In April 2020 we were contacted by Steve Webster of Nelson, New Zealand, regarding a number of photographs from the collection of his late father, John Webster. Steve told us “My late Father John Webster lived in Kenilworth at 40 Tainters Hill (The Cottage) from birth, in 1927 and I too was born in the same cottage in 1961. My Family Lived in the Cottage until 1986 and Mother, Nona, (91) still lives in the town. John was a self employed Aircraft Radio Engineer, a Flying Instructor, with his own light aircraft that was kept at Coventry Airport. He also had a passion for photography, with his own dark room in Tainters Hill, that I grew up with”.
Steve has passed on a number of photographs from his father’s collection, including the remarkable ‘then’ image above, which captures the family home on Tainters Hill, as it appeared in the early 20th century. The image shows Steve’s grandma Janet standing beside his father John’s car, perhaps a new purchase? To the rear, the thatched cottage that the Websters once owned and behind it, the Water Tower, then still capped by its iron water tank, looms over the scene. The ‘now’ image, taken in June 2021, shows that the cottage is now gone and the old Water Tower has long since been converted into a residence. So, what became of the cottage?
In the early 1960s, his father John made the bold decision that despite the charm of the 400-year old cottage, it was time for it to give way to a replacement modern family home of his own design. In fact, the builders of the new house inadvertently demolished part of the old one ahead of schedule, as the article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph says, when the “….porch on Mr. Webster’s cottage, prettily clad with climbing plants, was demolished by a lorry”.
The article illustrates the quandary he faced at that time; to continue the upkeep of the antiquated thatched cottage or to plump for a sleek and wipe-clean new build. “The answer, he decided, was to replace the cottage with a modern dwelling on the same corner site. Side by side, the doomed cottage and the partly completed functional house he designed to succeed it, stand in sheer contrast, the one mellow, the other unashamedly bare of ornament, rubbing shoulders behind a tall hedge and conifers in a garden with a summer-house in one corner. Mr Webster, who is 38, could have sold the cottage for a high figure if he had wished. There is always someone ready to fall for a bit of thatch — never mind the non-existent damp course, heating, insulation and laying of wood block floors”.
Nowadays, a 400-year-old thatched cottage would likely be Grade II listed, in which case Mr Webster’s decision would be made for him.
We’d like to thank Steve Webster for providing these images, and many others, for us to use.