The Abbey ‘Barn’ – Then & Now

The Abbey 'Barn' 1963 and 2016
The Abbey ‘Barn’ 1963 and 2016

This shot from 1963 shows the Abbey building known as the ‘barn’, clad in ivy and bathed in the July sun. There appears to be a rickety fence and style between the barn and the stone wall opposite. Other than that, and the loss of a stone cross grave stone head, the scene is relatively timeless and unchanged.

Whilst it is known colloquially as the ‘barn’, we are in fact unsure of what its original purpose was. There have been numerous articles in Kenilworth History over the years debating its construction, whether the upper floor was a later addition and documenting masons marks and the dating by dendrochronology of the roof. The late Harry Sunley wrote a fascinating article in Kenilworth History 2011 entitled “The Barn – A Guest House, a Fish House or what?” in which competing theories of its original purpose were examined.

One such theory was that it was used for drying, salting and storing fish as per a similar known as ‘Fish House’ at Meare in Somerset, a part of Glastonbury Abbey. Harry Sunley summarised that it was probably built by the Prior, Thomas Warmington between 1312 and 1343: “There is a strong case for concluding that the upper floor of the Barn was created in the first instance as a prior’s dining facility, and hence that the lower level was used as a buttery, larder and pantry. Both these were connected to an external kitchen annexe by means of a covered way.”

Whatever its original purpose, the ‘barn’ is now used as the Barn Museum and Heritage Centre to showcase the history of the abbey and the town as well as numerous artefacts and finds.

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Warwick Road Aerial Photo – Then & Now

Warwick Road Aerial Photo, May 1920 and 2016
Warwick Road Aerial Photo, May 1920 and 2016

This fascinating aerial view of Kenilworth is dated May 1920, and was obtained from the absorbing Britain From Above website. To the modern eye this scene is notable for the amount of green space that surrounded the now very much built-up Warwick Road area.

In fact, it takes a while to familiarise yourself with some recognisable landmarks. Running diagonally from top to bottom (north west to south east) is of course Warwick Road with The Square at the top and the clock tower picked out against the dark of the buildings behind it. Running parallel to it on the right is Southbank Road with only a small cluster of properties at the Abbey Hill end, followed by a gap until the Victorian properties on the corner of Station Road. To the right of that is Priory Road with almost no properties on its northern end built at all, although its southern stretch off camera to the right was already well built up by this stage.

Back on Warwick Road, the scene was dominated by the enormous Tannery complex, the site of which today is occupied by Talisman Square. Opposite was Barrow Road running off to the left of the image, again with very few properties yet built on it, which stopped abruptly after 180 yards at the alley way which ran parallel to Warwick Road. Further south, was an open field where Randall Road was as yet to still be built. Right at the bottom of the image the turning for Queens Road can just be seen which, like Barrow Road, ran only for 180 yards to the alley way.

Just visible in the blur in the bottom right of the image was the roof of a building on Waverley Road, leading to the only stretch of Bertie Road that had by then been built. At the time, Bertie Road had yet to be joined up with Station Road and stopped approximately where the Waitrose Carpark now begins, until 1960 when it was completed in length, in the run up to the Talisman Square development completed in 1965.

The half white building just visible above the tannery in Station Road was at this time the town’s cinema, part of which survives as Pomeroy’s. You can read a personal account of a visit to this cinema here: A Visit to Kenilworth Cinema in the Early 20th Century

It’s possible to put some dates to when these roads all appeared. According to Stephen Wallsgrove’s Kenilworth 1086 – 1756 the Warwick Road was laid out in the 12th century as an estate of properties whose tenants owed rent to the lord resident in the Castle, hence it is known as Castle End as opposed to Abbey End.

A number of books can be drawn upon (see sources below) to provide some dates for the other roads listed here. Station Road was built to link the town to the new station built in 1844, and the green fields between the two were still evident even by the time our ‘then’ photo was taken in 1920. Priory Road was built in 1885, necessitating the demolition of the part of the Bowling Green Hotel on Abbey Hill as a result, the remainder being demolished when the Abbey Hoel was built in 1892. Southbank Road was built in 1873, although the northern part is earlier. Waverley Road was built between 1885, the Bertie Road cul-de-sac in 1886, Barrow Road was a new road adopted in September 1900 and Queens Road in October 1900. Randall Road was simply a development of the ancient Monks Path and was built up in the early 20th Century.

The ‘now’ photo is dominated by the 1967 Holiday Inn at the clock tower end, the Talisman Square development which replaced the tannery and opened in 1965 and Waitrose which opened in 2008.

A special thank you to Creeves Aerial Photography (formerly Coventry & Warwickshire Aerial Photography) who very kindly carried out a special commission to produce the ‘now’ photo. Readers with a Facebook account can follow the Creeves page which contains an album of Kenilworth aerial photos as well as photos from all over the local area. Without him this Then & Now would not have been possible! Thanks also to Robin Leach and Graham Gould for some of the additional dates and details in this accompanying text.


  • Kenilworth 1086 – 1756 (Published by S. Wallsgrove, 1991) by Stephen Wallsgrove
  • A Portrait of Kenilworth in Street-Names (Rookfield Publications, 2015) by Geoff Hilton & Robin Leach
  • The Inns and Roads of Kenilworth (Odiboure Press, 2000) by Rob Steward
  • Victorian Kenilworth and its People (Rookfield Publications, 2006) by Robin Leach
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From the Archives – Parliament Piece, Kenilworth – A Metal Detector Survey

The piece of open land known as Parliament Piece, sandwiched between Upper spring Lane and the Coventry Road, is the subject of a bit of local myth and legend.

Parliament Piece from the air
Parliament Piece from the air

One persistent myth is that it is said to be the site where Henry III held a Parliament during the great siege in August 1266. This subject was tackled by Norman Stevens in a Mythbusters article in Kenilworth History 2016. It is considered much more likely that Henry’s parliament took place at the Priory (later Abbey), of which he was patron, and which he had made his base during the siege. The name Parliament Piece is more likely to derive from Cromwellian troops having used this spot as their camp for an assault on the castle that never came, safely out of range of the anticipated Royalist muskets, much later on during the English Civil War (1642–1651) .

Nevertheless, Parliament Piece has had a hugely varied history. Here, Cyril Hobbins takes us on a whistlestop tour of its chequered past via numerous metal detector finds, ranging from the mundane to the bizarre, in an article first published in Kenilworth History 2007 – 2008:

Parliament Piece, Kenilworth

A Metal Detector Survey 1987-1989

Cyril Hobbins (survey undertaken with the kind permission of the late Miss Helen Martin)

During the mid 1980s I was given permission to carry out a full metal detector survey of the land known as Parliament Piece. It was owned by the late Miss Helen Martin, as part of ‘The Spring’. I was to meet this very gracious lady on many occasions during my explorations as she walked her dogs there. She was always very keen to examine and discuss my latest finds.

Parliament Piece was about to be handed over to ‘The Open Spaces Society’ for safe keeping by Miss Martin. She (and they) were very interested in my work: permission to search remained for a year or so after her death. I was in full time employment as a social worker/manager then, so searching was done during any spare time available and in all kinds of weather. I carefully logged my finds on record sheets of my own design (I had no computer then). From them I was able to build up a reasonable idea of area usage over the years.

My metal detector was a (then) top of the range ARADO 120B, a rather heavy and noisy beast that still is an excellent machine for detecting small non-ferrous objects beneath the ground. Many people imagine that a metal detector has the ability to find items at great depth when in fact the range is usually no more than 12 inches (30cm) – not very far below turf roots. Only a strong garden trowel was used for extracting finds and all turf divots were replaced and then heeled in. No deep archæology was ever disturbed: by the next day all traces of my efforts had vanished. My detector was set to discriminate between ferrous metals, silver foil and coke but not enough to ignore modern aluminium can-pulls, the bane of any serious detectorist.

The actual depth that metal objects end up is dependent on many factors: the length of time since deposited, the soil and subsoil types, farming methods, cattle/horse grazing and, surprisingly perhaps, earthworm activity.

The topsoil on Parliament Piece is generally good, in places very gravely with a sandstone base. There is clear evidence of quarrying and possibly gravels extraction. More of this later.

During the three years I discovered that the find spots of many artefacts had a real story to tell, hence this paper. I must add here that I haven’t found the time or permissions fully to explore my findings and I am happy for any follow-up explorations to challenge my theories.

Surmised past uses of Parliament Piece:

The type and positions of groups of finds enabled me to make an educated guess at what different areas of the field were used for. Later, a little research confirmed some of my findings. Sadly (and to my surprise) no ancient or medieval artefacts were discovered anywhere on the land. If there are any, they were beyond the detecting range of my equipment.

Sunday School Medal of Merit
Sunday School Medal of Merit

Area 1, behind the boundary hedges to Upper Spring Lane and Coventry Road: I excavated a series of Sunday school medals, Victorian and Edwardian coins, and odd remnants of corroded jewellery (including one relating to the Wesley brothers) as well as broken spoons and a beautiful silver one Rupee piece. From this I concluded that the corner for some time had been used for Sunday school picnics or open air services.

Area 2, immediately behind the Coventry Road bus stop: Lots of metric and pre-metric coinage, broken bangles, (amazingly) a working wristwatch, corroded lipstick and make-up holders, and a cigarette lighter; all evidence, perhaps, of occasional courting couples.

Area 3, around the rocky depression just in from the Coventry Road end of the Upper Spring Lane boundary: Here I discovered two heavy iron hammer heads, Georgian and Victorian coinage, and odd bits of clay pipe, evidence of men at work. I am inclined to think that this is the remains of a small stone quarry. It would be interesting to know where the excavated stone was used.

Area 4, the central area backing the Coventry Road boundary and up to and along the Gypsy Lane footpath boundary:

A corroded but complete foot patten
A corroded but complete foot patten

An amazing number of very interesting items surfaced here: barrel-tap keys of brass that were once used by farmers to secure cider and beer barrels. A number of Jaws (or Jew’s) harps – small, lyre-shaped instruments, each with a narrow steel spring which produced a twanging note when plucked. I discovered, too, a wide assortment of coinage of the Georgian period including a forged half crown – forging was a crime punishable by deportation or death even then. A corroded but complete foot patten came to light – the oval shape fooled the ferrous discriminator of my equipment. Iron-ring pattens were fixed to strapped wooden soles that buckled on over normal footwear. They kept the wearer above any mud or slurry in the farmyard or dairy – early day Wellingtons, in fact. One mystery item is the shell-shaped scraper, cast from base metal. Detectorists in other parts of the country have found similar items; as far as I know their true use is unknown. From these finds I surmise that a small fair or market may have been held in this area.

Area 5, behind area 4: I discovered evidence of a house. I seem to remember reading that one stood on Parliament Piece, and here I found three Georgian halfpennies fused together by fire, and other coins and tokens of the period. This raises the question of whether the market/fair finds were something to do with the owner/tenant of that building?

Area 6, to the left of area 5 and slightly further behind: I found clear evidence of a soccer pitch that once had metal (tubular) goal-posts; I uncovered all four corroded stumps in situ at each end of the pitch. Further evidence of club activity was obvious when, in one particular spot close to the farther goal, I dug up a whole series of pre-decimal threepenny bits. I can only guess that at this point subscriptions were collected, or refreshments sold, with threepence the going rate.

Area 7, the banks of the water-filled pit or pond – a very common feature of fields used for grazing in this area: Here was evidence of minor hunting and fishing. Finds included lead musket- and pistol-balls, later lead bullets, old and modern shotgun cartridge cases and ends, 0.22 rifle bullet cases, lead weights, a corroded pocket-knife and odd coinage of all periods from 1750 to present day.

Area 8, is what remains of the field, mainly towards the back, close to the existing cottage, and in between and surrounding all the other areas:

Here I uncovered the usual scattering of things that a metal detector finds: mixed coinage, lead musket- and pistol-balls, odd buckles both from clothing and harness but in no particular pattern that might point to a particular use. Perhaps the most significant of these finds were those clearly from the Second World War. Bullets, all for the army issue rifle, the ‘point 303′ Lee Enfield. To my amazement I discovered three live rounds of this ammunition! Following safety procedures, I took them for safe disposal to the Police Station where I had to sign a firearms certificate declaration! The discovery of the ammunition points perhaps to regular soldiers training a local Home Guard contingent.

Wartime Finds
Wartime Finds

Chunks of jagged shrapnel from the Anti Aircraft guns that helped defend Coventry and the surrounding area are a common find on local land. Parliament Piece was no exception. The business end of each shell was designed to burst into red-hot jagged pieces at a pre-set height; found chunks have a distinctive chocolate-bar pattern that helped them break up. Many pieces have clear evidence of manufacture, and type and height-setting figures. I have collected verbal evidence that red-hot shrapnel like this rained down in quantity during raids. Little wonder that steel helmets were issued to all personnel!

One small area of ground off Upper Spring Lane proved to be beyond my equipment’s capabilities because of the mass of ferrous metal such as buried roofing sheets, farm machinery and even an old car.

This fascinating and wide-ranging collection of artefacts gives a real insight into the past uses of Parliament Piece but, sadly, not the mediæval evidence expected by myself or Miss Martin when I started.

Detectorists can and do find mediæval items not far below the turf on other sites. Worm activity and farming bring them close to the surface after long burial. I have a good collection of Roman and mediæval artefacts in my collection, all officially recorded, and all found locally, with permission, but regrettably nothing from this survey.

The survey continued for a time after Parliament Piece was taken over by the Open Spaces Society, but despite many letters and appeals their blanket ban on metal detecting eventually prevented further work. I should stress, however, that no damage was done to Parliament Piece during my survey: as I remarked above, a garden trowel only was used for any digging, all divots were heeled in after a find was extracted and recorded, and, by the next day, hardly any trace of my work could be seen.

I presented the whole collection to the KHAS just after the ‘Barn’ Museum was opened, and it is there still for all to see.


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May 2016 Newsletter


» Last Month: Last month Roy Smart gave us an entertaining account of the colourful life of The Last Naval Hero: David, 1st Earl Beatty, in which he incorporated a musical interlude and finale. In contrast, Roy’s statistics concerning the number of British ships and British lives lost at the Battle of Jutland brought a very sobering note to the proceedings.
» Tonight: We are privileged to welcome Dr Richard Buckley of Leicester University who has been a lead figure in the whole of the “Richard III Project”, from its earliest days.
» Next month June 13th: David Snowden of our associated Society at Evesham is offering – “Riding the tiger”: the Life and Death of Simon de Montfort. Expect an excellent evening.
» Kenilworth Civic Society AGM followed by Paul Garrison who will give details of the events planned to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the Great Siege. 7.30 pm Tuesday 17th May, Senior Citizens’ Club.
» Kenilworth Family History Society Meetings 7.30 at Senior Citizens’ Club. 11 May Mike Sharpe: Writing Your Family History. 8 June Members’ outing: Visit to Warwick Yeomanry Museum
» Warwickshire Local History Society. May 14th: Visit to Farnborough Hall and Grounds, led by Stephen Was. Saturday 11 June 2016 A visit to Southam including the fabulous Heritage Collection, a walk around the town, a look at the latest history exhibition and tea.
» Warwickshire Industrial Archæology Society: 12th May Anthony Coulls on The London Water and Steam Museum Pyne Room (Warwick School, Myton Road, Warwick) 7.30


Your Society is privileged to send a representative to Warwick District Council’s Planning Forum. In the past this has been your Vice-Chairman, but now, without personal transport, he is finding the evening meetings in the Town Hall too arduous. The Society is therefore looking for a member to take his place, so that our concerns regarding Kenilworth’s historic environment may be expressed when necessary. One is rarely required to contribute, but there are occasions when it is vital to make a point – it’s important that we are there to do that. Volunteers, please, to the Chairman as soon as possible.

Making ‘The Barn Museum and Heritage Centre’ accessible to the public.

Last month’s appeal for Members’ help bore some fruit, but there is still a need for more. Please contact Michael Formstone or Margaret Kane on 864624, and give just two hours a year! If the weather stays like this, you’ll be grateful for a comfortable environment in which to spend your Sunday afternoon!

Website and Useful Links

It’s good to report that our own Website is attracting a lot of visitors, some of them being directed there from social sites. We are, hopefully, broadening our appeal as people become aware of us. It seems appropriate, then, to draw Members’ attention to other websites that may help their researches, or feed their interests.

  • A recently overhauled website that is certainly going to have a lot of interest is that of the Museum of London. It gets a five star rating in a leading magazine, and is described as “gorgeous”! Try You can actually browse through the galleries (as you can now with the BM).
  • Historic England (a hived-off part of English Heritage) has a huge archive. This is what you do: Visit Choose “Advanced Search”. Choose
    a “County/Unitary Authority”, and narrow the search to a parish. If you only want to see results with images, tick the “only records with online images” or you’ll get a
    string of references. If you want the references, of course, don’t tick the box!

A message from the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum: “Please find below links to our events for the Summer Term which may be of interest to your members. We have a range of courses including a real archaeological dig at the Lunt Roman Fort, Egyptian Mummies, Practical Art Workshops, Degas and performance in Art and Women’s
Costume of the Early 19th Century.”

The Secretary reports: I’ve been contacted by Andante Tours, wishing to draw our attention to the range of tours they offer on historical themes. Details are available at: and (Ed: tempted to ask if you travel in an Allegro: you would get there more quickly, perhaps!)


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

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Talisman Square, mid 1960s – Then & Now

Talisman Square, mid-1960s
Talisman Square, mid-1960s

Talisman square, mid 1960s and again in May 2016. The ‘then’ picture shows the footbridge being built between the offices built above the north and south sides of the square as part of the ‘walkway in the sky’ concept that developers of the 1950s were so fond of. The bridge was removed in the early 2000s.

In the ‘then’ image we can also see Bishops supermarket, prior to its relocation to Station Road, which would in turn be replaced by Budgens and then Wilkos. The former Bishops plot in Talisman Square subsequently became occupied by Boots the Chemist.

In the ‘now’ picture, phase 1 of Talisman Square’s modernisation has been completed by extending forward the Boots store to give it a larger retail footprint. To achieve this, a red brick extension was added to the front of the Boots store. A new white Joe Richards greengrocer’s store was built out into the middle of the square at around the same time.

Phase 2 of the square’s redevelopment was delayed following the economic slowdown of 2004. When completed, it will add extra retail units on the right of the picture in line with the wooden fence which currently marks out a temporary car park, utilising the space left by the demolished 1960s north side of Talisman Square. The final Talisman ‘Square’ will be more of a corridor arrangement, which has met with a mixed reception from local commentators.

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De Montfort Hotel – Then & Now

De Montfort
The De Montfort hotel nearing completion in 1967

The De Montfort Hotel (now the Holiday Inn) opened in 1967, occupying part of the site destroyed by the landmine of the 21st November 1940.  Historically,  the Square had been more of an intimate affair, comprising a cozy triangular area enclosed by low rise buildings on all sides. The ‘then’ picture shows that at this time the clock tower was enclosed in a triangular traffic island, with a larger circular roundabout behind where previously Number 2 The Square, which survived the 1940 landmine, had stood.

The clock tower dates from 1906 and was presented to the town by George Marshall Turner, the proprietor of a large drapery emporium in Birmingham. The crown on top of the clock tower, which was declared unsafe and dismantled following the devastation caused by the 1940 landmine, was replaced in 1973.

James Fish’s 1692 map of Kenilworth show the remains of a market cross at this spot.

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