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Front cover of brochure
21-23 Allesley Old Road

Chapelfields Conservation Area

Transcript from Coventry City Council April 1979 brochure, with updates where needed. 

Introduction

The old watchmaking district of Chapelfields lies 2.4 km (1 miles) west of the City Centre and comprises a highly urban area of terraced houses with a mixture of small shops and commercial premises.  The conservation area is bounded to the north by Allesley Old Road and to the south-east by Hearsall Lane.  It includes just four streets, Craven Street, Mount Street, Lord Street and Duke Street.

The area was developed about 155 years ago as an extension of the established watchmaking area of Spon End. The houses were designed to function both as dwellings and workplaces which, combined with the restrained style of building, represents an area unique in Coventry.

The watchmaking trade, and the ribbon weaving which it superseded, formed the foundation of skills upon which Coventry's present-day prosperity is based.

Designation of the Conservation Area in November 1976 was a recognition of the architectural quality and townscape character, as well as the historical association, of the district.

Historical Development


Decorated front of 8-9 Mount Street

In 1175, Hugh Kevilick, Earl of Chester, founded a Leper Hospital and Chapel dedicated to Saint Mary Magdelen, possibly on the site of the present church at the corner of Sir Thomas White's Road and Hearsall Lane.  It is from this that the name Chapelfields derives since, at this time, the area beyond Spon Gate and the City Wall was open fields.

By the early 19th Century the land was the site of a large nursery, known as 'Weare's Nursery' and owned by Sir Thomas White's charity.  By an Act of Parliament in 1845, the Trustees were empowered to "lay out roads and sell plots by public auction for development".  In 1846, the four streets were laid out and in 1847, the first houses were erected.  Development was quick and by 1849 Chapelfields was an established area of watchmaking, although still surrounded by open countryside.

The period of prosperity lasted until the l890's, although no new building took place after 1860.  The watchmaking industry grouped into larger concerns such as Rotherhams and the Coventry Movement Company, both in Spon Street, and then declined rapidly, although a Mr Alexander of Chapelfields was still describing himself as a watchmaker in the early 1960's.  Chapelfields reverted to a conventional city suburb and much of the physical evidence of its industrial past has been lost.
 

Existing Buildings


Rear extensions at 27 and 29 Allesley Old Road

The form and style of the district reflected three important factors.  Firstly, the watchmakers enjoyed a relatively high standard of living so that the wife often did not need to work herself.  This meant that houses would be bigger with a front garden, and a certain amount of decoration around the doorways, windows and eaves, all features missing from Hillfields ribbonweavers' houses.  Secondly, the trade was divided into many separate operations. 102 are recorded in 1817, and men specialised in watch caps, cases, dials, escapements, gilding etc.  The large room required by a weaver was not necessary here and the lighting requirements were different.  Thirdly, the various groups of master watchmakers, journeymen and employees lived in close proximity and it was possible for a journeyman to progress to the stage of assembling a complete watch and employing workers as the masters did.

The masters' houses are located, with the notable exception of 8-9 Mount Street, in Allesley Old Road, with two and three storey extensions behind.  Numbers 23-29 Allesley Old Road are listed as being of architectural and historic interest.  Particular points of interest are the three storey rear extensions at 21 and 31 (see front cover of brochure, as illustrated at the top of this web page), the fenestration of the rear extension of 49 and the well modernised rear extensions of 27 and 29.
 


'Middleshops' at 13-17 Craven Street

The journeymen's houses comprise the majority of the remainder and feature a workshop at the rear of the house at first floor level with a bedroom above.  These middle shops have mostly disappeared under recent modernisations but can still be seen at the rear of 13-17 and 78 Craven Street, 10 Lord Street and, probably the most obvious example, the Hearsall Inn.


Later rear extension at 78 Craven Street

Examples of an extended journeyman's house are difficult to locate with any certainty, but 78 Craven Street has a surviving middleshop window and an old rear extension, while at 8 Lord Street it is possible to detect newer brickwork and a later style of window lintel where the middleshop window has been filled in.  Other examples have disappeared beneath recent conversions which have not respected the traditional building forms.

Future Developments


Craven Street

 Since the 1970s there has been a gradual shift away from redevelopment-based policies and the designation of the conservation area was intended to ensure that houses were retained and renovated.

It was recognized that the great danger would be that more of the houses' architectural detail would be lost and so, in an attempt to prevent or discourage this, the City Council prepared a leaflet entitled 'Chapelfields: Conservation and the Street Scene', which outlined an approach to modernization that would retain and enhance the character of the area.  The original is out of print, but photocopies may be obtained from the City Development Directorate offices at Civic Centre 4, Much Park Street, Coventry CV1 2PY.

The Chapelfields Area Residents' and Traders' Association (CARTA) has also recently produced a similar, shorter leaflet based upon this document. 

The City Council also prepared the Chapelfields Conservation Area Control Plan, which set out the Council's attitude on development control matters and was applied with similar objectives in mind. Although improvements to the paving and lighting in the area have been carried out in more recent years, the challenge for the future is to educate and encourage local residents and traders to reject those modern forms of 'home improvement' which are damaging to the historic architectural character of their properties.

See also Coventry Watch Museum Project 
 


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