Building the De Montfort – Then & Now

Building the De Montfort
Building the De Montfort

The ‘then’ picture above shows the tower crane in place used for building the De Montfort Hotel, as heralded by an advertising board, which was to open in 1967.

The vacant plot shown right of centre here was once occupied by a house known as ‘The Firs’ which was in itself formerly the site of the Green Dragon inn. This was amongst the cluster of properties destroyed by the November 1940 landmine.

In the foreground of the ‘then’ picture we can see that the bombed out site of properties 1-11 (odd) in Abbey End, including the Globe Inn, which had by the time the photo was taken been cleared for use as a temporary car park. Nowadays, it is used as a lay-by for busses, with the modern rank of Abbey End shops set back from the road behind the camera.

The house just visible behind the trees in the ‘then’ image is called Redwood House on Mulberry Court, and it still stands today. There is a suggestion that the present day structure now contains some timbers salvaged from blitzed buildings in Coventry. Robin Leach points out that its structure does not appear on map from 1925 but is shown on the 1936 map, so its original construction pre-dates the war. 

Thanks: to Norman Stevens and Robin Leach for additional information provided in this text.

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Postcard of The Square – Then & Now

Warwick Road Postcard
Postcard of The Square


UPDATED 19/02/2016: I am very much indebted to the incomparable Robin Leach for correcting the inaccuracies in the previous version of this text.

The ‘then’ image above shows an early 20th Century postcard of The Square, taken from the junction with Station Road and Warwick Road with its equivalent image from December 2015. On the extreme left is a quirky and ramshackle timber framed frontage which had gone by the time later postcards of the scene were produced.

By the 2015 picture much of the left hand side of the picture had been swept away for modern buildings. This stretch is often referred to as being part of Warwick Road but strictly speaking The Square starts at the junction with Station Road. 

Similarly, the three story Kings Head, which is sometimes erroneously listed as having been amongst the buildings on the left of the ‘then’ image that was swept away, is very much alive and kicking. This information came to light in 1974 when a sign painted on the side of a wall “Kings Head, Charles Gill” was uncovered when the building next door was demolished (and the now £1 shop building was put up covering it up again). It was painted on the side of a shop ‘Sew-n-’Sew’, today it is ‘Nails 4  U’. The upper floors of the building is MDM Music. Unfortunately, virtually nothing is known about the inn, and is part of Robin Leach’s as yet unpublished work ‘Former Kenilworth pubs that now have different Uses’ .

In the distance of the ‘then’ image can be seen the ivy clad double bay-windowed buildings which formed the rear side of The Square, before it was destroyed by a combination of road widening in 1932, the November 1940 Luftwaffe parachute mine and the resulting post-war redevelopment. The ‘then’ image can thus be approximately dated by the fact that it shows the clock tower, which was built in 1906, as well as the pre-1932 buildings in The Square.

Today the clock tower is overlooked by the Holiday Inn, which opened in 1967 as the De Montfort Hotel.

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Old Farmhouse on School Lane – Then & Now

Old House School Lane 1964
Old farmhouse on School Lane, 1964

By the mid-1960s the demolition of what were seen as damp and draughty old half-timbered buildings was in full swing. A nation only recently emerging from rationing and austerity was embracing modernity with an alarming disregard for heritage. This then and now pairing shows a ramshackle old farmhouse on School Lane which was swept away in May 1966 in favour of a residential apartment block called Prescelly Court.

According to John Drew in A Manor of the King (The Pleasaunce Press, 1971) “the left hand portion of the house, with its refaced front, was an earlier farm house. The joint building was L-shaped and the rear walls contained a considerable amount of timber framing”.


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February 2016 Newsletter


February 2016 Newsletter

» Last month Dr Nat Alcock in his talk about The Mediæval Peasant House in the Midlands surprised us all as he revealed just how many of these buildings still exist around the country, and how many we have nearby. We are all looking more closely at timber-framed houses now.

» Tonight The AGM, followed by Tom Garner on the History of Photography

» Next month March 14th Kate Christmas will give an account of the “New Place Project” under the aegis of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

» Kenilworth Family History Society 10th February Julie Crawshaw Shakespeare’s New Place: “The House Wherein I Dwell”. 9th March – Paul Handford: Women Ambulance Drivers on the Belgian and French Front in WW1. Meetings 7.30 at Senior Citizens’ Club.

» Warwickshire Local History Society Tuesday 16 February: Dr Kat Iles, ‘The Birmingham Assay Office’; 8pm Tuesday 15 March 2016 AGM 7.15pm NB, followed by Dr Maureen Harris, ‘The “debauched” parson and the “wit-already-expired-rogue”: Warwickshire parish politics, 1660-1720’ 8.00pm, preceded by coffee at 7.30pm, in The Friends’ Meeting House, 39 High Street, Warwick, CV34 4AX

» Kineton Local History Soc. Friday 19 February – Richard III and his rediscovery in Leicester – Richard Buckley All meetings at 7.30pm at Kineton Village Hall

» Warwickshire Geology: All meetings take place at S. Francis’ Church Hall, Warwick Road (Kenilworth main street), Kenilworth CV8 1HL, with coffee at 7pm before a 7.30pm start 17 February Dr Paul Olver (Hereford & Worcester EHT) ‘Minerals, Magmas & Man’

» CADAS: 9th February Title: Hoards, Hounds and Helmets: The story of the Hallaton Treasure Lecturer: Vicky Score 12th April “The Infancy of the Alphabet” Lecturer: Professor Alan Millard All meetings are held at the Friends’ Meeting House, Hill Street, Coventry, at 19:30

» Another, different miscellany of guide books to places all over the country and of various dates are available for sale at the back of the room – 5p each, to the Society’s funds.

What’s Under Your Feet?
A galaxy of rocks, fossils and minerals comes to Kenilworth on Saturday 20 February at the Senior Citizens’ Club 10am until 3pm. Come and see Stunning specimens; Great displays; Learn something about how our Earth has evolved Why is the Warwickshire landscape like it is? Rocks under the microscope; Meet a Geologist & ….. have your rocks, fossils & minerals identified!

The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum wishes to draw our attention to its Spring Programme.
Please contact:

For the Record

The Ford ran on Sunday 7th February. A police car answering an early emergency call negotiated Castle Road and was brought to a halt by the flood. It reversed and went round the Fields to rejoin the road at the bottom of Castle Hill and continued on its way. The driver had not ignored the warning lights: they had failed to come on! It was comforting to see the trusty old red “Road Closed” and “Flood” signs back in position later in the day.


Chairman – 01676 532654;
Secretary – 01926 858670;
Treasurer – 01926 852655;
Vice Chairman & Editor – 01926 858090

Minutes of the Annual General Meeting of Kenilworth History & Archaeology Society

Held on Monday 9th February 2015 at 7.45pm in the Senior Citizens’ Club, Kenilworth. The meeting was chaired by the Society’s Chairman, Jan Cooper

  1. Apologies: Apologies were received from Helen Scott, David and Carol Parker, Geoff Hilton and Roy and Jackie Shearing.
  2. Minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on Monday 10th February 2014: Members each had a printed copy, and, with one typographical correction, the Minutes were adopted by the meeting and signed by the Chairman.
  3. Matters arising from the Minutes: No matters were raised.
  4. Chairman’s Report: The Chairman referred members to her full report in Kenilworth History 2015. She spoke of the need to increase public awareness of the Abbey and the Barn Museum, so that visitors would realise that Kenilworth had other interesting attractions besides the Castle. Two open walks, advertised locally last year, had each attracted over 30 people, and there had also been three specially arranged tours for groups. The Barn would be re-opening on April 5th 2015, and work would be continuing prior to that date on the refurbishment upstairs. Afternoon volunteers would be needed to staff the Barn on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays throughout the summer, and all members were urged to help if possible so that the responsibility did not fall on just a few people.
  5. Treasurer’s Report: Members each had a printed copy of the audited accounts for the year ended 30th November 2014. The Treasurer pointed out that the accounts may appear ‘distorted’ by approximately £5,000 of money which was specifically for Barn refurbishment. He reported also that KHAS had assisted two local organisations by allowing grants that they had been awarded to be channelled through the KHAS bank account. The apparent surplus of £146.91 had been subsequently reduced by a late cheque in the sum of £140 for printing costs, so that we had ended up breaking even for the year. Donations at the Barn were up on the previous year, and ‘Other donations’ arising partly from walks and talks were also higher than the year before. It was proposed to keep subscriptions for 2015 at the same level as previously. The Accounts were formally adopted on a proposal from Betty Sunley, seconded by Cynthia Crick.
  6. Election of Officers: All of the present officers and committee members had indicated their willingness to serve for a further term, and no other nominations had been received by the closing date of 31st January. It was therefore moved that the Committee should continue as at present, on a proposal by Steven Wallsgrove, seconded by Michael Formstone. The Committee for 2015 is as follows: – Chairman – Jan Cooper
     – Vice-Chairman – Norman Stevens
     – Treasurer – Anthony Manning
     – Secretary – Geoff Whiteman
     – Committee Members – Margaret Kane, Barbara Platten, Susan Tyler
  7. Date of the next AGM: The next AGM will be held on Monday, 8th February 2016
  8. Any Other Business:

    Archivist: the Chairman referred to the vacancy advertised in the February Newsletter for an Archivist. All of the KHAS material formerly
    stored in the Library had been transferred to the Barn at short notice, and  although the existing holdings were well-documented, there was a need for someone to deal with and record new donations.Harry Sunley Memorial Project: the death of Richard Morris had dealt a sad blow to this project, but all those involved in it were determined to see it through. The KHAS Committee proposed to pledge a sum of £500 to the project, to be ‘called off’ as and when required, and to be reviewed on an annual basis. The suggestion was adopted on a proposal by Sylvia Wilde, seconded by Celia Rickers.Kenilworth Abbey Advisory Committee: the two KHAS representatives on the Committee were currently David Brock and Norman Stevens. Norman had expressed the wish to stand down, and Philip Stock had agreed to become our second representative in his place.

    Barn Liaison Officer: Ian Fenwick, actively working on the Barn refurbishment, identified a need for someone on the Committee to be
    designated as the Barn Liaison Officer. Margaret Kane had already been providing this link informally and it was agreed that she
    should continue to act in this capacity as a formal arrangement. There being no further business, the meeting closed at 8.00pm.
    Minutes of an Extraordinary General Meeting of Kenilworth History & Archaeology Society, held on Monday 12th October 2015 at 7.45pm in the
    Senior Citizens’ Club, Kenilworth. The meeting was chaired by the Society’s Vice Chairman, Norman Stevens.

  9. Apologies: Apologies were received from Jan Cooper, Sue Tyler and Roy and Jackie Shearing.
  10. Proposal: By way of introduction, the Chairman described how the Harry Sunley Memorial Project was now gaining momentum again, having slowed down following the death of Dr. Richard K Morris. It was proposed in future to run the Abbey Gatehouse in the same way as the Society currently runs the Barn, by means of a licence with Warwick District Council. The existing licence would be extended to include the Gatehouse.
    It was recognised that it would be impossible to find sufficient volunteers to steward the Gatehouse for regular summer opening at the same time as the Barn, but it was intended to make the building and its contents available on request to individuals and groups with specialist interests. The Chairman read out the full terms of the existing licence for the benefit of the meeting, and explained the insurance position. It was
    confirmed that KHAS has an insurance indemnity of £5m. Several questions were asked by members and answered by the Chairman.
    (1) Young people climbing on the roof of the building were a matter for the police and Warwick District Council.
    (2) The security of the Gatehouse building would be maintained at the same standard as for the Barn.
    (3) It was confirmed that the pieces of masonry stored within the Gatehouse were the property of Warwick District Council, and not KHAS. KHAS owns the display stands and related equipment.
  11. Decision: The KHAS members present were asked to indicate their approval of the proposal by a show of hands in favour of it. A further request for a show of hands against the proposal produced no response, and the proposal was therefore declared accepted unanimously.GW 14/10/2015


The Society’s Accounts for 2015

Accounts 2015
Comparison of Income and Expenditure for 2015 with 2014


Receipts & Payments and Balance Sheet 2015
Receipts & Payments and Balance Sheet 2015


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KHAS AGM on February 8th

Dear KHAS Member,

Just to remind you that the Society will be holding its Annual General Meeting on Monday February 8th at 7.45pm in the Senior Citizens’ Club at Abbey End.  This will be followed by a talk from Tom Garner entitled “The History of Photography.”

Senior Citizens Club
Senior Citizens Club

Members are also reminded that Annual Subscriptions fall due at the AGM, at a cost of £10 for individual members and £15 for couples.  Anthony Manning will be pleased to receive subscriptions on Monday, either before or after the meeting.

We look forward to seeing you.

Best regards,

Geoff Whiteman.


Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society (KHAS)

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From the Archives: Anyone for Tennis?

Kenilworth’s role as a royal residence meant that it was often at the centre of events of national and even world importance. A classic example is the story of the insulting gift of a barrel of tennis balls sent to Henry V by the Dauphin, Louis of Viennois during a lull in the Hundred Years War. Henry’s reaction to this insult resulted in the build up to the campaign that culminated in the routing of the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

Shakespeare included the tale in his play Henry V, but did these events really take place just as we are led to believe? Brian Jackson takes up the tale in an article first published in Kenilworth History 2000 / 2001:

Episodes in Kenilworth History No.5 – Anyone for Tennis?

Brian Jackson

King Henry V was fond of Kenilworth. Indeed, after London, Kenilworth – his ‘castellum dilectum de Kenilleworth’ – was the place where he spent a good deal of his time. His manors of Cheylesmore and Plesantmaris were nearby, and as we have seen in the 1996 – 7 edition of ‘Kenilworth History’, to build what we now know as the Pleasaunce he went to a great deal of trouble preparing the ground and draining a noxious marsh.

Henry V
King Henry V, by unknown artist, from the National Portrait Gallery.

It is on record that Henry was in Kenilworth in Lent, 1414. He was much preoccupied with his claim to territories in France and the prospect of marriage with the French princess Katherine. Negotiations were not going well. What followed is a widely told anecdote, most generally known, perhaps, as it appears in Shakespeare’s play, ‘King Henry V’: French Ambassadors arrive and present the King with a mocking gift from the Dauphin, Charles, son of the King of France. The ‘gift’ is blatantly insulting – a barrel full of tennis-balls, together with the message that Henry, well known for his irresponsible youth, might be better employed playing tennis than going to war with grown-ups.

Louis de Guyenne
The Dauphin Louis, Duke of Guyenne (1397 – 1415)

Henry, infuriated, returns the message that the only balls he would send back would be cannon-balls. He declares war forthwith, to begin the famous campaign culminating in the battle of Agincourt in October the following year.

So what was the source of this anecdote, and did it really happen? Shakespeare knew a good dramatic situation when he saw one, but his history is not always entirely reliable. Here he seems to be on well-established ground, taking it straight from the 16th century historical compilation of Raphael Holinshed, who clearly held it as fact, deriving it at several removes from an obscure chronicler known as Otterbourne, who locates it in Kenilworth.

The better known Thomas Elmham, a royal chaplain who was present at the battle of Agincourt, and who died in 1428, tells it as brief plain tale in his chronicle, ‘Liber Metricus’. Elmham firmly puts Henry at Kenilworth on Quadragesima (first Sunday in Lent) 1414, which that year fell on March 12. On the following day negotiations in France came to nothing and Henry’s envoys promptly returned. The tennis balls story follows. Elmham tells us that the Dauphin wrote to Henry extremely mockingly (verba jocosa nimis) and sent him tennis balls from Paris (Parisias pitas misit), which would suit him nicely for the childish games he enjoyed. Henry wrote back promising cannon balls from London that would shatter the roofs of the French and win the match.

But the main authority, John Strecche, a Canon of Kenilworth Priory who became Prior of Brooke, the small Rutland Cell of Kenilworth Priory in 1407 and retired in 1426, tells a much more circumstantial tale. He was something of an anecdotal historian, fond of many a colourful incident, but he was writing about roughly contemporary events, and was on the spot, with an ear cocked for gossip from the Castle.

The Signature of John Strecche
The Signature of John Strecche. canon of the Priory of St Mary, Kenilworth, from 1407 to 1425.

Elmham and Strecche do not appear to have collaborated. The latter’s tale, indeed, contains subtle differences from Elmham’s, and it is worth quoting more fully. He gives some account of the failure of the negotiations with the French over Henry’s proposed marriage (pro matrimonio inter Henricum regem Angelorum et nobilem dominam Katerinam regis francorum filiam) and how they fell short of what the king could honourably accept. He is much more specific about what followed: “These French, blinded by their own arrogance, and careless of the dreadful consequences, vomited forth words of venom (verbis fellis eructantes) to the English envoys.” Then comes the significant difference. The French told the departing English delegation that because Henry was young they WOULD send him tennis balls to play with, and (a nice addition) some soft pillows (pulvinaria mollia) to sleep on to help him grow to manly strength. Interestingly enough, in an early drama, ‘The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth’, which some critics believe to have been a practice run by Shakespeare, these pillows have become a carpet.

When these insults were reported to the king, says Strecche, he was greatly moved: “With words brief, well-chosen, and graceful in form, this is what he said: If God wills, and if I have life and health, within a few short months, I shall play such games with my cannon balls within their streets that the French will curse their mockery, and pay for their wit with tears and lamentations. And if they thought to lie abed with soft pillows, then I, perhaps, before they might have wished it, shall beat on their doors at dawn and rouse them from their dreams.”

Which has a fine patriotic ring, both in the Latin and in translation. This may well be the heart of the matter. In fact, the French ambassadors in Shakespeare’s play did not arrive in England until July, in a late and conciliatory attempt to restart negotiations, certainly without an insulting barrel of tennis  balls, when Henry’s preparations for war were well advanced. It is not unlikely that the whole thing had its origins in a discourteous joke among the French negotiators, was brought back by the English envoys, and grew in the telling, to be seized upon by Strecche and other chroniclers as a piece of ‘true’ anti-French propaganda and an opportunity to display the king’s legendary oratory. Myth? Or fact? Either way the tale is a Kenilworth tale, and a Kenilworth Canon was there when it began.

King Henry V William Shakespeare
The Famous Victories of Henry V Author unknown, poss. early Shakespeare
Chronicles Ralph Holinshed
Liber Metricus Thomas Elmham
Historia Regum Angliae Book V John Strecche
Henry V and the Invasion of France E. P. Jacob, E.U.P. 1947

For more articles like this, a CD containing all back issues of Kenilworth History from 1981 to 2015 can be purchased from the Society for £5. See the link above for more details.

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Kenilworth Castle Aerial View – Then & Now

This pair of aerial photos, from 1947 and 2016 respectively, shows a rare mid-twentieth century aerial view of Kenilworth Castle and its modern day equivalent:

Kenilworth Castle Aerial Photo
Kenilworth Castle Aerial Photo, 1947 and 2016

The ‘then’ photo shows the end cottage on Castle Green before its demolition and behind it stretches a sparsely populated Clinton Lane with very little in the way of modern development in evidence. The rows of Victorian terraced houses down the southern end of Clinton Lane and the cul-de-sac at Avenue Road can be seen but beyond that in 1947 there were mostly open fields all the way up to the junction with Beehive Hill.

East of Avenue Road could be seen the glasshouses of the Castle Nurseries, the site of which is now occupied by Denton Close and De Montfort Road. Beyond lay the open land which is believed to have belonged to the Prior of St Mary’s Priory, hence the modern names of Priorsfield Road and Priorsfield School, the latter of which can just be made out two thirds of the way down Clinton Lane in the modern image. This belief is based on the fact that the name ‘Priorsfield’ appears on James Fish’s estate survey map of 1692 (WRO, CR0143A) which is sufficiently recently after the Dissolution for it to be authentic.

James Fish Map 1692
Section of the James Fish estate map of 1692

In the foreground, of course, is Kenilworth Castle itself. In the 1947 photo it remains relatively un-landscaped. The Elizabethan gardens were not replanted until 1975, and then again in 2009 for their eventual faithful restoration based on more rigorous archæological evidence of the original Tudor layout. The keep looks to have been undergoing repairs, which is an ongoing battle with a 900 year old structure.

Image Credits:

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