The Vaults – Then & Now

The Vaults, Station Road
The Vaults, Station Road

The Vaults, which fronts onto Station Road behind The Kings Arms & Castle. This building has a long and varied history to it.

The first incarnation of this structure was on a completely different site, originally as the town’s station opened in 1844. An engraving of this can be found on the Windows on Warwickshire website taken from the London Illustrated News on the day of the railway opening, in which the arches are immediately recognisable.

Robin Leach tells us in his book Kenilworth’s Railway Age (Odiborne Press, 1985) that in 1880 it was decided to replace the single track with a double track to alleviate bottlenecks at Coventry. A larger replacement station was completed in 1883, and the stones from the old building were acquired by the proprietor of the Kings Arms & Castle hotel and repurposed for use as refreshment rooms in their current location at the opposite end of Station Road.

It is thought that the stone provided a façade for an existing building on the site, and that the two sides of the station’s stonework were erected one on top of the other to form a structure with two floors. On the lintel it is still possible to read “Kenilworth Railway….”, this continued as ‘……Station refreshment rooms’ and quite possibly dated back to when it first opened at the rear of the Kings in the 1880s.

But that wasn’t the end of the story, by any means. The upper floor of the repurposed station building was being utilised as an assembly room. In 1912 the assembly rooms were taken over by the Royal Electric Theatre Company and opened as a cinema seating around 100, accessible from an arched doorway into a newly built vestibule next door, on the site of what is now the Wilko’s store. A 1912 showing took £3 from seats prices 1/- to 6d so it must have seated between 60 and 120. A vivid testimony of what it was like to attend “the pitchers” here can be found on the Our Warwickshire website and further reading about this phase of the building’s lifetime can be found in Robin Leach’s book Kenilworth People & Places Volume 1 (Rookfield Publications, 2011).

Following damage from the landmine in November 1940, the upper floor used for the cinema was removed. It is at this time that the corrugated iron roof pictured in our previous Then & Now image was added.

When the Kings Arms & Castle site was renovated in 1985 / 86 as the Drummonds pub complex the vault found a new lease of life and the façade of the vaults is the only bit of the site that wasn’t flattened and replaced by a replica during this renovation work. A new upper floor was added in sandstone, the difference between old and new stonework is visible in our then and now photos above.

However, by 2005 Drummonds had itself become somewhat shabby and soon closed down. After yet another revamp of the King’s Arms & Castle site in 2007, the vault building was repurposed yet again and at the time of writing it is trading as Pomeroy’s bistro.

Thanks to Robin Leach for additional details provided in this article.

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The Kings Arms & Castle From the Rear – Then & Now

The rear of the King's Arms & Castle
The rear of the King’s Arms & Castle

This shot of the rear of the Kings Arms & Castle shows just how much it was altered during the 1985 demolition and rebuilding. The original building, also used as the Abbey Courts Leet in the 16th century, was later extended by the addition of gables to the rear of the building which can be seen on the ‘then’ photo. However, as the 2016 ‘now’ photo shows, the 1985 rebuild completely remodelled the rear of the property, which nowadays contains flats.

Similarly, the old Vaults building out the in rear of the King’s Arms, which was by this stage almost derelict, was substantially renovated in 1985 and a missing upper floor was reinstated. When the ‘then’ photo was taken it was capped with a very temporary looking corrugated iron roof put there as part of wartime repairs. It now contains the restaurant Pomeroy’s. The rather tatty brick remains of the old Assembly Rooms vestibule extension on the extreme right of the photo was demolished for access to these flats as part of the same redevelopment. The rest of the Assembly Rooms had already been demolished in the run up to building what is now Wilko’s, formerly Bishops and then Budgens.

On the extreme left of the ‘then’ photo, a sign on the access road to the rear of the Talisman Square development states that it is a no parking zone. By 2016 this road was being used by cars to access a temporary carpark instated on the site of the demolished north side of Talisman Square, on which parking is very much permitted at the time of writing.

In the distance, Midland Bank has been rebranded as HSBC as a result of a 1992 takeover, although it appears that Midland Bank may yet return to our streets as a high street brand once more.

Thanks to Robin Leach for additional details provided in this article.

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The King’s Arms & Castle – Then & Now

King's Arms & Castle
King’s Arms & Castle 1960s and 2015

The King’s Arms & Castle, 1960s. According to Rob Steward’s “The Inns and Roads of Kenilworth” (Odibourne Press, 2000) the “King’s Arms Inn” was the venue of the Abbey Courts Leet in 1563 and remained so until the nineteenth century.

By the nineteenth century, Coaches used to call in at the King’s Arms ‘from a quarter past seven until ten at night’ and later ‘omnibuses and cars’ from the King’s Arms & Castle would meet every train from the station.

Sir Walter Scott stayed at the inn in 1815 and commenced writing his famous novel Kenilworth published in 1821. It is also though that Charles Dickens stayed at the inn during preparations for writing Dombey and Son which was published in 1848 and featuring the line “A stroll among the haunted ruins of Kenilworth”.

During renovations in 1985, it was found that the facade of the building was erected around an earlier timber framed structure, which was now perilously unsafe. It remained in scaffolding whilst developers deliberated about how to resolve the situation.

Ultimately, it was decided to completely demolish the building in 1986 and rebuild the facade from scratch. Close examination of the two image shows discrepancies in the roof line, wings at the rear have been omitted from the new design and windows are not aligned with their predecessors. The interiors have been completely altered, with features like the bed which Sir Walter Scott is said to have stayed in having been long since taken elsewhere.

The rebuilt Kings Arms was repurposed as a nightclub named Drummonds, with residential flats to the rear. In 2005 it closed and became neglected, before eventually reopening in 2007 as separate restaurant units named now named Zizi, and Ego.

Further reading online:

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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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