These Are Our
History and Heritage
Land records at Allesley go back more than 800 years, to the time when powerful barons ruled. Flynt Avenue in the village recalls Thomas who probably built the very first hall in the ancient deer park. In later years several important figures lived there: a prominent Coventry banker who founded Coventry’s first hospital; and an internationally renowned publisher who preferred the Arts and Crafts style of domestic architecture. This owner demolished an imposing Georgian mansion and created another hall that stands today.
Allesley Hall and its land
The story of Allesley Park goes back to medieval times, the 13th century, when England’s first elected Parliament met in the Palace of Westminster. It was instituted by Simon de Montfort who was with Henry de Hastings, a powerful baron, at the siege of Kenilworth Castle in 1264. De Hastings was the man who created a deer park here in Allesley, in the Forest of Arden.
Several generations of foresters maintained the park until in 1349 the Black Death killed one third of the population. The deer park fell into disrepair and the ruined estate passed into the ownership of the Earl of Warwick. Over the next two centuries the land was divided into farms.
Mention of an important house on the park coincides with a return of power to the royalists in 1658 when Prince Charles Stuart was crowned Charles II King of England.
In Elizabethan times there had been an insignificant dwelling that was tenanted by several families over the years, but the first mention of a Lord of the Manor and Allesley Park was mid- 17th century.
The Lordship was sold by a Richard Crompton to Thomas Flynt in 1660 when there was just one house in the conveyance – an inn at Allesley Village – later called the King’s Arms. It was renamed the White Horse, then the White Lion and it survives today as a private residence opposite Lion Fields Avenue.
However, Thomas Flynt’s will of 1670 refers to a house in the park itself and to the conveyance of the Manor from Martha Flynt to Henry Neale in 1692. So the first hall must have been established in the 1660s.
Building in the Queen Anne style
By 1700 the hall had been substantially rebuilt in the neo-classical style and the Neale family planted four rows of magnificent trees, originally elms, on the line of the thoroughfare we know as Allesley Hall Drive. Sited on the high point overlooking Allesley Village, it was approached from Allesley Old Road where a stone-built lodge was constructed at the start of a meandering track to the imposing mansion. By 1740 the house was described as being very commodious and desirable.
After 1800 the hall was leased to tenants including Lord Clonmell, Mary Jane Robins and James Beck. Beck, who was the important figure in the history of the Walled Garden at this time, owned the major bank in Coventry and was responsible for setting up the first Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. Away from the pressures of work he was a keen gardener and is believed to have replanted a collection of fruit trees in 1842.
By 1812 Thomas Wyles (living in what was described as the Mansion House) was the owner, and in his time the building was used as a school – Allesley College (from about 1848 to 1887). Subsequently Lieutenant- Colonel Francis William Newdigate, a scholar and man of letters,
bought it and lived there until he died in 1897. An auction catalogue dated that year describes the hall as having an ‘exceptionally fine kitchen garden’.
Charles Dalton Turrall, a ribbon weaver and cycle maker and his businessman brother Edgar Turrall, purchased Allesley Hall though it is not known whether they ever lived there. Records of share purchases in the Coventry Cricket Ground Company indicate their keen interest in that sport. They would have shared this sporting interest with their business neighbour William Isaac Iliffe, who was also a shareholder in the cricket ground company. He lived across the valley in Allesley Village.
Harry Quick’s Arts and Crafts house
William Isaac, a publisher of international fame, whose family home was Allesley House (now the Allesley Hotel), had a fine outlook across the Pickford valley to the neo-classical Queen Anne mansion on the hill. He loved the parkland with its farming interest so much that he purchased the Hall with its lands from the Turrall brothers. However it appears that W.I. loved the house rather less than the park and farm and that resulted in him consulting his architect friend in Coventry, Harry Quick, who was commissioned to draw up plans for an entirely new house on the site.
The neo- classical building was demolished and the building, albeit extended in recent years, is essentially just as W.I. Iliffe had it created.
William Isaac farmed the land but the new house in Arts and Crafts style took three years to construct and WI’s younger son Edward and his wife Charlotte would set up home there. New printing and publishing facilities were found in London, so Edward would have been a frequent traveller to the new Iliffe business empire in the capital.
During the First World War the mansion was used as a convalescent home, reverting to a private house during the 1920s and 1930s. Photographs show the Iliffe’s personal transport, an Armstrong-Siddeley motor car, and a team of gardeners who were employed to look after the pleasure grounds and Walled Garden.
Edward Iliffe was the Conservative MP for Tamworth from 1923 to 1929 and was knighted in 1922. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Iliffe of Yattenden in the County of Berkshire in 1933.
When the mansion and lands were gifted to Coventry Corporation in 1937 the tenant of many years had been a Dr John Orton. The Council asked him to stay on but he decided to move out to Sherbourne Vicarage.
After the Second World War the buildings and lands were occupied by Coventry’s Parks Department. Then in March 1965 the Second Baron Iliffe, Edward Langton, gifted a further 46 acres of land to the city. This would enable a full-scale plan to be developed for Allesley Park.
History of the garden
The walled garden at Allesley Park was created by John Neale, Lord of the Manor, more than 200 years ago to exploit its microclimate and provide food for the household living at the hall. While no records have been discovered of the early planting scheme his project was not dissimilar to other walled garden schemes around the country like that at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and Croome Court in Worcestershire.
The walled garden at Allesley Park was developed in stages over the years, first indications of serious fruit, flower and vegetable growing in 1812 when a lease included clauses that allowed the tenant to erect a hot house or green house. The original gardener’s cottage was located in the south-west corner of the garden (the top right of the area, looking from the main entrance gate) according to the 1838 Tithe Survey.
The key figure at this time was James Beck who leased Allesley Hall from the Neales for at least 30 years after 1812. He owned the major bank in Coventry and was responsible for the first hospital in the city. Importantly Beck was a keen gardener and away from the pressures of work and domestic life he was probably the man who had the garden replanted with fruit trees in 1842.
A catalogue from when the old Allesley Hall was being auctioned in 1897 shows a border path around the four walls with a central path and cross path creating four quarters. It is described as “the exceptionally fine kitchen garden” in this document, with glass houses, a vinery, stove house and forcing pits.
Through the first half of the 20th century it continued to operate as a kitchen garden serving the needs of the tenant and household of Allesley Hall. The last occupant was Major Orton in 1937, after which the garden became the responsibility of Coventry Council. The Head Gardener, Mr Manners, was retained by the Council with free accommodation in the Gardener’s Cottage.
In the 1950s the Municipal Parks’ Department used the site as a nursery for bedding plants, but this ceased as staff numbers were cut back and in 1962 the garden was grassed over and various low-maintenance shrubs, trees and wall climbers were planted. The garden received little attention for the next 30 years and was little more than rough grass, conifers and ivy until a group of enthusiasts came together to restore the area to its former glory and ensure that this historical gem was not abandoned. The Allesley Park Walled Garden Group was formed in early 1997.
After careful research, proposals were put forward in February 2000 for a complete restoration of the Walled Garden in five phases. The Sports and Parks Policy Committee of Coventry City Council concluded:
“The creation of the Allesley Walled Garden Group [sic] is a very positive outcome from public consultation. Through the hard work and commitment of a small group of local volunteers, this project, with appropriate support and encouragement, should produce the restoration of part of the City’s heritage and provide an attractive educational feature for local people to enjoy”.
These objectives are still completely in tune with current Central Government and City Council thinking. They are consistent the intent of the “Big Society” initiative for volunteer participation in community projects to preserve and enhance heritage projects and social well-being.
The Walled Garden Group now collaborates through a stakeholder group with the City Council, the Allesley Park Community Centre and the Friends of Allesley Park, to maintain the site for the benefit of the community.