A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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ASTHILL, HORWELL, AND WHOBERLEY
The districts known as Asthill and Horwell lay in the south-west of St. Michael's parish, mainly to the east of the stream which runs south from Hearsall Common to Canley Ford. There was a well here called Horwell or Whorwell from at least the 14th century, and the stream has been called Horwell stream (fn. 1) or the Whor (or Hor) Brook. Asthill was the land rising east of the Whor Brook and south from Hearsall Common towards Stivichall Common, which has been included in the modern Earlsdon. The roads called Asthill Grove and Asthill Croft, east of Warwick Road, may mark the eastern extremity of this district. Horwell as the name for a locality has disappeared, and has been replaced for some purposes by that of Hearsall. Except for Hearsall Common, Hearsall Golf Course, and some playing fields the whole area is occupied by houses of the 19th century and later (1965).
In the 14th century the boundary of the inner liberties of the city ran from Stivichall through Aylesden (Earlsdon) Field and Blackorchard Field to Guphill Ford, (fn. 2) so including the north-east of Asthill in the city. After the dissolution of the county of the city in 1842 the railway line from Coventry to Birmingham, which crosses the area south of Hearsall Common, became the boundary of the new municipal borough. The land north of the railway therefore remained in the city, and the rest of the two districts was taken into the city in the boundary extension of 1890. (fn. 3)
The greater part of Whoberley lay west of the Horwell stream, and was thus in Stoneleigh parish. The Whoberley estate occupied the part of the parish north of Tile Hill Lane and east of the modern Coventry by-pass. Hearsall Common was continued as Whoberley Common into Stoneleigh beyond Guphill Lane; this lane, also called Whoberley Lane, formed part of the boundary between Coventry and Stoneleigh, (fn. 4) across and north of Hearsall Common, and probably took its name from the Gopyls or Gupyls, who held land in Whoberley in the late 13th and 14th centuries. (fn. 5) There was a 'wrestling-place' on the parish boundary by 'the heath called Hearsall', in 1581. (fn. 6) Five fields called Whoberley fields or Whoberleys lay on the east of Guphill Lane in St. Michael's parish, and were commonable by the citizens of Coventry in the 15th and 16th centuries. (fn. 7) Whoberley was later covered by a modern housing estate and playing fields. There was a single house there in the 17th century and in 1850 Whoberley Hall was described as 'an ancient house formerly moated round'. (fn. 8) By 1906, however, it had been replaced by one of modern brick and in the Second World War there was an industrial hostel on the site. (fn. 9) To the south of Tile Hill Lane the area between it and the railway is occupied by the extensive Standard works. The entire district became part of Coventry as a result of the boundary extensions of 1928 and 1932 in which a large area of Stoneleigh (c. 3,600 a.) was joined to the city. (fn. 10)
Dugdale also mentioned, in connexion with Asthill and Horwell, a locality called Olney which in his day was represented merely by a double moat. (fn. 11) The only other evidence of this locality's existence dates from 1250 when William de Olney held a tenement in Asthill and Olney, (fn. 12) but it may be marked by the moated site immediately to the north-east of Moat Cottages in Canley. (fn. 13) The moat itself was clearly visible at the end of the 19th century when it was still filled with water. (fn. 14)
In a prolonged dispute in the 1590s between Coventry corporation, as rectors of St. Michael's, and Bartholomew Tate, lessee of the church of Stivichall, about the status of Asthill and Horwell, Tate maintained that Stivichall was a parish and that, by customary usage, Asthill and Horwell were parts of it. Instead the boundary between the parishes of St. Michael and Stivichall at this point was agreed to be the road to Warwick (probably Kenilworth Road). A similar controversy arose in the late 17th century, when the inhabitants said that Asthill and Horwell should be, and had in the past been, rated with Stivichall, but that the Coventry magistrates had recently refused to approve such rates. (fn. 15)
Dugdale said that Asthill was 'utterly depopulated' and 'only known by a little thicket of trees, called Asthill grove', and that Horwell also had been 'long depopulated'. (fn. 16) The Cheylesmore court roll twice recorded of Asthill in the 1360s that no one remained there. (fn. 17) No houses, however, were mentioned at Asthill and Horwell at any time, and from the 16th to the 19th centuries many of the lessees were resident in Coventry. (fn. 18)
MANORS AND ESTATES.
Asthill and Horwell cannot always be clearly distinguished. In 1250 the service of William de Olney for a tenement in Asthill and Olney was reserved by Roger and Cecily de Montalt in their grant to Coventry Priory. (fn. 19) William de Olney granted land in Asthill to Philip de Winchcombe. (fn. 20) Oliver d'Aubigny held this estate in Asthill in 1275 as a ½-fee. (fn. 21) What was clearly the same estate, held by Oliver d'Aubigny of Montalt in 1279, was called Horwell. It then consisted of 1½ carucate in demesne, an inclosed wood (a 'grove') of 12 acres, and seven free tenants holding 38 acres. There were also seven under-tenants. (fn. 22) A settlement of Oliver's manor was made by his widow and eldest son in 1306. (fn. 23) Through Oliver's second son, Ralph, it passed to William Baret of Passenham (Northants.), and he granted it in 1348 to Henry, Earl (later Duke) of Lancaster. (fn. 24) At Henry's death in 1361 Asthill was said to be leased to Nicholas Percy for life, for 8 marks a year; it was not known of whom the duke held the manor. (fn. 25) In 1379 John Ray appeared at the Cheylesmore court for the manor on behalf of the duke. (fn. 26) When the Lancaster estates were divided in 1361, Asthill fell to the share of Henry's younger daughter, Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt. (fn. 27) It became Crown land on the accession of her son as Henry IV. A ten-year lease of the manor was made by the Crown to William Pratt of Coventry in 1423. (fn. 28) According to Dugdale, the estate was afterwards 'parcelled out by sale to sundry persons'. (fn. 29)
There were also a number of freeholders in Asthill. In 1278 John de Langley sold to Richard de la Murye land which he had acquired from Maud, daughter of John Pain of Leicester, and Murye also bought from John Abbot the land of Margaret, widow of Richard de Honecote. Langley, Murye, and Abbot were all citizens of Coventry. (fn. 30) A croft under Asthill park appurtenant to Kenilworth Castle was mentioned in 1344 and 1361; (fn. 31) Asthill grove, possibly this park, was amongst the castle's property in 1581. (fn. 32)
Horwell seems, like Whoberley, to have stretched across the boundary between Coventry and Stoneleigh since Stoneleigh Abbey's grange of Horwell, created from assarts in Westwood, lay in the hamlet of Fletchamstead in Stoneleigh. (fn. 33) A carucate of land at Horwell was acquired for the abbey by Abbot Osbert de Westwelle (1235-58); (fn. 34) this was possibly the field reserved for a house of religion in William de Olney's grant to Philip de Winchcombe. (fn. 35) In 1284 the abbey was granted free warren in all its demesne lands including those in Horwell, (fn. 36) and in 1291 Horwell was described as a cell and the abbey's property there as two virgates. (fn. 37) In 1363 John le Spenser and his wife Margery took a lease for life from the abbey of the 'manor' of Horwell, and were confirmed in their right to other fields and meadows given to the abbey by Nicholas, son of John de Horwell, (fn. 38) who had been one of Oliver d'Aubigny's tenants in 1279. (fn. 39) John le Spenser appeared for Horwell at the Cheylesmore court from 1365 to 1371 and John Hawes and Simon Langham, for the holding formerly John le Spenser's, from 1371 to 1380. (fn. 40) In 1383-4 the abbey granted the manor to John Lirpol, husband of Margery le Spenser, to hold for his lifetime after her death. (fn. 41) The abbey's property at Horwell at the Dissolution consisted of 'Horwell waste' appurtenant to its estate in Fletchamstead. (fn. 42)
By 1558 a number of closes in Horwell or Little Horwell were owned by Holy Trinity Church. (fn. 43) The property of the church was described in 1627 as seven fields in Horwell and Asthill, five lying between Horwell Lane and the lands of the Drapers' Company in one direction and between Hearsall and the Middlewood in the other, and two between the stream and the lands of Robert, Earl of Leicester. (fn. 44) In the 19th century the church estate there consisted of 45 acres of land in eleven closes immediately south of Hearsall Common. (fn. 45) Other lands in Asthill and Horwell were by the 16th century held in connexion with two estates in Stivichall. The Overhallstede estate included seven tenants in Asthill in 1565, (fn. 46) and Sir Robert Fisher, the owner of that estate, owed suit for Asthill to the Cheylesmore court in 1617. (fn. 47) Leases of closes in Asthill by members of the Gregory family exist from 1573 to 1650, (fn. 48) and the family still held land there in 1846. (fn. 49) Hearsall Common and strips of common along Earlsdon Lane and Whor Lane were inclosed in the Coventry commons' inclosure of 1875, some parts being allotted to the corporation and others sold. (fn. 50)
Land south of the railway and west of Earlsdon Lane was bought for building in 1853. This was laid out with streets and partly built up, forming the detached suburb of Earlsdon which was occupied mainly by watchmakers. Further to the southeast, near Warwick Road and Kenilworth Road, there were some large houses in their own grounds by 1887. (fn. 51) This area was evidently becoming one of the most favoured residential districts of Coventry. Spencer Park, immediately south of the railway, was opened in 1883 (fn. 52) and the new King Henry VIII School, with its playing fields adjoining the park, was built in 1885. (fn. 53) By 1906 the former watchmaking suburb had spread southwards between Whor Lane and Earlsdon Lane, over land which had belonged to Earlsdon Farm. To the west, by the Hor Brook, was a horticultural nursery, later called Earlsdon Rose Nursery. By the First World War there were more houses, some with large gardens, to the east of Earlsdon Lane, while in the west Hearsall Golf Course was laid out. Meanwhile building to the north of the railway had joined Earlsdon to the mid-19th-century development at Chapel Fields. Immediately after the war scattered building development began west of Whor Lane when the districts on both sides of the Hor Brook became known as Beechwood, Canley, and Westwood Gardens. Earlsdon Lane and Whor Lane were straightened and renamed Earlsdon Avenue and Beechwood Avenue respectively. (fn. 54) The many gardens and the survival of Stivichall Common, well planted with trees, had always given the southern part of the district a leafy appearance. This was increased by the opening of the War Memorial Park beyond Kenilworth Road in 1921. In spite of more building, sometimes in the grounds of older houses, and the erection of an eleven-story block of flats between Kenilworth Road and Asthill Grove the character of this area was still maintained in 1965.