The Clock Tower – Then & Now

The Clock Tower, 1906
The Clock Tower, 1906

This unusual postcard, dated 1906, shows the clock tower in The Square during its construction. The scaffolding and hoardings are still in place, the stonework appears to have been completed but the clock faces and weather vane are yet to be added.

In the background we can see the buildings of Abbey End as they appeared before they were destroyed in the blitz of November 1941. According to the 1939 Kelly’s Directory listings quoted by Robin Leach’s WWII website these included A & F Hanson, Music dealers; Daniels, Trustam and Ward, Dentists, Gilbert Morgan, Wine & spirit merchant and Arthur J Cooke, Grocer just shortly before their destruction.

Robin Leach’s book Kenilworth People & Places vol 1 (Rookfield Publications, 2011) contains a detailed account of how George Marshall Turner, a wealthy local owner of a successful Birmingham based drapery business, became a benefactor to the town. He funded the construction of the clock tower in memory of his late wife.  The finished clock tower was unveiled in January 1907.

Following the destruction caused by the Luftwaffe parachute mine in November 1941 the crown of the clock tower was deemed unsafe, and was pulled down using the local fire ladder.

In its damaged form, the continued existence of the clock tower was by no means assured, despite its status as a local landmark from which buses would leave and under which meetings would be arranged. KHAS newsletter no. 26 from 1967 records how even the Society was split over its future: “Firstly, the Clock Tower. Before it was decided to defer the decision with regard to its future, the matter was discussed by the Committee. It was thought that the view of the Society was unlikely to be unanimous. This was tested at the next meeting, July 17th , when without prior discussion, I asked for a show of hands. Of those who voted, 14 were in favour of the Clock staying, and 7 in favour of it going. Unless there is a later change of heart either way, we will not be able to present a united view. I should add that there is no special reason why we should.”

Thankfully, the clock tower was restored. In 1973 the stone crown was reinstated and in 1974 a local blacksmith constructed a replacement weather vane.

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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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The Clock Tower Post-War – Then & Now

Clock Tower, early 1960s
Clock Tower, early 1960s

The Square, early 1960s and in December 2015. At first glance, little has changed between the two images. However, a handful of the buildings on the left of the clock tower survived the landmine of November 1940 before being cleared for the post-war Abbey End redevelopment, as shown in the modern image.

Up until the early 1960s, The Square still comprised a triangular arrangement closely huddled around the Clock Tower, but in the extreme left of the ‘then’ image we can see that the wall surrounding the plot that then contained Number 2  The Square, which has since been cleared in favour of a roundabout, thereby losing much of the original close knit feel of the original Square.

On the right, a clump of trees which once flanked Lord Leycester’s Lodge are still very much in evidence in the 1950s scene, but gone from the modern picture. An eerie photo of the bomb damaged Square, including the lodge prior to its collapse and demolition, can be found here.

Thankfully, the crown of the clock tower, rendered unsafe by the 1940 landmine and removed, was restored to its former glory in 1973.

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The Square, Early 1960s – Then & Now

The Square, early 1960s
The Square, early 1960s

The Square, early 1960s. Where the roundabout now stands once stood an elegant building with grand bay-windows, which can be seen on many a postcard of the Square from before the turn of the century. The ‘then’ image above shows its somewhat truncated state in the early late 1960s, following a number of enforced reductions in its size as explained below, shortly before its final demolition.

The right hand side of the building was demolished in 1932 as part of the Abbey End road widening scheme, leaving only the left hand side, minus the upper floor, which survived the war and became Dudley Taylor’s chemist’s shop. Ultimately it gave way to the utilitarian traffic management schemes of the 1960s and now the Square is a somewhat windswept and characterless shadow of its former self, dominated by the towering Holiday Inn.

More information on the tragic fate of The Square and Abbey End can, as ever, be found on Robin Leach’s excellent WWII website:

 

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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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