An Area History: a development by the Coventry Benefit and Freehold Building Society




The first four decades of the nineteenth century saw rapid development in the silk ribbon industry, the staple industry of Coventry.  The population of the city almost doubled from 16,049 in 1801 to 30,781 in 1841.  The gardens and orchards of the detached houses in Coventry, an area largely enclosed by the line of the old city walls, were filled by housing and workshops.  The spacious gardens of the medieval houses and the dignified eighteenth century detached houses became the narrow, dark and congested courts of the slums.  Mr William Ranger, a Superintendent Inspector of the General Board of Health, investigated the state of health in Coventry in 1849 and found the majority of the labouring population lived and worked in confined and ill-ventilated conditions.  Few houses had a clean water supply or adequate sewage system. Scarlet fever, typhus, measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis and diarrhoea were endemic, and cholera visited the city in 1831/32, 1848/9, 1854 and 1866.





Many of the superior artisans were desperate to move their families and businesses out of the city and away from the appalling housing and working conditions.  Membership of a Freehold Land Society offered the superior artisan an opportunity to move into their own house perhaps with a workshop attached.  The Freehold Land Society developed six sites in Coventry in the middle of the nineteenth century:  Freehold Street purchased in 1848 with twenty nine plots; Upper Stoke with 258 plots; Red Lane; the Lants Estate; Earlsdon with 251 plots in 1852 and Spittlemoor in 1855.  The size and layout of Upper Stoke and Earlsdon were similar, and both sites were outside the City boundary at that time.



The 251 plots of the Earlsdon estate were laid out in eight streets – Earlsdon Street, Moor Street, Cromwell Street (now Berkeley Road South), Arden Street, Warwick Street, Clarendon Street, Providence Street and Earlsdon Avenue South.  These eight streets still form the core of Earlsdon and Zone One on the map included in this document.  Each zone was developed during a different time: Zone One from 1852, Zone Two from 1891, Zone Three from 1897, Zone Four from 1903, although Albany Road was started in 1898, and Zone Five from 1910.  The exception in Zone 5 was Dalton Road where the terrace backing onto the Bishop’s residence was built in 1897.  In each zone the changing styles of architecture and the street scene reflected the changes in the organisation of the building industry and the market for which the housing was developed.  During this period the building industry changed from one dominated by the self employed master craftsman to one dominated by large firms of building contractors; and the market from one in which a house or pair of houses was built for an owner occupier and tenant to one in which a terrace of houses was built for a landlord.  Each zone reflects the popular architectural style of the period during which it was developed.  The socio-economic background of residents was and remains that of the skilled artisan, the owner of small business, middle management, professional class and retired.  The five zones form a unified area and a lasting testimony to the building skills of our Victorian and Edwardian forefathers.  The zones portray in architecture, bricks and mortar the history of the building industry and its market from the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.  The five zones are a physical demonstration of the history of urban housing for the respectable working class and lower middle class of England.


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