Jill Kashi introduces some of her research with Westwood Heath History Group; they’re looking at the Westwood area, which includes the University campus. Look out for more local history stories from the history group in future editions of our community newsletter.
In 1927, Cecil Neale, former Headmaster of Westwood School, wrote "a few reflections" for The Coventry Herald. He clearly felt the area was at a turning point; the land had been sold by Lord Leigh to the Coventry Corporation and was about to become integrated into the city. "Westwood is in the melting pot," he wrote, "changing visibly almost each month."
He recalls Westwood Heath when he first took up his post in 1881 as:
"…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."
Although then still occupied largely by farmers and agricultural workers, the rural nature of the area with its good connections was already, by the 1920s, beginning to attract professionals who built larger homes at the western end of Westwood Heath Road.
"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."
The Westwood Heath History Group is enjoying uncovering the story of Westwood and its ancient hamlets of Canley, Tile Hill and Fletchamstead. Our projects have covered the history and expansion of the University, Cistercian Grange at Bockendon, links with the Knights Templars and the gruesome tale of the 1765 Gibbeting. We have begun research into the school – now the Greek Orthodox Church – and the Church of St John, as well as looking at local customs, charities and the people at the heart of the community. Current projects include such diverse topics as the life of a locally-born suffragette and land use over the years.
Westwood Heath Road (1960s) - courtesy of Les Parsons
Westwood Heath Road (2019) - copyright Ian Harrop
Throughout the pandemic, we have shared our historical findings with the local community on Facebook and on our website and have established community-based initiatives that reflect the extraordinary times we are living through. From working from home, to home schooling, to clapping for carers… and so much more… we are collecting images and written reflections of lockdown life – the history of the future. Mr Neale might not recognise the Westwood Heath of today, but I’m sure he would see that in spite of all the changes, a community spirit still exists, and how an interest in the past, as well as the present, can bring us together.
I hope to share more aspects of Westwood Heath history over the coming months. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who has memories or old photographs of the area.
Please email me at westwoodheathhistory at gmail dot com.
Jill Kashi, Westwood Heath History Group
Westwood School (1960s) - courtesy of Peter Hancock
Greek Orthodox Church formerly Westwood School (2019) - copyright Ian Harrop
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You can access thousands of primary sources online in the University’s Modern Records Centre (MRC).
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