joined my dad in my wellies sloshing around above the outhouses with mum in the yard looking anxious and telling me to be careful! Our drinking water came from a standpipe in a small wooden hut on the other side of the road and I remember mum and the other ladies taking their large white enamel buckets there to fill them. They all walked very carefully, especially in the winter to make sure they didn't slip over or spill the water. The tap used to freeze in winter so we had to make sure we had enough water until it thawed. I think it was about 1958 when we had mains water taps fitted to our properties although we still used rainwater from the tank for laundry and hair washing. 

Downstairs there was a front room with an open fireplace across the corner, which was only used for visitors and at Christmas when we moved the television in there for about two weeks, making a special event seem even more exciting!  Beyond the front room was what we called the kitchen (approx 11 ft x 11 ft) where we lived as a family, eating, playing cards, board games, darts, knitting, sewing, drawing and watching television. Originally this room had a cast iron hearth across the corner, open fire and ovens for cooking, but in 1950s this was only used as a fireplace as we had an electric cooker in what we called the back kitchen (approx 8ft x 5ft) which we used instead. It was grey enamel and stood on legs, with three solid hotplates on top and a grill underneath and a small oven with a thermometer and dial set on the front which switched between High, Medium and Low so we could regulate the temperature while something was cooking. Alongside this was a Belfast sink with a tap on the water pipe coming down from the tank outside. On the other side of the cooker, at right angles, was a bath with a wooden lid over it which acted as a kitchen worktop and was hinged to lift up and hook back to the wall when we wanted to use the bath. On bathnights or washday (usually Monday), a large heavy copper water heater that was kept in the shed was brought into the kitchen and filled with rainwater from the tap, ladling it in with large saucepans. When the water was hot the sheets and towels were put in, then as the water cooled it was used for our clothes. For bathing, once the water had reached a fairly hot temperature it was ladled out again into the bath. Thankfully the bath did have a normal plughole out into a drain! There was also a separate pantry accessed off the kitchen we lived in, with shelves for crockery and food and a cold concrete tile-topped slab for keeping things cool. A coalhouse and outside toilet were immediately outside the back door. The toilets were of the same arrangement as the cottages (except we were upmarket with a metal seat!) with them being emptied weekly by the Council. In around 1974 the Council offered the opportunity to the houses to have cesspits dug in each of their front gardens, meaning a flushing toilet at last! Some of the houses made their own improvements at this time by having kitchen and bathroom extensions or the small bedroom made into a bathroom. 

At this time residents of the houses were: No 87 Mrs McCoy and daughter Jeanette, No 89 Mrs Taylor, Dennis her brother and children Gloria and John (older son Peter had left home by mid 1950s); No 91 Mr and Mrs Whick and daughter Susan (my family); No 93 Mr and Mrs Eden and daughter Corrinne (the two sons Clive and Colin had left home by 1950s) Mr and Mrs Eden and family had originally lived at No 81 of the cottages until moving to the house at No 93 when first built.


Other properties along Westwood Heath Road

Until 1980s there were two adjoining red brick cottages opposite Gibbet Hill Road standing within  large gardens which used to get flooded when rain was heavy and the stream running alongside it burst its banks. Mr Rogers and his collie dog lived in one of these cottages but they were demolished when Westwood Way was constructed as a link to Westwood Busines Park and Mitchell Avenue. 

On the same side but a little further towards the church was another detached red brick cottage, which still stands and is now run as a Bed and Breakfast. I can't remember the name of the lady who lived there but she made wonderful home made wine from the fruit bushes in the garden.

On the left of the bend on the road leading towards St John's church was the blacksmith's forge, situated on the land of Mr Dawkins who ran a steamroller business from this site until 1960s. The forge was where Mr Duggins and subsequent blacksmiths offered their services. On two of the external red brick walls local children had scratched their initials in the brick, dating back to at least the 1920s. However, quite regularly part of the forge was demolished by a car taking the corner too fast and was rebuilt again, the last time the etched initials being painstakingly restored by the son of  Mr Dawkins. The church wall also suffered a few knocks in this way. When the steamrollers were in service the great rumbling of these machines would be heard coming along the road and children from the houses would often run out to watch them trundle by, giving a wave to Mr Dawkins. In those days the road was so quiet the local children could play tennis or football in the road with plenty of time to gather the ball and get onto the side before an oncoming car passed by. The whole length of the road from Gibbet Hill Road to the houses at the top of Lodge Hill near Cromwell Lane had grass verges and footpaths worn along it with cow parsley and wild flowers growing in the roadside hedges and ditches.

Following on from the cottages and houses on the same side as the church was the gymkhana field where the Tile Hill Riding and Driving Club had its base. I believe it first started in the 1950s and shows were held fortnightly between April and September until the 1990s. Next to this field was the William and Mary Country Club and most of the residents of Westwood Heath were members before and during the Second World War. Houses are now on this site. Next door is Richmond House where Mr and Mrs Witherspoon lived and opposite this was a pair of pebble-dashed semi-detached cottages standing within their own large gardens. I remember Mrs Salmon occupied one, and in the other was Mr Frost who rang the bell for the church on Sundays and for funerals. After being demolished the land on which these cottages stood was used for a business making garden compost for a short while before the land was used for housing. After the pebble-dashed cottages on the right stood a lovely old barn where owls roosted for years until it burnt down one summer in the early 1960s. I remember the smoke billowing up into the air and neighbours being very upset about the loss of the building.

The allotments currently next to Richmond House were created in the1980s from arable land farmed by the Powers family of Hurst Farm on Bockendon Road, as was most of the farmland on the left side of Westwood Heath Road up as far as Bockendon Road.  The sports ground next to the allotments belonged in those days to the Coventry Radiator factory which was located on Sir Henry Parkes Road near to Canley railway station.  

Interspersed with the few dwellings, ameneties and two public footpaths that led through the fields across to Ten Shilling Wood and Park Wood in Canley there were fields all the length of the right hand side of Westwood Heath Road until the large houses at the top of Lodge Hill. This included the land opposite the church that is now playing fields and all were farmed by the Barnett family who lived at Westwood Heath Farm on the right of the brow of the first hill on the bend just before The Westwood Working Men's Club. My dad, Mr Whick, was a founder member of the Club as was Mr Dash from the Post Office who I understand was Treasurer. I remember walking to the club as a youngster with my dad, and while he consumed a quick pint I would wait outside with a bottle of Britvic pineapple juice and a packet of crisps and, along with our dog would sometimes wander around the orchard which was part of the club grounds before the extension to the building was made.  

Standing back from the road next to the club was the headmaster's residence as part of Westwood C of E School. The retired headmaster, Mr Right, lived in this house while those teachers still at the school lived in their private homes locally. During my time at the school Mrs Bull taught the infants, Mr Hancock (also the Headteacher) taught the intermediate class and Mrs Lancaster the juniors. Also, for a few weeks of the year we children would enjoy the novelty of a student teacher from the Coventry College of Education (now part of Warwick University). There were just three classes of children.  The intermediate class used a small room off the entrance hall which I believe used to be the Headmaster's study, and a folding partition in the big main room divided the infants and juniors.  The partition was pushed back for our Christmas party each year and Speech Day when a local dignitary, or for really special occasions the Archbishop of Coventry or Lord Leigh came to present the awards for various achievements. There was a small school office which also doubled as the kitchen where our morning milk and school dinners were delivered to and served from by the dinner ladies Mrs Dash, Mrs Goddard, Mrs Davenport and Mrs Simpson, and in the entrance hall and cloakroom where everyone's coats were hung, there was a large sink where children washed their hands before lunch. The separate boys and girls toilets were at the back of the school outside but there was nowhere to wash hands near to the toilets as far as I recall. I remember in about 1960 being told there were 73 pupils at the school. We had gymnastic apparatus to climb on in the playground in the summer months, played team games outside and learnt country dancing and marching to brass band music, all played on a gramophone in the school kitchen with a large speaker fed out through the window with Mr Hancock giving instruction on a microphone and the other teachers trying to organise us all – wonderful memories! School trips I particularly remember were visiting Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust when it first opened, a trip to Windsor with a boat ride on the Thames, and in about 1964 a trip to Heathrow Airport where we stood outside on a terrace of the main terminal building watching the planes and had a sit down lunch provided of sandwiches, cake and strawberries before having free time in the terminal to explore before heading home - how times change! I enjoyed it so much mum, dad and I went there on a coach trip later that summer!

A small field was next to the school and beyond that stood a pair of red brick semi-detached houses with large gardens. In the first of these lived Mr and Mrs Dash who had a small building next to the house in which they ran the Post Office. Jars of sweets lined the shelves behind the counter which were weighed into a little paper bag for consumption on the way home. Outside their gateway on the road stood a telephone box and postbox. Next door lived Mr and Mrs Rogers and family.

Further along next to these properties as you went up the hill, and still standing today, were a pair of semi-detached pebble-dashed cottages with small front gardens but large gardens to the sides and rear. In the first of these lived Mr Kendall, an elderly man who always wore a trilby. There was a much larger detached red-brick cottage neighbouring these cottages which stood in the centre of its large plot of orchard and allotment garden, then at the top of the hill were a pair of semi-detached red brick houses, each standing in their own large plot of land. I remember the Morris family living in the second of these two houses and I know I went to a child's birthday party in the first house during the late 1950s, but unfortunately I can't remember who lived there.

On the left at the bottom of Lodge Hill, Bockendon Road lead all the way to Kenilworth passing between the fields of Bockendon Grange Farm, the cottages of The Pools, and fields of Hurst Farm and eventually South Hurst Farm on the right just before the beginning of Roughknowles Wood was reached on the left. The road then led through to Crackley Woods and out onto the Kenilworth Road with the turning for Cryfield Grange Road on the left.


Featherbed Lane Bridleway

I would like to also mention Featherbed Lane, running alongside St Johns Church field which is now the car park. Walking along the bridleway from Westwood Heath Road the rear entrance to the cottages is on the right. Immediately opposite on the left is the vicarage, built in the late 1960s. Until then I always remember the whole field at the side of the church was let for grazing horses (mine was kept there from 1966/7 until 1993).  Until 1950s, a little further along on the right, there was a corrugated iron bungalow in an orchard occupied by Mrs Sadgrove, a very elderly lady. When she passed away her son went to live there and built a detached brick bungalow in about 1960. Since then it has been sold on and a larger property built. As the first gateway across the lane was reached there were two caravans on the left, permanently occupied, one either side of the hedge. 

The bridleway then followed a hedgerow between the fields along to the second gateway. Just after the caravans the long narrow field on the left dropped down alongside a pond which appears to still be there, but during the 1980s some of the fields were used for exploratory drilling for potential coal mining in the area and to accommodate the lorries carrying away the excavated soil, the whole of this low-lying field was filled with hardcore and the hedgerow removed. This is why there is a broad hard pathway all the way along the field just after the caravans. Many other hedgerows were also removed from these fields at this time. A second pond where the bridleway turns sharp left was filled in when Warwick University was being built. It was just past here, halfway down the slope on the bridleway that the mining excavations took place. 

At the bottom of the slope where the bridleway goes across the stream, there is a footpath directly ahead across to Hurst Farm. The bridleway turns left following a high hedge and as the first wood, Whitfield Coppice, is approached there were two brick farm labourers' cottages next to a huge oak tree. These cottages were demolished, I believe in the late 1960s or early 1970s – I always wish I had taken a photograph of them. I went to school with some of the children who lived there and remember them wearing wellingtons to school as the path was often very muddy. It must have been dark some evenings when they arrived home in the winter and quite a precarious journey!

The rest of the bridleway went across a field to the end of Roughknowles Wood where an old sheep dip was. This consisted of a cement/stone side to the stream with a bridge across although I never saw it in use. The bridleway wound around the curves of Roughknowles Wood – it was more extensive until the 1980s - passing another pond on the right at the side of the wood and came out on Cryfield Grange Road. There was a field opposite where Hilary Williams ran a riding school until the 1970s. The bridleway continues on across this road and out onto Crackley Lane.

See Also

Memories of Burton Green in the 1950s by Stuart Barratt (includes Westwood School)
Reminiscences of Burton Green by Rick Jowett (includes Westwood School)
Reminiscences of Burton Green by Anthony Richards
Reminiscences of Burton Green by Joan Pulham and Angela Loughran
History of Westwood Heath
Burton Green Local History

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If you also have any memories, or would like to comment on any of this material, you can add your own comments in the comments box just below.

1 comment:

  1. Sue Podmore (nee Whick)13 November 2020 at 20:39

    Thank you for including my article on this site. I have thought for some time that it would be useful to have this bit of history lodged somewhere.

    ReplyDelete