This etching comes from a beautifully printed invoice from the wonderfully named “Mrs T.R. Stevens, Milliner and Costumier, Ladies & Children’s Outfitter, Depot for Dr Jaeger’s Clothing”. The millinery shop stood at the mouth of School Lane, at its junction with Rosemary Hill. This etching shows just how narrow School Lane was at this point. Historically it had been known as Pepper Alley, which seems fitting given its narrowness.
The invoice was, provided to the KHAS archives by Joyce Powell, is headed as “Kenilworth House, Kenilworth, May 1922” but the millinery business had been through a number of owners prior to that:
Val Millman’s book ‘Chapel Yard’ Cottages and Gardens, Owners and Occupants, 1780 – 2015 (Published by the Author, 2015) contains an earlier advert dated 1884, which features the same etching, for a business then run by a Rebecca Smith, wife of Edward Smith. The advert formally names the business as “Mrs E. Smith’s Millinery Establishment”, who “begs to announce that she is still showing further novelties in Millinery and Straw Bonnets. Also ladies and children’s hats of the newest designs”.
Val tells us that “By 1866, Edward Smith, builder, owned a business premises on School Lane, next door to the Family home, Kenilworth House, on the corner with Rosemary Hill, where his wife had a Millinery shop”. Edward Smith was a successful builder, brick maker, quarryman, tile maker and an established figure within the town. His stores were on the site where Rosemary Mews now stands behind the house.
When widowed in 1896, Rebecca Smith moved next door with her son Joseph Lawrence Smith, also a builder. Joseph was responsible for the excavations of the Abbey in 1890 as well as building of the clock tower and Parochial Hall.
Val tells us that following Joseph Smith’s death in 1916, the family businesses their premises were sold to the Crouch Brothers, builders, whose father Joseph was a town councillor and ambitious town planner. Evidently the Millinery business continued for a brief period under the stewardship of Mrs T.R. Stevens, as the 1922 invoice above would attest. However, the story of the business and Kenilworth House itself would not last long beyond that date.
Val goes on to tell us of the demise of Kenilworth House, following the sale to Joseph Crouch: “By 1926, the Kenilworth Urban District Council (KUDC) had bought the corner plot containing Kenilworth House and demolished the building to widen the entrance to School Lane. After this the remaining plot was proposed as a library site but was never built”.
Robin Leach has kindly added that the business of the WWI veteran builder brothers Robert and Alex Crouch went bankrupt in 1927. He also tracked down the precise date when KUDC bought the corner plot to April 1924 and the decision to demolish it to improve traffic flow to November 1924. So, the 1922 invoice represents some of the last throes of the business.
All that remains of Kenilworth House are its gable end, attached to Number 8 next door, with the channel of its chimney stack still visible.