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Front cover of brochure

Spon Street Conservation Area

Transcript of extracts from Coventry City Council "Spon Street Townscape Scheme" 1993 brochure, and "Coventry City Centre Trail" 1993 (reprinted 2000) brochure.   Updates have been included where needed.   The full A4 12 page "Spon Street Townscape Scheme"brochure has much more detail on both history and current status, and the A5 18 page  brochure covers in total around 60 of the most important buildings and sites.

Introduction

The Spon Street Conservation Area was declared on 8 August 1969.  In addition to the buildings described in the booklet, it includes St. John's Church (grade A), Bond's Hospital (grade II*), old Bablake School (grade I), and the Coventry School Former Pupils' Association Headquarters (locally listed).  A proposed extension will enlarge its area to include 'topshops' at 13-29 Lower Holyhead Road, 34-44 Hill Street, 1 and 2 Ryley Street (all grade II) and 31 Hill Street (locally listed).  Most of these buildings are described in the 'Coventry City Centre Trail', produced by Coventry City Development Directorate.

The rest of this web-page outlines history, and briefly lists the buildings.  Pictures of all the Spon Street buildings are reproduced in separate web-pages (which open in new windows so you can read text below as you view the pictures) showing  South or North side panoramas - only a selection is used with the text below.  A glossary page is also reproduced, explaining some of the more technical or obsolete terms. The first occurrence of such words in the text is marked by an asterisk (*).


Spon Street Nos 1 & 2

Historical Background

By the 14th century, the street pattern in Coventry had been established in a layout which altered little for nearly 600 years.  One of its most striking features was the west to east axial road running for nearly 1 miles from Spon to Gosford Green.  Spon End and Spon Street formed the western section of this route.  The first documentary evidence of the street is in the late 12th century when it was known as 'Vicus Sponnet', 'Sponn', or 'Spanne'. By this time or the early 13th century there were bars* in Spon Street to the west of the later Spon Gate, probably at the end of the modern Barras Lane, with ten or more tenements* lying between the bars and the gate site.  Spon or Bablake Gate was built soon after 1391 with stone from Cheylesmore Park, and survived until 1771.  It was one of twelve gates on the town's defensive wall.  In 1410-11 Spon Street stretched from Smithford Bridge out as far as the old leper hospital, near the junction of the present Allesley Old Road and Hearsall Lane.  By then the portion outside the city wall was developing as the suburb of Spon, one of four or more such medieval suburbs outside the gates.
   


Spon Street Nos 20-21

In the 12th and 13th centuries many dyers and tanners plied their trades in Spon Street because their noxious work required them to be on the outskirts of the town and near to a source of running water.  Deeds and other records of the time show that there were also combers*, fullers*, weavers, cordwainers*, saddlers, plumbers, smiths, carpenters and carters in the street and there are references to a capper, cloth dresser, woader*, salter*, cobbler, fletcher*, apothecary and physician.  Records of the 14th and 15th centuries mention only dyers, tanners, whittawers* and carriers in Spon Street.  By the 19th century the balance had shifted away from the cloth and leather trades to watchmaking.  At the 1851 census, the Spon district was given over almost exclusively to one or other branch of the watchmaker's craft.  There were as many as 137 households in Spon Street alone involved in this trade.
 


Spon Street Nos 167-169 - 167 was first to be restored in 1969-70

 In 1812, Spon Street was one of six city streets to be turnpiked (improved as a toll road).  The construction of Lower Holyhead Road in 1827-30 relieved the street from its longstanding role as a major route out of the city.  During the 19th century the open land both to the north and south of the street was gradually built up.  By the beginning of the present century most of the houses were in use as particularly towards the city centre.  The street escaped major destruction during the bombing raids of 1940 and 1941, but after the war, in the 1950s and '60s, major changes took place with the redevelopment of the Spon End district and the construction of the inner ring road.  Most of the surviving medieval houses along the western and central sections of the street were demolished and replaced by modern flats.  By the mid l960s, however, there was growing concern about the disappearance of historic timber-framed houses in the city centre through wartime damage and redevelopment.  It was decided to preserve the best of the remaining buildings in that part of the street lying between St. John's Church and the ring road and to reconstruct there timber-framed buildings which had been, or would be, dismantled from other sites.  The original scheme was launched in 1967 and proposed relocating buildings from Gosford Street, Far Gosford Street, Jordan Well and Much Park Street, as well as from other parts of Spon Street itself and Spon End.  By 1972, however, the threat to buildings in Spon End and Far Gosford Street had lifted, while some other buildings had been demolished as unsafe, or found to be incapable of adequate reconstruction.  Eventually only properties in Much Park Street and western/central Spon Street were allocated for re-erection in the Spon Street Townscape Scheme.
 


Spon Street Nos 9-12 - 9  was first to be relocated in 1972

The first building restored in the street was no.169, in 1969-70, soon after the declaration of the Spon Street Conservation Area in August 1969.  The first relocated building was no. 9, formerly no. 7 Much Park Street, its restoration completed in June 1972.  The scheme is now nearing completion, with some twelve buildings having been restored in situ, and ten re-erected from other sites.  Spon Street as a result contains one of the most important groupings of medieval timber-framed buildings in the country.  Provision has been made to accommodate an additional block should funds become available in the future.  There has been a change in attitude, in more recent years, to the policy of moving buildings from their original sites and re-erecting them elsewhere, as to do so inevitably separates them from their archaeological and historical context.  It also necessitates a greater amount of replacement of the existing fabric than is the case with an in-situ restoration.  Today, the street provides both a 'living museum' of Coventry's vernacular architectural heritage and an attractive environment for specialized shopping.  The Spon Street shops offer a good range of gifts, arts and crafts, leisure items, clothes, audio equipment and electrical goods, and there are several good eating places and pubs.
 

Listed Buildings

Most of the buildings in Spon Street are statutorily listed, and some are on the 'Local List'.  Buildings qualify for the statutory (government) list by being defined as having special architectural or historic interest.  This selection is made by the central government Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), to which anyone can apply to have a budding listed.  Although Coventry City Council does not compile the statutory list, it has extensive powers under listed building legislation and, in particular, when dealing with applications to demolish (all or part), extend or alter such buildings.  Such works require 'Listed Building Consent'.  There are 31 statutorily listed buildings in the Spon Street Townscape Scheme (including St. John's Church).

The 'Local List' is compiled by Coventry City Council, recognizing that there are buildings in the city which may not meet the criteria for the statutory list, but nevertheless have local architectural and historic interest.  There are 8 locally listed buildings in the Spon Street Townscape Scheme.

The Pictures of all the Spon Street buildings reproduced in separate web-pages showing  South or North side panoramas illustrate all the pre-1910 buildings in Spon Street (the south and north sides respectively) in strip format.  The illustrations are numbered to correspond with the brief descriptions of the buildings below, and the full descriptions in the body of the booklet.  The booklet also shows many more black and white photos of the buildings in their unrestored state.
 


54-55 Spon Street on their original site, c. 1968

South Side of Spon Street

1 & 2 (formerly 54-57) locally listed
No. 1: early to mid 15th c.   No. 2 mid to late 15th c.  Dismantled 1973-4 and re-erected on this site, as two units, between December 1988 and January 1990.

9 (formerly 7, Much Park Street) listed, grade II
Late 15th or early 16th c.  Dismantled June-August 1970 and reconstructed here March 1971-June 1972, on the site of the 'Old Plough Inn'.

10  listed, grade II
Early 15th c. (front wing) and 17th c. (rear wing).  Original site.

11 & 12  Listed, grade II
Mid 14th century. Original site.

13  Unlisted
Probably of the later 19th century.
 


14 Spon Street as 'The recruiting Sergeant', c. 1900

14 & 15 Tudor House   Listed, grade II
Mid to late 15th century? Restored 1977 and 1985.

16 (Formerly 142 & 143 Spon Street)  Listed, grade II
Around 1700. Dismantled 1971 and reconstruction on this site completed October 1974.

(16a and) 17  Listed, grade II
Probably 17th c., altered in 18th to 20th centuries. Original site.

18 Shakespeare P.H.  With the rear wing of no.18, and 22, 23, 24 of Court no.7, locally listed.
Appears to be of the 19th century (like the court behind it), with a 20th-century front wall, but it is possible that further investigation might reveal the incorporation of some earlier fabric.


Court 7 Nos 22, 23, 24, c. 2005 : photo Peter Naul

Court no 7 - 22, 23 and 24 
  Locally listed.
Proposed location of Coventry Watch Museum.  The cottages are the only remaining part of the Court and it is believed that this is the only surviving court in Coventry.  The courts were once a very common part of the Coventry scene, occurring at frequent intervals along all the principal roads, but disappeared en masse during the great slum clearances of the 1950s and 1960s.  They were thrown up in large numbers with some haste (and little thought for quality or hygiene) during the local Industrial Revolution, to house workers who were flocking into the city to work in the cycle and other machinery trades.  Because the city was surrounded by Lammas and Michaelmas lands and other private lands not available for development, the only place to erect new housing was in the long back gardens of old property on the principal streets.  See also Coventry Watch Museum Project 

(20 and) 21 (Formerly 122-3 Much Park Street)  Locally listed.
Mid 16th c. (front block) and mid 15th c. (rear block).  Dismantled and re-erected on this site c. 1982-84.

22 (and 23) Old Windmill P.H.  ('Ma Brown's')  Listed, grade II
16th c. or earlier. Original site.

26, 27, 28 Former Rotherham's Offices  Listed, grade II
The central part of this block is 18th century and the later flanking parts occupy the site of earlier houses.
 

North Side of Spon Street


Nos 159-162 Spon Street as they appeared in 1963

159-162 Listed, grade II
Early-mid 15th c. Restored 1984-85.

163 and 164 (Formerly 8,9 and 10 Much Park Street)  Listed, grade II.
First half of 15th c. Dismantled 1971 and rebuilding on this site completed by summer 1974.

166   Listed, grade II.
1st half of 15th c.  Front block remodeled in 19th c., including shopfront. Restored 19 76-8.

167   Listed, grade II.
16th or possibly 15th c. Restored in situ, along with 168, in 1980-81. 

168  Listed, grade II.
Probably 15th c.  Restoration: see at no. 167.


166-168 Spon Street, c. 1968

169  Listed, grade II
14th c.  First building restored for Townscape Scheme, Spring 1969-Summer 1970.

171 and 172  Listed, grade II.
Probably 15th or 16th c. Unrestored.

180 and 181 Rising Sun P.H.  Unlisted.
1896, replacing earlier building.

182 Fairfax House  Unlisted.
Built in 1901 on the site of Fairfax's Charity School, which was founded by gift of Samuel Fairfax in 1751.

184  Unlisted.
This building dates from 1909 (see datestone on corner pediment).

188-190  listed, grade II
Late 18th or early 19th c., altered.  Restored in situ in 1988.
 
  

Beyond Spon Street

St John's Church

St John's Church was built on land granted by Queen Isabella in 1344 to the Guild of St John the Baptist to build a chapel.  This was enlarged to its present size through the 14th and 15th centuries.  The church also served Bablake College, a community of priests, whose buildings lay immediately to the north.  The College was dissolved in 1548 and the church fell into disuse.  In 1648 during the Civil War Scottish prisoners were housed in and about the church.  It is said that the unfriendly attitude of Coventrians gave rise to the saying 'sent to Coventry', that is, to be ignored or treated coldly.  Eventually in 1734 the church, although ruinous, was given a parish based on the Spon Street area.  There were major restorations by George Gilbert Scott in 1858-61 and 1875-77.

For picture, see far right end of North side panorama
 


Old Bablake School & Bond's Hospital, Hill Street - Jan-2002

Old Bablake School, Hill Street

The school was founded in 1560 for the education of poor boys, using the east range of the dissolved Bablake College (see St John's Church), which was remodeled but not entirely rebuilt.  The central part of the building still contains a hall open to the roof, more typical of 14th and 15th century accommodation. The street side is all jettied, although the section above the sandstone projection, which corresponds to the hall, carries only an internal gallery and not a complete floor.  The west side, facing the quadrangle, has a two storey external gallery with an entrance porch and 19th century wing. In 1890 the school moved to its present site on Coundon Road.

Hill Street Gate

The site of Hill Street Gate has been marked at the junction of Hill Street and Bond Street.  It was 'made new' after 1423 and demolished in the late 18th century (see plaque).

Bond's Hospital, Hill Street

These almshouses were founded under the will of Thomas Bond (d.1506) to accommodate 10 men.  They faced the quadrangle of Bablake College with the town wall at their rear.  Most striking is the profusion of 'close-studded' timbering, designed to display wealth and status.  The building was enlarged in 1816, and extensively restored in 1832-4 and 1846-7 by Rickman and Hutchinson.  The Hill Street frontage was extended over the town wall, which was demolished.  Today the almshouses still provide a modern equivalent - a sheltered home for the elderly.


 

   
31 Hill Street - rear wing - Feb-2002

       
31 Hill Street -Front

31 Hill Street

31 Hill Street has a watchmaker's workshop, with the typical long window, in its rear wing, clearly visible from the adjacent Bond Street car park. It dates from c.1890-1905.

[Note: the "rear view" photo was taken in February 2002, then edited to replace the warehouse in the background by "white sky".  Since then a new building has been constructed in front as 29 Hill Street, so this photo could not be taken today.  The rear can still be seen by looking down the driveway/passage between 29 and 31, but at a very different angle.]
   


Two storey Topshops - 34-42 Hill Street - Jan-2002


Eden Restaurant and Bar Eden , 1-2 Ryley Street, off Hill Street - Jan-2004

'Topshops' Nos. 34-44 Hill Street & 1-2 Ryley Street

This row may represent early 'top shops', where workshops were situated on the first floor, hence the large windows.  Bedrooms were probably in the attic, which had to be lit by dormer windows and the roof was steeply pitched to provide headroom.  Contemporary maps show that they were built between 1807 and 1837.  The arrangement may have proved awkward and the 3-storey 'top shop' with living accommodation on the ground and first floors and the workshop above became the norm (see 'Top Shops', Lower Holyhead Road below).

 

 

 

1-2 Ryley Street is now called the "Eden Restaurant and Bar Eden".
 


Three storey Topshops - 13-29 Lower Holyhead Road - Jan-2002

'Top Shops', Lower Holyhead Road

This row of 'top shops' has been reduced by half from the original eighteen.  They are characteristic of 19th-century industrial buildings in Coventry, but few examples remain.  After a long period of economic decline Coventry's revival began in the mid 18th century with the introduction of watchmaking and silk ribbon weaving.  These industries were small in scale with workshops built as an upper storey of a dwelling.  The typically large windows allowed for maximum daylight.  The 'top shops' here date from 1819 and the row was completed by 1837.

The missing half of the row was demolished to make way for the construction of the Inner Ring Road, in late 1964 or early 1965. They are all listed, grade II, Nos. 25-29 being added to the list in 1972 and the rest of the row in 1982.
 


Town Wall Tavern, Bond Street Road - Jan-2002

Town Wall Tavern

The Town Wall Tavern at 25/26 Bond Street has been much altered, but appears on the 1851 Board of Health map.  It is well named, as Bond Street follows the line of the old town wall and was once actually called "Town Wall".  The wall used to run through what is now the 1830s extension to Bond's Hospital.
  

More Information?

'Heritage Open Days' leaflets are available on the Bablake / Bond's quadrangle and on St. John's Church.
 

Credits

PICTURE CREDITS

Colour illustrations are the work of Phil Kenning of Kenning Illustration and Creative Design.

Colour photos by Peter Page

Black and white photographs courtesy of the following:
    Coventry City Council, City Development Directorate.
    Coventry Evening Telegraph.
    Local Studies Library, Coventry City Libraries.
    RCHME (Crown Copyright)
    P.W. & L. Thompson (R. G. Bailey).
    Bernard Male

MAIN CREDITS

The guide on which this is based was researched and written by
Mark Singlehurst and George Demidowicz of Civic Design, City Planning Services.
For further information, first consult the full brochure.  For further information still, please contact the above at the
Tower Block, Much Park Street, Coventry CV1 2PY.
Telephone: (024) 7683 1263/5.

See also Coventry Watch Museum Project 


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