Coventry’s recent history has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride to say the least. The city began its global manufacturing prowess in the 1800’s with the production of bicycles, only to be decimated by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Out of the ashes of the German bombing campaign, Coventry became Britains hub of automotive manufacturing, the birthplace and home, to many of the car industry’s biggest names. The UK’s very own Detroit helped the country get back on its feet by exporting hundreds of thousands of cars across the globe and pioneered technologies that have contributed to the motoring landscape we see today.
During the 1970’s however, British industry took an unrecoverable downturn with union strikes, poor quality workmanship and incompetent senior management that opened the door for foreign companies to break into the market. By the 1990’s many British manufacturers had either gone bust or were ran under foreign ownership, causing many factories to close down and thousands of workers to be made redundant. This in turn lead to high unemployment in Coventry and the city became a shadow of its former self with many of the once busy industrial buildings left to decay. A friend and former resident of the city said “I remember as a kid, everyone’s dad seemed to work at one of the many car factories, it was always a busy area. I was even told stories about plane engines that were built round my end during the war but now, all the production has stopped and the factories have been torn down to make way for housing. It’s really sad there’s not a heritage centre or anything there to commemorate the proud local history” (Stoke Aldermore)
It was with this in mind that I wanted to stop by and see for myself what was left of the automotive industrial heartland of Britain.
Rover HQ and showroom
The trip started at 1 Warwick Row CV1 1EX and the former headquarters of the mighty Rover company from 1904-1947. In a busy part of town, the building is now a bar/restaurant called the Litten Tree and from a quick look round has no signs of its former life in the motor industry.
Not far down the road from Rover we have the famous engine builders Coventry Climax at CV1 2HJ. Now a multi story car park, this was once home to a company that had 4 F1 constructors championships to its name, supplying engines to legends of the sport such as Cooper, Lotus and Brabham in addition to 4 drivers titles, with the likes of Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and Jack Brabham behind the wheel. As with Rover, I couldn’t find anything to mark the locations former heyday.
Just down from the Cathedral is a small black plaque on a wall marking the original site of Triumph. CV1 5FB takes you to the location that in 1896, Siegfried Bettmann set up his Priory Street Works factory and the marque would run all the way up to its sad ending in 1984.
CV1 4EQ leads you to what looks like a mostly residential area and you begin to wonder if you’ve typed the wrong post code in. Turn off Widdlington road onto Aldbourne road however and a row of industrial buildings separates the two streets. Now the home of transmission manufacturers Clarke Pitchline limited, this was formerly the home of Riley
One of the few companies that definitely left their mark, Humber is an easy one to find. CV3 1BA or just type in Humber road. Where the actual factory used to be I’m not entirely sure but I had to stop by the Humber pub for a picture! I believe the pub was here when the factory was active so many workers will have passed through these doors for a pint or two after work.
Swallow Side Cars (latterly Jaguar)
Starting out up north in Blackpool, Sir William Lyons moved the business to Coventry with the eye on saving money on logistics costs. CV6 4BL will take you to the appropriately named Swallowgate business park. Again, finding the precise location is difficult, especially as there was major building work going on just next door. As seen in the title picture, I previously visited Jaguar’s later site at Brown’s Lane with my old XJ40. That area is now a housing estate but happily there’s some Jag themed street names such as Lyon’s drive, Sayer drive, Walmsley close and Heynes walk.
Marked by a stone pyramid, the location of the old factory is now Alvis retail park. CV5 8BW will take you there and you’ll find the pyramid directly in front of you as you drive into the car park. If you head a few miles down the road to CV8 2EL, you can visit Red Triangle. Here they restore and rebuild Alvis cars, unfortunately they were closed when I got there.
This was in no way a detailed search of the old buildings and areas, more a curious ramble. There was also many other manufacturers that used to be active in the Coventry area you could add to this list. The Coventry transport museum is well worth a look around whilst in the area too. If you have any information you can add then please get in touch!