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18 September 2014
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History of a City: Coventry

By Dr Charles Insley
Urban growth and industry

Image of suburban street in Coventry
1930s housing in the Coventry suburbs 
Like many cities and towns, much of Coventry's building environment dates from the 20th century and can be seen anywhere you choose to stand in Coventry.

In the 19th century, Earlsdon was very much a working class suburb full of terraces built for ribbon weavers and watchmakers. But by the 20th century, Earlsdon was rapidly becoming an affluent middle class suburb, with streets of detached and semi-detached houses being built during the 1920s and 1930s on what had once been open fields.

'... the Luftwaffe's industrial targets were right in the middle of the city.'

As in many towns, the 20th century saw not only a massive increase in population but also the urban middle classes moving out from the town or city centre into these newly developed suburbs and commuting to work by bus, tram or even car.

Coventry's car industry grew out of light engineering, especially sewing machine and bicycle manufacture. Paradoxically, it is much harder to find the physical evidence of these early, small factories than it is for earlier industry. Many of these factories were built only just outside the city centre, cheek by jowl, with terraced housing built at the same time.

Even during the expansion of the motor industry in the 1920s and 1930s, the factories of firms such as Standard-Triumph, Lea Francis and Alvis were still only just outside the city centre. Part of the reason why so much of Coventry was destroyed or badly damaged during 1940 was that the Luftwaffe's industrial targets were right in the middle of the city.

It is only since the 1960s that Coventry's car industry and its surviving car factories (Jaguar, Peugeot-Citröen, along with Alvis, makers of military vehicles, and Rolls-Royce Aero-engines) have moved to the outskirts of the city.

Published: 2005-03-07

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