A snapshot of Kenilworth in the year 1900

This poem offers a unique snapshot of what life was like in Kenilworth around the year 1900.

The poem was written by W L Griffiths in the 1930s and we have been kindly given a copy by Kenilworth historian Graham Gould who is in possession of it, thanks to Priscilla Hudson and Peter Ashley. Little is known about W L Griffiths and there are no photographs available. If you know any more about the poet, please call us on 855061.

While sitting on Tainters Hill one day

I talked to an old man named Jerry O’Hea

I ods still remember one of his tales

How he ne’r met death on the windmill sails

The water tower on Tainters Hill

An earlier use this tower did fill

Before an iron tower crowned its head

Its windmill sails ground flour for bread

The village youth of those bygone days

Liked showing off in various ways

To show their pluck and lack of fear

Hung to revolving sails before jumping clear

Jerry whilst doing this left the ground

Was caught in the sails and spun around

The Miller heard his cries of fear

Stopped the sails and drew him clear

Four Gates to the common in Victoria’s reign

Two by the Mill and two Common lane

Once Common extended to Tainters Hill

A woman laid claim- Folks said’t’aint her ill

Love Lane quarry was then made to pay

Its “Smithy” was used by the Roundheads they say

That Cromwell resided nearby in Spring Lane

His Army at Camp Farm off Hollis Lane

Familiar names not now in the map

Such as Stephen’s Tidy’d Farm-Dirty Gap

Hop Yards- Fletchers and the Crab Mill

Tant Holes- Priest Croft and Bull Hill

The town crier near High Street pound

Rang loud his bell as he walked around

In three corned hat and smart red coat

Proclamations flowing from his throat

The victorian appearance of New Street remains

Except new shop fronts-almost the same

Granny James sweets from a farthing a bag

Clay Pipes-Twist- and tobacco called shag

On Warwick race days horse traffic intense

Boys holding horse-s made many pence

A call at the Oak or Cross on the way

Return call again if they’d had a good day

Den’s Coach and four driven with pride

Racegoers all-some on top-some inside

Den in silk hat-jack boots and white tie

Both he and his horses always seemed dry

With donkey and cart old Gorga Neale

Hawked fruit and fish in noisy appeal

“Long Bob” the drover Dizzi and Whiss

Old Joe the Busman amongst many we miss

The Minstrel Troupe all departed but one

George Hudson over ninety still going strong

At Parochial sports Burbury would foil

Old “Do-it” Lee from winning the mile

If a citizen of note was seriously sick

Tan was spread on the road inches thick

The doctor in Pony and trap drove on his round

Followed by his favourite Dalmatian hound

Each night in High Street- in rain, snow or hail

Two horsed Mail Van collected the Mail

The Lamplighter with his Pole out each night

Walked on his rounds each lamp to light

A local Parson was invited to view

Beautiful Orchids which in Kenilworth grew

Place of entrance arranged as a prank

Was over a sludge pit by faulty plank

Plank broke-Parson immersed up to his waist

Host sent fro cab in desperate haste

“Old Joe” with his Omnibus keeping in tone

Took him all round Kenilworth before taking him home

Alas’ poor Old Joe- one winters night

Fell off his bus and was killed outright

On Bridge Street hill by the wall of the park

I remember the scene-twas exceptionally dark

Fog Horn Alarms on the Abbey Hill way

Called up the fireman be it night or day

“Dust Cart” horses at speed really no joke

With “Queen Bess” the fire engine bellowing smoke

One amusing incident I still retain

Brigade “dashing” to a fire-it started to rain

Driver pulled up- he held the horse back

Whilst he calmly proceeded to put on his mac

No tarmac on roads-so in the summertime

Water carts sprayed the dust if weather fine

If wet-pot-holes and mud on the road

Steel scotch on wagon downhill with load

The serious flood- worst down Mill End

Up to bedrooms at “Engine” pub round the bend

Pigs-fowl and furniture all floating away

That was the scene at break of day

From “Cherry Cottage” and the Blacksmiths nearby

An alarm was sounded-all the crown heard the “Cry”

“Creeper” in danger- he was trapped by the flood

Rescued by hepers-their teamwork was good

An amusing episode in sight of all

Man’s poultry in danger- fellow answered the call

At considerable risk of which he was proud

He waded the rescue-cheered on by the crowd

Disappeared from view into the pens

Came out with “Ducks” he’d left with hens

Before he could return to put matters right

Flood took the fowls-they soon passed from sight

Carriages elete-fine horses stepped high

But they day of the horse was now drawing nigh

An occasional “Motor” alarmed all the folk

Dogs barked-horses bolted the noise and smoke

Councillor and Farmer cum School Manager-one day

Visited Church School his compliments to pay

Master said “question the boys” test their skill

The farmer responded this request to fulfil

He though he’d be clever and stump the boys

He said “ Lads what is nothing” lets see if you’re wise

Up jumped on lad and said with some sauce

“ Its what a farmer gives you for holding his horse”

The train to Coventry takes longer today

As the driver now drops the “staff” halfway

When from Common to Coventry just single line

Cut out half-way stop-train made faster time

Elegant carriages met the 8-20 train

Each two high stepped horses on bearing rein

Business men travelled by train to Birmingham each day

All then travelled by train and made Railways pay

By the 5-20am rain-factory workers departed

Coventry factories at 6am started

On the 8-13 train the white collar man

Followed by the “High Ups” between 9 and 10

Rosemary Hill was then narrow and dark

Big Oak trees spread from the bank of the park

Manor Lane and Barrowell were narrow lanes too

All widened out since Kenilworth grew

Remember being told by old folks perhaps wise

Spring water on the common was good for your eyes

Water from Barrowell good for digestion

Accepted such folk lore without doubt or question

The local comb industry had just faded out

A few retired combmakers still hanging about

A high measure of skill they did attain

There was James in Albion Street St Dickinson School Lane

Old Andrew is the only man that I know

Who saw Combmakers at work over 80 years ago

Melting the Horn over Grate

Shaping with tongues whilst in plastic state

A novelty which always attracted that time

Was a Brass Band on a bicycle all in line

Some 8 or 10 players on singer freak frame

Exceptionally long but one bike all the same

The towns most prominent advert so dar

Was a Singer Cycle or Singer Car

Painted on the Water tower in green

From all over Kenilworth this could be seen

In the brook inn the park eagerly sough

Trout of good size were frequently caught

Also in the Fletcher-Hopyards and Washbrook

You’d see old Lawyer-Huy-s trying his luck

Famous strawberry gardens on Lady’s Hill Bank

“Sir William Paxton” was in the front rank

For colour-size and flavour finest I’ve seen

Mr James of that day supplied some to the Queen

Cucumber-Tomatoes were produced by the ton

Kenilworth for quality a good name had won

The Tan Yard- and Brickyards each in their way

Found the local emplyoment-they still do today

The local wit “David” from up Clinton Lane

Grew huge marrows that brought him some fame

One was so large-true please do no laugh

A stray cow got inside and gave birth to a calf

Old Bobby Slosh was well known in those days

Kids loved P.C. Lapworth for his kindly ways

Years before Police Station was off Manor Lane

And prior to that at the of School Lane

Borrowell School was closed long ago

Mr. Hiorns is the only old scholar I know

College for boys in Priory Road gone

Queen Victoria towards the end of her reign

Passed through Kenilworth in the Royal Train

We school children assembled by the railway line

Sang “God Save the Queen” the train stopped for a time

An amusing incident happened one night

Nightwatchman found in an awful plight

In front of his fire he’d fallen asleep

Burnt off one of his legs quite “knee deep”

The leg he lost however was made of wood

Just a matter of cost in making it good

The town was amused to hear of his fate

Wheeled home in a barrow by his mate

An American visitor was very amused

Why at the castle modern scaffolding used

He put the question to a man passing by

“Building more ruins” was the Jackdaw’s reply

At Kenilworth Castle Flower Show one time

Local “Boy” took prize for cherries most prime

Judges checked up to see if home grown

Inspected his garden when he went home

“Local Boy” tipped off of this snooping trip

He almost succeeded in giving them the slip

But one judge observed as he climbed a tree

Cherries tied on with cotton- quite difficult to see

The town surveyor big man was he

Eagle eyed on his workmen wherever they be

Rode mile on his bike- Bessies Grave to Red Lane

Big hat-white beard and Mr. Evans his name

If teeth gave one trouble to the doctor you’d go

He pulled out your teeth for a shilling or so

No gas or injection-just hold tight to his chair

If you yelled off the roof- well he didn’t care

Another local boy of some renown

Posed as the strongest man in town

One night he took on a bet in the Oak

The Landlord supplied two buckets and yoke

So strong in his shoulders that he swore

That with foot in each bucket he’d leave the floor

He made the attempt but the bucket gave way

His foot through the bottom so he wouldn’t pay

No wireless or cinema but just homely delights

singing-reciting indulged in most nights

Entertaining friends easy-food ample for all

Also very good church concerts in the Parochial Hall

Chipperfields Theatre a different Drama each night

Maria Martin-Uncle Tome-Sweeney Todd- in the lamp light

Grass for the floor a canvas roof overhead

No central heating but coke braziers instead

The Mill in Mill End was working each day

Water passed down the Close the mill right of way

Drove the wheel in the Mill then ran under the road

Back to the main stream after taking the load

Two carriers carts to Coventry each day

Passengers charged sixpence each way

About one hours’ ride to reach the town

Headquarters of the Carrier 2The Rose and Crown

Bill M.......s told me that in his apprenticeship time

He walked daily to Leamington- got home at nine

On Saturday’s midnight when he got back

Behind the counter all day-no time to slack

Old Bill B....t recently told me a yarn

He left school at eleven to work on a farm

He walked beyond Stoneleigh each day to and fro

Early morning till dark he was kept on the go

For the princely wag of six pence per day

Plus a little extra when making hay

Such long working hours for so little pay

Forgotten in the easy conditions today

The pace of life was easy and slow

Very few faces that we didn’t know

A stranger in town was on foreign soil

But soon accepted if here for a while

The Parson then more prominent in public life

Girls used to curtsy to him and his wife

Choir boys wore Motarboards-but Boys all the same

When “Tich” emerged from the Boilerhouse-though it was rain

Election day meant excitement galore

Liberal Might versus Conservative Four

Voters passed Townpool Bride in shower of mud

If the “boys” down below thought their colours no good

Remember the Lady Parson down Mill End

Who could quote the Bible from end to end

The Salvation Army showers of stone couldn’t stop

As they marched forth with music from the Co-op

Little Lady in the jetty- how many knew her

Favourite saying was “are to be sure”

Tom and his musicians we all thought him grand

Whilst his strawberries were ripe I belonged to the band

To swell up his band we boys paraded one day

Although a Cork in each cornet-we pretended to play

This was my first Parade- also my last

I removed the cork and blew forth a blast

My blast didn’t fit in with the melody sought

And losing the cork I was easily caught

Poor Tom was furious-said I’d let him down

So had to resign from best band in town

After roaming the world - in each continent I’ve been

In all sorts of climates many races I’ve seen

But Kenilworth born - I’ll remain from now on

Amidst familiar surroundings where I belong

Natural compensations make life worth while

As one climbs the ladder he alters his style

Leaves friends behind- perhaps simple but sincere

To mingle with climbers who’s friendships veneer

So ends my story- hope it may interest you

I’ve painted a picture I believe to be true

Old Folk will recall the scenes I’ve recorded

Young folk may think it uninteresting and sordid.