Drovers Inn – Then & Now

The former Drovers Inn, Clinton Lane
The former Drovers Inn, Clinton Lane

This property, which hugs the bend of Clinton Lane opposite the entrance to Avenue Road, was once an inn. As Robin Leach records on his Victorian Kenilworth website it was once known as the Drovers Inn, having been used by Welsh drovers, although further dates and details of the pub itself are hard to come by. According to the Local Drove Roads website, it doubled as a turnpike and hence drovers are said to have dodged behind the row of buildings to avoid the tolls.

Clinton Lane once formed a link in the great chain that was The Welsh Road; a drovers road used to drive cattle from as far away as the rich soils of Anglesey over 250 miles to wealthy customers at market in the South East. Drovers and their herds would follow the line of Watling Street from Shrewsbury and over Cannock Chase to Brownhills, from where the Welsh Road ran through Stonnall, Castle Bromwich, Stonebridge, Kenilworth, Cubbington, Offchurch, Southam, Priors Hardwick, Boddington, Culworth, Sulgrave, Syresham, Biddlesden, and Buckingham.

This means that the Welsh Road followed the line of the modern A452 as it departed from the A5 Watling Street near Brownhills, along a stretch known today as the Chester Road, before entering Kenilworth down Clinton Lane and passing out the other side over Chesford Bridge, where a ford has existed since ancient times with probable Roman connotations, and up Bericote Road.

References to the name Welsh Road can still be found along the way. South of Kenilworth, the 20 mile stretch between Cubbington and the bridge over the River Cherwell near Culworth is still called Welsh Road and Welsh Road East. Further north, a modern development in Balsall Common has also assumed the name Welsh Road.

According to the Our Warwickshire website the Welsh Road’s usage as a drover’s road would have dated to way back before the Elizabethan era, when the castle was very much still occupied. So, the question of which route it took through Kenilworth is an interesting one. The direct route from the Drovers Inn on Clinton lane would be straight through the castle’s gatehouse and through outer ward of Kenilworth Castle, out through Mortimer’s Tower over the Tiltyard, via the The Brays and then onwards down Warwick Road towards Chesford Bridge. The modern route through Castle Road via the ford wouldn’t have existed for much of the period when the Welsh Road was in operation as the area was flooded as part of the castle moat. But if the route through the castle’s outer ward itself wasn’t permitted, then which route did the drovers and their cattle take? Perhaps drovers went via the long since lost pack horse bridge that once stood next to the modern day swimming pool? Alternatively, resistivity work in the Abbey Fields shows that there was almost certainly a ford immediately west of Town Bridge, which would have been an ancient route. Fieldgate Lane/Beehive Hill linked the northern Welsh Road to this ford and its southern continuation.

The 250 mile journey down the Welsh Road had to be undertaken in stages of 12-15 miles a day, taking three weeks to complete. By 1810 number of cattle being driven out of Anglesey had risen to over 14,000, so just imagine for a moment having potentially thousands of cattle wending their way through the very centre of Kenilworth every year!

Behind the Inn in the mid 1960s ‘then’ photo can be seen the old timber-framed and sandstone cottages of 81 – 83 Clinton Lane before their demolition, presumably for a road widening scheme that evidently never happened. The former Drovers Inn somehow escaped this fate.

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Little Chase Cottage – Then & Now

Little Chase Cottage
Little Chase Cottage

Little Chase Cottage, and its partner Chase Cottage (out of shot, left) are welcome survivors from the pre-conservation era of demolition and modernisation in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that swept away several historic properties in the area. They stand on Clinton Lane, which forms the approach to the Castle for travellers coming from the Birmingham and Balsall Common direction.

According to Robin Leach and Geoff Hilton in A Portrait of Kenilworth in Street Names (Third Edition, Rookfield Publications, 2015) Clinton Lane was known as Ram Lane or Cripplegate Lane, where a cripplegate is a gate that allows sheep through but not larger animals.

The name Clinton Lane today relates to Geoffrey de Clinton, chamberlain of Henry I of England  who founded the Castle and the Abbey, and his son who founded the later borough of Kenilworth clustered around Warwick Road. The Clinton family name relates to a bastardised version of the name of Geoffrey’s seat at Glympton, a village and civil parish on the River Glyme about 3 miles (5 km) north of Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

The Chase reference in the names of these cottages relates to Robert Dudley’s 740 acre hunting chase which swept across the fields behind these cottages, including Chase Lane of course, which is visible in the background of both images.

The ‘then’ picture captures the after effects of the demolition of some adjacent brick properties to the north of Little Chase Cottage. The following excerpt from the  OS 25 inch map, 1892 – 1905 shows the demolished properties in red:

Clinton Lane OS Map 1892 - 1905
Clinton Lane Map 1892 – 1905

For reference, the surviving former Drovers Inn is the inverted L shaped building just south of the ‘170’ map marking. The properties north of the ‘170’ marking have also since disappeared, with their successors set back from the road. Presumably all of this demolition related to road widening schemes which never came to fruition, as cars passing through this stretch of Clinton Lane still have to stop and wait for vehicles coming in the opposite direction to overtake parked cars today. Little Chase Cottage and is neighbour presumably survived because they were set a little further back from the road than those around them that were demolished.

Sadly, our intrepid 1960s photographer was too late to capture the demolished properties on film before they were reduced to rubble. The plot is now occupied for garages serving the Kenilcourt flats on the right hand side of the ‘now’ image which, as shown in the map above, were built on the site of former allotment gardens.

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The Old Cottage, Clinton Lane – Then & Now

The Old Cottage, 81 to 83 Clinton Lane
The Old Cottage, 81 to 83 Clinton Lane

Time and time again in these Then & Now images, we see how the push for modernity in the 1950s, 60s and 70s swept away old properties of historic value and local character. A nation confident of a better future, with a buoyant economy for the first time since WWII, sought to clear away the old and bring in the new. In the days before the conservation movement came onto the scene, it was all too easy to demolish a damp, draughty old cottage and build functional modern houses in its place. Mutters of disaffection over this loss of character and heritage usually fell on the deaf ears of the town planners.

You might imagine that a timber framed and sandstone cottage within spitting distance of the Castle would survive such a push for modernity, but you’d be wrong. The cottages at 81 – 83 Clinton Lane, shown here in the mid 1960’s ‘then’ photo, stood on Clinton Lane less than a quarter of a mile from the Castle. Both photos are taken from the mouth of Avenue Road looking back towards Clinton Lane.

Harry Sunley records in A Kenilworth Chronology (Odiborne Press, 1989) that a timber-framed and sandstone building he refers to as The Old Cottage was demolished in 1965. Today the plot is occupied by properties numbered 85 and 87 Clinton Lane.

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