Newsletter of the nuneaton local history group

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The Nuneaton Historian


September 2012

THE GOOD OLD DAYS! Abbey Street scene in the 1950’s. Coach and Horses pub on the left. On the opposite corner is the Ritz the opening of which features in this edition of the newsletter. On the opposite corner Ranby’s the well known Nuneaton chemist. Lenton’s the fruiterer’s van. His retail premises were further down in a row of white fronted buildings in the centre of the picture. The white fronted building just beyond Lenton’s truck on the right, incorporated the much loved and legendary “Picken’s Batch Bar”.


  • Editorial

  • Letters to the Editor

  • The Opening of the Ritz

  • Memories of the Cloddies and Growing Up in Nuneaton

Four issues Per Year: Subscription - £6 (2013)

By the time this issue is released some of you will have seen the presentation given by David Sidwell on the wonderful memoir produced by his Grandfather – The Old Rebel, the life of George Clarke (1885-1965). One of the things we set out to do was to see if there is anyone else out there in the wide blue yonder who has such a well written memoir from his ancestors stashed away in a drawer or indeed being of a certain age feels inclined to write one his or herself? It can be a daunting task to sit down and get all those memories on to paper. Old George Clarke wrote a logical and ordered journey through his life, and it does take quite a bit of work to get it to that level of literary perfection. Here is a proposal, if you know someone who just wants to sit and talk about the old days we are here to help. The next step for the Local History Group is oral history. I can make arrangements for you to bring either yourself or your relative along in the peace and quiet of a private room. In licensed premises so that if a glass of gin, a pint of bitter, or just a simple glass of water or cup of tea makes the flow easier let me know. The interview will be recorded and then word processed and you will receive a copy. The cost to you is £20 to cover the room for one and a half hours. The only stipulation will be that the Nuneaton Local History Group will have joint copyright with yourself or your relative so that we can publish your memories either as a dedicated publication as David has done for his Grandfather, or alternatively extracts in this newsletter. One thing David knows is that his dear old Grandfather is immortal through his easy words and interesting memories. Without this he would be just another statistic on Ancestry, or a fleeting mention in an obituary column. Through his endeavours his life has come alive once again and by all accounts fondly read and re-read, the many trials, tribulations and good times shared forever. He had his opinions and was radical in politics but that does not matter because that was him, and we can see he formed his thoughts around the world he inhabited. It is priceless for us of course.
So let us have the gossip. You never know what turns up and how we can complete the picture of life in Nuneaton the day before yesterday. In the meantime has David Sidwell got any other Grandparents note books stashed away we can turn into a sequel?
When we first set up the NLHG we were hoping that people would come along with “Projects”. Something they had taken an interest in locally which they wanted to explore in a bit more detail. We could help, not just by a bit of advice where to look next but also to structure and ready the project for a greater audience. If you have any “projects” which you are working on at present please let me know.
Finally if you have anything to put on the web site or to feature in this newsletter, a nice walk or event, slide show or talk please let me know. Let us fill the NLHG with your stories.
Peter Lee
PS. Just a note about Picken’s Batch Bar (on the cover). It was a veritable oasis for us kids after a Saturday morning diet of Cowboys and Indians, Popeye, and crappy low budget sci-fi films at the Ritz minor’s matinee. We would rush over the road and queue in line outside Pickens for our Saturday morning treat of sausage and stuffing batches dipped in gravy from big steaming trays in the front of the shop. Talk about the Bisto kids we could smell the aroma from the doors of the picture house and it led us unblinkingly mesmerised across the road until we had parted with the appropriate pocket money and emerged from the shop to consume the batch on the way home. I for one used to arrive home lunchtime with my Saturday morning shirt spotted with gravy from the feast I had liberally spread about my person. I think my mother got used to it, and besides in those days you did not change your shirt if they were soiled by dripping food down them. Mother insisted you wear them for the rest of the day, because lets face it we were grubby little kids and clean clothes used to change colour with great rapidity after we had encountered various grassy surfaces, rubbed against filthy brick walls and soil heaps with reckless gay abandon. But there is a corollary to this story which I know many old Nuneaton’s remember as part of their Saturday morning entertainment. I met someone once, not long ago actually, and we were sharing this particular reminiscence which he too remembered with great fondness. He lived in High Street and had the regular experience of walking into town past Picken’s batch bar on a Sunday morning. He said those deep trays full of steaming gravy on a Saturday, had, by Sunday been thoroughly washed out and laid back in position in the shop window, clean and pristine for their next week’s work. Trouble is the owner’s cat finding this a warm and sunny spot lay in the trays to sleep some Sundays. My memories of the flavoursome food consumed all those years ago kind of lost its lustre after that revelation. But I do not know if anyone suffered because of it. Lets face it we were a hardy breed in those days and I feel sure the trays were washed again before they resumed their regular duties on Monday morning!



Per Email from John Brookes:
Subject: Nuneaton History re: LDV / Home Guard

Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2012 12:14

Hi Peter
I read with great interest the article on the 'Local Defence Volunteers' (LDV):- the precursors of the Home Guard in WW2 - by Ron Hartill
My own Grandfather (Samuel Brookes, known as 'Fred') was a member of the Nuneaton LDV in World War 2 (he was apparently medically unfit to fight as he had had his little toe amputated as a child!).
Anyway, when Samuel died in the late 1980s, the one and only item I recall my Dad saving from the usual scrum of relatives claiming possessions, was Sam's 'LDV' armband.
I now have that armband - and attach a photo of it, in case it might be of interest to yourself, the Nuneaton History Group or Ron.
Whilst Clare & I do not (currently!) have children ourselves, I shall - with my Dad's blessing - be taking the armband to Australia when we emigrate next month, and passing it on to the children of my Dad's brother, Fred (also Samuel's son), who emigrated to Oz back in the 1960s.
My uncle Fred died a while ago, but his wife is still alive and her children & grandchildren are very interested in their own family history from back in the UK...

It is telling perhaps, that they are more interested in this history than their more local counterparts in the UK - i.e. my sister's 11-year old son, who lives in Nuneaton. He is more interested in computer games than his family history.. .and described my attempt to explain the history of the armband as 'boring'.
Therefore, I love the idea that this armband will find interested, and protective, owners from the Brookes family on the other side of the world.
Samuel Brookes himself was a humble painter and decorator from Nuneaton, who stepped up to potentially defend his country during a time of real danger in the 40s. Upon his death, I am extremely grateful to my Dad for realising that this armband was of a value far beyond the 'family silver,' and for acquiring this item for me to add to our family artefacts for future generations of the Brookes family 'down under.'
By joining up to the LDV during the dark days of the war, Sam was helping to ensure a free future for us all. Without such a commitment by Sam and all those who contributed to the war effort, I would not have the freedom to make the move that I am doing.
I only have vague memories of Sam as my Granddad (though all are positive!) • But I will be proud to carry his LDV armband on my person during my emigration flight to Australia. It seems a fitting gesture.




Friday July 23rd 1937

(transcribed from the original by Anne Gore)

(Photos (unless otherwise stated) by kind permission of Hilda Oliver)



Official Opening by Mayor Last Night

The Ritz – as built in 1937 (courtesy Victor Welland)

The magnificent modern super cinema, “The Ritz” erected for Union Cinemas Ltd., by Messrs. G.E. and W. Wincott, the well-known Nuneaton builders and contractors, and situated at the junction of Abbey Street and Newtown Road, Nuneaton was last evening officially opened by the Mayor of Nuneaton (Councillor T.L. Liggins).

Standing on a site which was formerly occupied by a row of dilapidated cottages and shops, the “Union Cinemas Ritz” is one of the most striking buildings in Nuneaton, with a very attractive exterior of brick and stone, the beauty of which will be enhanced at night-time by the artistic use of Neon lighting and floodlights of various hues.
Luxurious comfort
The vestibule created a feeling of luxurious comfort with its heavily piled carpet, ornamental mirrors, delightfully conceived decorations and glass lighting fittings of rare beauty. The vestibule was entered through a double line of glass doors which formed a draught lobby. In the main entrance vestibule and foyer were doors leading into the stalls and the main staircase leading to the balcony and circle.
The Decorative Scheme
In the stalls the decorative scheme was repeated on a larger scale in graded hues of terracotta, peach and gold with the seating and furnishings in harmony. Heavily piled carpets covered the entire floor throughout the building and every possible attention had been paid to the comfort of patrons. The luxurious semi-tub seats proved extremely comfortable, and the seating was spaced to ensure ample leg room.

The lighting scheme throughout the theatre was of exceptional beauty, the glass chandeliers being far in advance of the usual type installed in cinemas.

The Organ

Ritz Compton Organist – Ken Stroud
The large stage was equipped with every modern device for the presentation of variety turns, etc., with ample dressing accommodation for the artistes. Spectacular lighting effects and curtains completed the arrangement of the stage. At the front of the stage was an orchestra pit decorated with banks of flowers, and in the centre of the pit a wonderful Compton organ was installed. The organ proper was fitted in two roomy chambers situated under the stage, and consisted of over a thousand pipes, graduating in size from the thickness of a straw to monsters sixteen feet long and two feet in diameter. The illuminated console or keyboard, which was sunk below the floor, rose into view at the touch of a button by the organist, and was so arranged that the organist could easily manipulate the vast resources of the organ and select varying shades of colour lighting in sympathy with the type of music he was playing.
Fidelity of Tone
By means of the Compton patented “Electrone” sounds of unprecedented and surpassing beauty were created, and it reproduced with incredible fidelity the notes of a great carillon, a peal of bells, the world-famous Westminster chimes, the peal of Big Ben, the bells of St. Martin’s-in-the-Field, and the great carillons such as those at Bruges and Malines. So perfect was the reproduction, that it was difficult to believe that there was not a real peal of bells in the organ. The instrument was similar in design to the new B.B.C. organ at St. George’s Hall, London, and represented the supreme achievement of electrical engineering. A British product, the organ was installed at a cost of many thousands of pounds.

Mr. Boddy Manager, Peter Stevens, Organist, 1944/5

The Projection Apparatus
In the projection room thousands of pounds were spent on the finest equipment available, as represented by the Western Electric “Mirrophonic” sound reproducers and high intensity arcs and powerful modern projectors. The “Mirrophonic” sound system produced an amazing purity of sound, which made talking pictures so absolutely lifelike that every accent and inflection of the voice could be heard. A new method of distributing the sound in the theatre was used, and all sound could be heard equally well from any seat in the theatre. There was a complete lack of distortion in musical items and reproduction generally was perfect in every respect
Air Conditioning
The circle and balcony were furnished in a similar style to the ground floor, and a wonderful air-conditioning plant purified and cooled the air throughout the interior. A feature of the plant is that in the winter it will be capable of warming the circulating air according to varying outside conditions. Electricity has been used for an incredible number of purposes in the theatre – lighting, warming and ventilating the building, operating curtains, projecting films, reproducing sound, delivering tickets and change, and put to a hundred and one other uses, all of which helped to create a feeling of luxuriousness and intimacy.
Local Labour Employed
The building of the “Union Cinema Ritz” was a triumph of British workmanship, which was due entirely to the use of first class British materials throughout. The theatre was built almost entirely by local labour, and local materials were used as far as possible. Designed by Messrs. F. Verity and S. Beverley, F.R.I.R.A., the “Ritz” was most carefully conceived, and Mr. Fred Bernhard and his co-directors of Union Cinemas, Ltd., are to be congratulated on their enterprise in providing Nuneaton with such a splendid new theatre.


Mayor and the New Building
Nearly two thousand people were present when the opening ceremony which took place on the stage inside the building, was performed by the Mayor of Nuneaton, Councillor T.L. Liggins, who was accompanied by the Mayoress, Mr. E. A. Adams (theatre controller, Union Cineams, Ltd), and Mr. And Mrs. G.W. Wincott.
A short selection was played on the organ by Mr. Alex Taylor, and the curtains on the stage parted, to the roll of drums played by five scarlet and gold uniformed bandsmen, to reveal the Mayor and his party.
Mayor’s Speech

His Worship was introduced to the company by Mr. Adams

The Mayor said he considered it a great honour to have been invited by the directors of Union Cinemas, Ltd., to open that beautiful, commodious and up-to-date cinema. It was built on simple lines and had every modern convenience. Lofty, and with the latest methods of ventilation, with its fine organ and great seating capacity, it was indeed a great acquisition to their town.

With its large car park and ready means of access in the shape of good roads, the cinema should prove a great attraction to the inhabitants of both town and country for many miles around. To Bedworth, Hinckley and Atherstone people it should prove a great boon, situated as it was only a few miles away.

One of the duties of a local authority was to educate the people to use their leisure in the best way. The Council provided parks, playing fields, swimming baths, and they also had libraries and the wireless, but he really thought that the “pictures” as they were commonly called were the great attraction for the people.

The talkies formed an even greater attraction than the silent films. As they were always looking for the best, he felt assured that that attractive building would provide relaxation, amusement and contentment for many thousands of people.

Varieties as Well as Pictures

In addition to pictures they were to have famous organists and variety entertainers, and he had been informed by representatives of Union Cinemas that it was their intention to provide the best in the way of films, music and stage entertainment. He had the privilege of inspecting the building yesterday along with a representative of the company, and he could assure them that it was a fine job throughout. He understood that the company already owned 250 cinemas, and that by the end of the year they would have about 300 cinemas.

Largest Entertainment Company

It was, he had been informed, the largest entertainment company of its kind in the world. The architects, Messrs. Verity and Beverley, of London, were to be congratulated on the design of the building, and he was very proud of the fact that a local firm, Messrs. G.E. and W. Wincott, had erected it. It was a credit to them (applause).

Whenever possible, local labour had been employed on the building. Mr. David Bernhard, the chairman of Union Cinemas, was unfortunately not able to be there that night, but his son, Mr. G. F. Bernhard, the managing director, was present, and he (the Mayor) would like to congratulate him also on the building.

He expressed the hope that the venture might be profitable to the promoters. He knew they were all anxious to hear Mr. Taylor on the organ, and to see the show, and it was therefore a great pleasure that he then declared the theatre open.

The Mayoress and Mrs. Wincott were then presented with bouquets of pink carnations by one of the charming usherettes employed at the cinema.

Mr. Alex Taylor then played the National Anthem on the organ, and the program proceeded.

Large crowds of people stood about in the thoroughfares outside the cinema, both before and after the opening ceremony, and those who were unable to find seats for the gala performance found much to interest them in the colourful main entrance, the portion of which was a mass of coloured lights.

The program included the musical film, “Melody for Two” featuring Patricia Ellis; “Mysterious Crossing,” a drama with James Dunn as the leading player, and on the stage, Macari and his famous Dutch Accordion Serenaders.

Staff at the Ritz, Nuneaton, 1944/5 Back Row: (Left-Right)-/Hilda Ayre/Mildred Chandler/-Swind(g)ler/Arthur Stanton/-/Arthur Birch/Edie Smith/Mr.-Picken/Daisy Suffo(l)k/Albert Lawrence/Mr-Prundy

Front Row Mrs – Coles/-Mrs.Wallbank/Peter Stevens/Mr-Brookes, Assistant Manager/Mr.-Rollick, Manager/ Mr. – Edwards R. Manager/Pat Smith/Violet Garratt/Mrs.- Blunt

Back Row: Mick Elkerton/Renie Barrs/Arthur Stanton/Hilda Ayre/ (Manager – Mr – Cotterill/ Asst. Manager Mr. – Haig/Doorman -?/Mrs. Wallbank/--/Mr. Justin (Chief?)

Front Row: Mrs. Blunt/Gladys Darlington/--/Edie Smith/Rita Copson/Mrs. Stamp

The Ritz, Nuneaton 1946/47


MEMORIES of the CLODDIES and my youth in Nuneaton
By Jim Lee

Peter's editorial in the Nuneaton Edition stirred many happy memories of my early days in Norman Avenue.

As a kid the cloddies was very much on my agenda as a playground some ten years before Peter along with his friends enjoyed all the fun playing in what was quite a dangerous environment.
I was born in 1938 and lived through the war. I still remember how our mother used to bring me downstairs and sit me on the living room table so she could wrap me in something warm prior to retiring to our Anderson shelter when the air raid sirens went off.
Those air raid sirens left a lasting impression on me even after World War 2, when they were used to alert the town’s fire service whenever there was a blaze in Nuneaton. They scared the living daylights out of me even when the war ended and they were used for more peaceful purposes.
Although Nuneaton escaped the Blitz to a great extent, even as a small child I remember some incendiary bomb damage in Norman Avenue. Our home, number 52 suffered blast damage when a bomb fell in our next door neighbour’s garden, demolishing the brick wall and making one hell of a mess of the profusion of rhubarb, gooseberries, raspberries and blackcurrants growing there.
Both Robinson's hosiery factory in Bracebridge Street and Courtaulds in Marlborough Road were damaged by bombing and I well remember Robinson's having piles of Liberty Bodices neatly folded and still standing on the factory floor burnt right through, along with bloomers and millions of metal buttons with their cotton coverings burnt off.
They were still there in 1943 when I started school at Chilvers Coton. As a small child I attended the Methodist Church on the junction of Edward Street and Queens Road opposite the Co-op hall. The latter was to become a regular venue when I eventually left school in 1953. Like my father I was very keen on Jazz and big band music. The Saturday nights at the Co-op hall in my day were still very much part of the swing music era and I well remember seeing bands such as Ted Heath, John Dankworth and Ken Mackintosh to name but a few. Resident bands such as Bert Lucas and Alan Proctor were there long before rock and roll became popular. H.M.S Gamecock sailors from Bramcote Fleet Air Arm added to the popularity of the Co-op hall.
My immediate post war period was spent with my mate Maurice Everitt playing in the garden shed as submariners, whilst at the same time I joined the boy scouts 13th Nuneaton (Manor Court Group) finishing up as a senior scouter. I still have the uniform but regret I have rather grown out of it with the passage of time. Camping at Wrights Farm, Tuttle Hill, Burton Dassett in the Cotswolds (the area well known for the Battle of Edgehill) and annual camps at Dawlish in 1949 bring many happy memories of all the fun and adventure.
In 1949 I had my first flight in a Tiger Moth from Bramcote, which was a big treat by Mum and Dad. My daughter treated me to another flight in a 1939 Tiger Moth from Sywell, Northamptonshire on my 70th birthday. Second time around was a real seat of the pants experience as I was allowed to take the controls.
Going back to my school days, avenues were tree lined in those days with few cars parked in Norman Avenue. Also just after the war, galvanised steel dustbins were attached to the trees. This was done so that one could deposit left over vegetable matter such as cabbage, lettuce and potato peelings. The dustbin contents were collected and fed to animals, pigs in particular. However they also lent themselves to some fun on bonfire night, when standard bangers were exploded in an empty dustbin, if one was nearly full the lid would blow off and create one hell of a din. Spirit tapping on windows, tying doorknockers together and knocking on doors whilst hiding behind a wall on the opposite side of the road was also fun, before cars became the street ornaments they are today.
From Chilvers Coton I went to Arbury Secondary Modern on Greenmore Road in 1949. Just over the school fence were the 'Cloddies' and the remains of Stanley's brick making business. Nowadays the Cloddies are filled in, with a housing estate built on top. In those days environmental issues were not important and I have often wondered what happened to all the various wild life species, birds, animals and reptiles, which abounded in and around the Cloddies.
When leaving school at Easter in 1953 I signed on at Lindley Lodge, Watling Street, which was then the No 4 area headquarters of The National Coal board. It consisted of collieries at Baddesley, Birch Coppice, Kingsbury, North Warwick, Arley, Coventry, Dexter, Binley, Griff No 4, Griff. Clara, Haunchwood, Newdegate and Ansley Hall. In 1953 Daw Mill colliery was only an exploratory sinking, initially a drift mine. The two shafts were sunk later. Daw Mill is now the only remaining coal mine in Warwickshire.

Between 15th June and 9th October 1953 I completed my underground training at the Wood End, part of the birch Coppice colliery workings just off the A5. I still have the certificate of training for employment below ground, as required by the Coal Mines Act 1945. Starting at Coventry Colliery as an apprentice electrician my wage was £4, 7, 6p per week for a five day week, although overtime and Saturdays were frequently available. Coventry colliery was situated in Keresley, four miles from Coventry City centre and was finally closed in 1992.

Sinking Coventry colliery began in 1911 and went on until 1917 before the rich seam of Warwickshire coal was found at a depth of 720 yards. In 1917 capacity for output was 1,600 tons of coal per week and by 1923 had risen to 20,000 tons a week. The Warwickshire Coal Company Ltd was the first owner. Like the rest of the industry Coventry was nationalised in 1947.
Three hundred and fifty houses were built in Keresley to accommodate 30% of the 1,800 work force of which 350 were surface workers. The colliery had by the 1930's pit head baths, carpenters, mechanics, machine shop, electricians, welders and blacksmiths, all of which were accommodated in a large building on the surface. As an apprentice I started at the pit and spent time in all of the colliery workshops, which certainly broadened my horizons as regards how to do things with ones hands. We generated our own electricity via two 2.500 kw turbo generators. Winding engines driven by steam used their exhaust steam to power the generators and the electricity.
2,750 volts pumped water to our own Lancashire boilers and also pumped water out of no 1 shaft for Coventry corporation mains, 500 volts was transformed to supply the underground machinery, haulages etc. Three large air compressors in the powerhouse provided the air for the underground pumps.
I remember my first day at the pit was spent cutting up old lengths of % inch (2cm) conduit into 2-inch (5cm) spacers for conduit brackets. Because I did not cut a lot of them very straight Stan Summers the foreman made me do some 2,500 again. I subsequently became an expert at making insulator brackets, particularly as I was also shown how to forge the flat steel part around a blacksmiths anvil and the long bolt to hold insulators spacers etc all together. This together with all the other hands on work, involved in what was essentially electro-mechanical, and academics at technical college produced time served people, which are very lacking in today's society, which consists of computer button pushers. My entire working life and even in retirement still revolves around that proper training in my apprentice years, all of which still fascinates me.
Catching the pit bus at the bottom of Edward Street each day and then scrounging a 98cc Rudge-Whitworth auto cycle off my dad introduced me to the world of powered two wheelers. My Hercules bicycle quickly became redundant. With my hand tools growing weekly mainly as a result of shopping in Porters and Parsons and Sherwin's, resulted in tools I still use in my home workshop today.
By 1956 I was gradually finding members of the opposite sex quite interesting, and having passed my motorcycle test age 16 on the Rudge discovered girls much more accessible. Not owning a car or wanting to, meant work continued at Coventry colliery, which resulted in so much overtime I was accused at one time of spending more time below ground than a King Edward potato.
It was 1958 and I was at the mine mechanisation centre in Sheffield for one month's apprenticeship training before passing out as a colliery electrical engineer. Nuneaton technical college and the mining school in Bracebridge Street had provided me with the academic expertise, whereupon I found myself down the pit at Coventry colliery on the three-shift system, days, afternoons and nights. Meanwhile I had found the time to meet the lady who was to become my wife. I had been introduced to her at a Co-op dance by a mate with whom I worked at the colliery.
Three shifts and no chance of promotion, unless, as the colliery engineer said, "somebody dies," prompted me to seek work out of the coal mining industry. The stage was set for the rest of my working life in the motorcycle industry at Triumph Meriden.

However that's another story.

The “Cloddies” as Jim remembers taken in the 1960’s it spread out in front of the camera beyond the houses in Heath End Road. A veritable schoolkid’s wonderland. Bermuda Road in the foreground. Heath End Road can be detected running left to right. With the Hare & Hounds pub in the centre. (the white building at right angles to Heath End Road) (Geoff Edmands)

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