This then and now pair shows a snowy Abbey End as it appeared in the 1960s, still unoccupied since the rubble was cleared away from the destruction of the parachute mine in November 1940. The rubble of the old buildings was cleared away and the site was used as a car park for many years before it was eventually redeveloped. It is occupied today by bus and taxi ranks, and a row of shops and café-bars including “The Almanack”. On the opposite side of the road, the Holiday Inn (formerly the De Montfort Hotel) was yet to be built, which means our ‘then’ photo must be earlier than 1967.
In the distance, the rear of the properties on Abbey Hill can be seen in the ‘then’ photo and we can glimpse the War Memorial in both photos. The town planners’ response to the destruction of the landmine was to build modern and functional commercial units to replace the old brick houses and inns, with their cobbled courtyards and long rear yards and gardens. Purpose built car parks to the rear of Abbey End have now replaced the fields, allotments, plant nurseries and paddocks which once reached as far as Southbank Road.
In Kenilworth, as elsewhere, the zeal of the planners of the 1950s and 1960s spilled over from simply filling in the gaps left by the destruction of the Luftwaffe, and snowballed into demolishing almost anything old fashioned or run down. The oft repeated adage relating to the spate of development in post-war Britain is that what the Luftwaffe didn’t get, the town planners finished off.
John Drew ruminated on the town’s post-war development in his book Kenilworth – A Manor of The King (Pleasaunce Press, 1971): “The historian of the year 2171 will have a most devastating chapter to write of Kenilworth in the twentieth century which will almost certainly give the date of the start of the violent change in character in the town as 1940 when a landmine destroyed the town centre. He will probably then note that the tragedy was only a minute part of what was to follow and spread. He will note that the large turnover in population of the fifties and more particularly the sixties when the professional classes lived in Kenilworth for a short period before their work took them to another part of the country. Could this be a contributory cause to the lack of interest in preserving Kenilworth? It is difficult to assess, since nearby towns like Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon have managed to overcome the problem”.
Economically, the redevelopment of Abbey End, like the redevelopment of nearby Coventry, did result in a consumerist boom and a period of prosperity during the 1960s which many would say justified the actions of the planners. But one wonders whether redevelopment could have been achieved in a way that reconstructed the historic nature of places like the ancient market place of Abbey End, rather than done in quite such a brutalist fashion as we did. After all, if it is possible to rebuild ancient Dresden, then it’s possible to rebuild little old Abbey End.
Robin Leach adds some context to explain why post-War developments like Abbey End were eventually carried out in such an underwhelming architectural style: “The reason it ended up with such bland 1960s architecture was due to the delay in starting the redevelopment. The Kenilworth Urban District Council (KUDC) were ready to go by the end of the war but were prevented by government restrictions on building projects, housing being given priority. Had the go-ahead come earlier then 60s cheap and easy square blocks would not have happened. The same applies to many towns, I would think.”