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18 September 2014
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History of a City: Coventry

By Dr Charles Insley
The Industrial Revolution

Image of Watchmakers' workshops on Craven Street in Coventry
Watchmakers' workshops, Coventry 
The Industrial Revolution changed the face of Britain and the period from the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th is one of the most interesting in urban history.

As in many other towns and cities, the Industrial Revolution has left its thumbprint on Coventry. Almost overnight, many towns and cities dramatically increased in size as people moved to the towns to take up jobs in the new industries.

'... Coventry's expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries was not just about the working class.'

This period saw a sustained campaign of building and rebuilding in many towns and cities: working class housing for the tens of thousands of industrial labourers and improved housing for the middle classes who began to move away from the often crowded town and city centres and into the newly expanding suburbs.

Leaving the city centre, you come to parts of Coventry that were fields until well into the 18th century. Again, many towns and cities, where we can see 18th and 19th century development of areas once very rural, mirror Coventry's experience.

Chapelfields was one of these new suburbs: its name highlights its rural origins. The houses in Chapelfields were built to house workers in the watch industry and some of these watchmakers' terraces are still standing. These are highly distinctive buildings: their large attic windows provided light for the watchmakers who used these attics as workshops.

A few streets over from Chapelfields are the narrow terraces built in Earlsdon during the 19th century for workers in Coventry's other industry, ribbon weaving and making. But Coventry's expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries was not just about the working class.

Go back into the city centre and you will find the houses built for Coventry's more prosperous 18th-century inhabitants in the fine Georgian town houses of The Quadrant and Warwick Road and the handful of surviving 18th-century houses on Little Park Street.

Published: 2005-03-07

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